To answer the most pressing question first: Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), now a teenager on his way to becoming Darth Vader, does not do erstwhile princess/present senator Amidala (Natalie Portman), though they do get misty-eyed in front of a romantic fireplace, and they do trade oral fluids. The prospect of the two star-crossed kids rutting like sloppy boars is never far from the viewer’s mind during George Lucas’s Episode II, however, since its universe is so lacquered and antiseptic your mind begins to crave the nasty heat of a good fuck like a runner needs water.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s marked time in the mud slide of Episode I. The latest installment represents a nominal improvement, if only for the sight of Yoda engaging ur-villain Christopher Lee in a light-saber match and bouncing off the walls like one of Joe Dante’s gremlins. The plot is composed largely of Lucas arduously trying to map out why his galaxy was in such dire straits at the beginning of the first Star Wars. In other words, we’re being whipped into a lemming-like dementia, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent, merely to answer piddling questions posed a quarter-century ago. How did Vader get to be Vader? (Vengeance corrupts the avenger.) Who built the Death Star? (One of those fish-faces in robes.) What’s Boba Fett’s motivation? (Retribution for his father, Jango—embodied by Maori hothead Temeura Morrison—who serves as the template for a covert army of obedient, disposable, Asian-featured clones. The backlash against the last film’s racist stereotypes apparently never reached Skywalker Ranch.)
If Lucas had a handful of beautiful images 25 years ago (like a golden robot wandering the Tunisian Sahara), now he’s the CEO and king deity of Digital Matte Land. The last two installments in the series don’t offer a semi-convincing alt-world so much as a gnat swarm of design clutter. (He still has panache with character names: Labeling a villain “Sidious” is one thing, but calling a minor character “Elan Sleazebaggano” is another achievement entirely.) A climactic dusky-desert battle between droid and clone armies, abetted by phalanxes of walking, rolling, hovering battleships, exudes an apocalyptic thrill, but Lucas cuts it and every scene short, terrified that our goldfish-level attention spans might focus elsewhere. There is an odd cognitive dissonance at work between the obvious ingenuity dedicated to the film’s visual details—alien anatomies, industrial machinery, technological minutiae—and the retarded intelligence quotient evident in its content.
Lucas has in fact come closer than anyone could desire to the cheap, graceless, hackneyed sci-fi serials of the ’30s and ’40s. Predictably, the screenplay would make Buster Crabbe call for a rewrite. “Toxic dart!” exclaims Obi (Ewan MacGregor, cashing that check) after picking a dart out of a dead person’s neck. “I don’t like sand . . . ” is how the agonizing Ani-Amidala romantic patter begins. Figuring out where the Republic, the Federation, the Corporate Alliance, and the Trade Guilds begin and end is more than Lucas himself manages to do, and the endless exposition is such irritating gibberish that you’re prone to ignore it and look out the windows as the digital planes sail by. When I was a kid in school, we called this “tedium.” Today, it’s a secular theophany.
Taken as five films—or six, in a year or so—this is hardly an epic (a word that implies moral, human, and social weight). It’s a marathon of irrelevant preadolescent dreaming. One could maintain that Lucas’s ongoing opus will eventually juice more consumers than any other cultural manifestation in the history of the race besides the Bible. At the very least, if a Jedi emissary were to examine mankind through its most widely perused texts, Lucas’s massive fantasy would surely stand in the top five—stop the planet, I want to get off. As the nationwide sidewalk camp-outs come to their climax, the maniacal wwwooooooos siren through the theater (even at the Lucasfilm Ltd. logo), and virtually every adult I know admits to a publicity-hammered submission, it’s easy to feel like 1984‘s Winston Smith struggling with 2 + 2 = 5. Why should this invasion of self-ratifying, trans-marketed mythopoeia—so electrifying and meaningful to so many—be so inarguably empty and inconsequential? Attack of the Clones is a golden calf, worshiped not out of primitive fear but populist groupthink. Contemplate, if you will, the huge contribution Lucas makes to keeping the world’s people obsessively distracted from the verities of political and corporate enterprise. But is he to blame? To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: There’s no power on earth or in heaven that can loosen the grip a culture has on its own throat.