AlexBobbs: OK, I've had some time to see the movie twice and collect my thoughts, so here goes (Warning: possible spoilers):
First of all, this movie was a major improvement of its predecessor. And for the record, I thought The Phantom Menace was actually pretty good. Oh sure, it had bad dialogue, Jake Lloyd, and excessive silliness courtesy of Mr. Binks, but it met my minimum expectations, and furthermore, it's Star Wars, so how could I not like it? That said, TPM looks like a rough draft compared to AOTC. The acting and script are much better this time; no oscars are going to be won in this area for sure, but it was about on par with the original trilogy. Jar-Jar is there, but he actually has a purpose, and he speaks slower, doesn't do any stupid slapstick, and isn't given enough time to get on our nerves.
Many critics have denounced this movie, saying that it is only for Star Wars fans, and I say poop on them. This movie does exactly what its supposed to do: be a chapter in the Star Wars saga. At this it succeeds masterfully. Not only does it show the beginnings of Anakin's voyage to the Dark Side, but the movie is absolutely riddled with more subtle connections and parallels to the other chapters of the saga: plotwise, artisticly, and thematically. I especially liked the many Luke/Anakin? parallels, which fits beautifully into the overall story arch that is Star Wars. If you're not interested in Star Wars, too bad. This movie is made for those who are.
I have to agree here. If you aren't into Star Wars, (or any other series, for that matter), Episode II is *not* the place to begin watching.
Moving on, the story, though it starts somewhat slowly, follows two very interesting paths that eventually converge. One is the trials and romance of Anakin, the other being a mystery that Obi-Wan Kenobi must unravel. The latter was simply brilliant, and you had better have been paying attention during TPM if you're really going to catch all the details. Even with my knowledge of Star Wars and Palpatine/Sidius?'s ultimate designs in TPM, I was still just as puzzled and intrigued as Obi-Wan was as he gathered more and more cryptic clues. It wasn't until the end that it was all pieced together into an intricate and sinister design. Anakin's story, meanwhile, begins with the much-maligned love story that is, admitedly, awkward at times. Arguable the awkwardness sort of works since in the end we find that they both feel awkward about it, but anyone who wants to claim that it's just flat-out bad has a good case. Anakin's turn to the dark side, however, was incredible. In one particular scene where Anakin admits all the hate he carrys with him... Oh my word, I nearly cried. While Anakin hasn't quite become evil yet, we see him failing in all the ways that Yoda talked about in ESB.
But of course the Star Wars films have always been famous for imaginative visuals and incredible action, and this installment by no means disappoints. Visually this film is amazing: it is so incredibly detailed and well-constructed in every shot it's just staggering. I especially liked the design of the cloners, who were so beautifully elegant and mysterious at the same time. The second time I saw the movie I intentionally drifted my focus from the main action to watch some of the backgrounds, and was amazed and the amount of activity. The world just seems so alive. And for action fans, the first half of the movie may leave you a bit dry, but the second half is an absolute roller coaster, and a very good one at that. Not only does this have some of the best action sequences in the series, but it had so many things that I've been wanting to see for a long time: A hand-to-hand combat with a Fett, a mass Jedi battle, R2D2 using his *spoiler*, and Yoda proving why he is "a great warrior".
All said, I thought this was an excellent addition to the Star Wars universe. It's not perfect: it suffers from some awkward lines and acting, a bit of droid slapstick that really doesn't work, and a slow start, but in the end, these are just minor quibbles. AOTC doesn't dethrone ESB as my favorite, but definitely ranks up there with ROTJ.
Well worth the money I would've paid for it if I'd been paying for my ticket.
Spoilers The movie does really miss Han Solo. 3PO's lame dialogue just doesn't stand up without a human counterpoint. I kept waiting for someone to refer to "little orphan Ani", but thankfully nobody did.
The action scenes were quite something. Despite the marked decline in merchandising for Ep. II, I can still see the potential for a DynastyWarriorsTwo-style game, with Jedi in place of heroes. The scene after the arena breakout in particular...
There was definitely a certain amount of silliness present in the movie, but I didn't feel it was particularly jarring (aside from, as noted, some of the bits with Anakin's romance).
In brief: the action scenes were very well-done, the CG was pretty seamless in most places (at least as far as I saw; CG snobs *cough* RobAdams *cough* are free to disagree :)), the plot was more interesting than Ep. I, the dialogue was uneven (a few memorable quotes coupled with some very forgettable lines), the humor varied (I found some parts funny, others painful) and the acting mostly sucked (Haydn Christensen and Natalie Portman were of special note for their complete lack of talent, though it took my second viewing to notice how absolutely abysmal they are). Overall, it was a fun movie, though I don't think it quite hit the level of Empire Strikes Back.
Commentary: I've read that Stephen Spielberg asked to direct a Star Wars movie. If so, it's a damn shame Lucas didn't let him. While Stephen's work is not uniformly good, every third movie or so is genius. And, frankly, I'm not sure anyone can be much worse than Lucas. Someone raised the possibility that Lucas simply can't direct humans (to say nothing of being badly out of practice). Looking back at his work, I really have to agree. The human acting in the original series was mostly forgettable, with the exceptions of Harrison Ford and Alec Guinness, both of whom are/were very respectable actors in their own rights. Many of the best characters weren't really people: Darth Vader (a guy in a costume coupled with a voice actor), Chewbacca, R2-D2, Yoda . . . While I would argue that Lucas's material in the second series isn't stunning (particularly Christensen and Portman), I think there is definitely something to the contention that Lucas can't direct.
I would guess the story about Spielberg you read was about Return of the Jedi, not the prequels. According to the commentary track for ROTJ, Spielberg was originally slated to direct the movie, but was prevented from doing so by Director's Guild rules (a similar problem recently caused Gary Oldman to pull out of voice-acting for Episode III). I haven't heard anything about Spielberg asking to direct the prequels, although I do know that he had varying degrees of unofficial input.-AlexBobbs
We know he can't write, and if he can't direct either, what is Lucas good at? Well, he does deserve some credit for the original idea (even though he borrowed extensively from pulp sci-fi), but I think his real ability is with visuals, sound, and special effects. While these tend to be denigrated by film critics, movies are a visual and auditory medium and I think it is the unique look and sound of Star Wars that deserves credit for much of the series' success. The lightsaber is a perfect illustration of this: the effect of the look and sound of the saber, combined with the good choreography in Eps. I and II, is nothing less than stunning. Moreover, the quality of the visuals and sound is consistent throughout the series. Certainly George Lucas's team deserves some of the credit for this, but he was the founder of IndustrialLightAndMagic?, so I figure there is something there.
I actually have to agree with your assessment that StarWars' main credit is the visual and auditory artistry. John Williams once said (after producing the TPM score, I believe) that he always thought of the StarWars movies as silent movies, with a story primarily told through pictures and music rather than acting. The problem is that movie critics typically review the screenplay of movies rather than the movie (think: when was the last time you read a good analysis of the art direction or music in a movie review?) which I think is why the StarWars movies have generally been more appreciated by fans than critics (AOTC is actually the first StarWars movie to get overall positive reviews at the time of its original release since ANH, and this isn't a huge margin we're talking about).--AlexBobbs
I'm going to have to greatly disagree with Curtis one one thing... Portman and Christensen are tremendous actors. Need proof? Check out Christensen in LifeAsAHouse? and Portman in GardenState. There's only so much an actor can do with bad dialogue. Some things can't be saved. --RichardGarfinkel
Favorite Line (feel free to add your own):
"Lost a planet, Master Obiwan has. How embarrasing!"-Yoda
"Would you like to buy some death-sticks?" "You don't want to sell me any death-sticks." "I don't want to sell you any death-sticks" <pause> "You want to go home and rethink your life." "I want to go home and rethink my life." Obi-wan to random schmoe in a bar
"Out of the four Star Wars films that Lucas has directed, for the first time he did not resolve the action by having someone fly a teeny ship into a great big ship, shoot the 'reactor' and then run away real fast from a slow-motion explosion!" -David Brin on Star Wars Episode II
(Ironically there is no article 2...odd...)
Oh God... don't even get me started on David Brin and StarWars. I still remember reading his first editorial on a forum at TheForce?.net three years ago and thinking that it was written by some random internet troll (the thread was intentionally misleading).-AlexBobbs