I like love stories. Except when the girl is ten years older and the guy is a teenager. That’s a little bit awkward.
With Star Wars Episode I, the entire feel of the saga changed. It was more carefree, a little bit more laughable, and the speed of the lightsaber fights multiplied by a factor of ten. Jedi were all of a sudden diplomats and betting on podraces. Thankfully, the direction turns more serious with Episode II, but as the wrongs of Episode I disappear, more come to take their place.
The movie begins with an assassination attempt aimed at Padmé, and the subsequent calling on Obi-Wan and Anakin to protect her. Anakin is (sort of ) grown up now, and harbors a childish crush on Padmé. George Lucas and his crew would like us to believe it’s more serious than that, but the film never really manages to be convincing.
The source of trouble is eventually tracked to ex-jedi Count Dooku and his cronies on the planet of Geonosis. Obi-Wan does most of the detective work throughout the movie while Anakin is too busy flirting with Padmé to do anything productive. As I said earlier, it’s quite the childish affair. Anakin actually says at one point, in reference to the fact that they can’t be together “If you are suffering as much as I am, PLEASE, tell me.” Seriously? Anakin might as well have started sparkling and growing extra-pointed incisors.
The poorly-executed love story aside, the action sequences are pretty amazing. As is always the case in the prequel Star Wars films (and also in some of the re-mastered original trilogy scenes) the CGI is fantastic, which makes the “gladiator” scene fantastic. It also contains what is in my opinion the coolest large-scale battle in all of Star Wars, except possibly the battle on Hoth, and I think this one may still take the cake. That many lightsabers in one scene is just downright awesome. And who else was thrilled to see Samuel L. Jackson in action as a jedi?
The really cool part, though, comes when Yoda pulls out his lightsaber. I still remember seeing this in the theater. I had many expectations going into the film. Yoda dueling with Christopher Lee was not one of them. It may have just been a way for them to say “Hey look, Yoda isn’t a puppet anymore!” but I don’t mind. It was awesome. It remains one of my favorite lightsaber duels of all time, rivaled only by the Luke/Darth Vader scene from Episode VI and the Darth Maul duel from Episode I.
So in short, we watch Episode II not for its character development or deep plot, but for some really cool action scenes. There is some attempt at developing Anakin’s anger that will turn him into Darth Vader, but it’s not a very big focus in the movie. Hayden Christensen is okay at the part when he’s not forcing a love story with Natalie Portman. I actually liked his performance in Episode III, but here he comes across as bland and a little too much like an angsty teenager.
As to the worldview of the film, I need not repeat the Buddhist worldview of the films or how the Christian ought to respond to it. If you’re interested in that, I talk about it in my review of Episode I. Here I’d like to focus on two things: the love story of Anakin and Padmé and the role that emotion plays in determining hero and villain.
Anakin and Padmé’s story is a love story with the clichés typical of love stories, but with a defining (albeit unoriginal) twist: it’s secret. Jedi are forbidden from loving or marrying, and so they must keep their love a secret. This really twists love into a thing which is shared by young people enveloped in the thrills of secrecy and of each other. By this definition two teenagers eloping are more a definition of love than two people in a committed relationship with the approval of their family and friends. It’s the very thing Proverbs speaks against when it says “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22). But they’re young and in love, so obviously they have all the answers.
Emotion has an important role to play in the Star Wars universe, and it’s almost exclusively a negative one. By listening to the jedi dribble of Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, and Yoda, you get the idea that the ideal jedi is something of an android, devoid of emotion and feeling until all that remains is justice and peace. That’s not the way it plays out in reality. Qui-Gon, undoubtedly presented as one of the greatest (although slightly rebellious) jedi had an affection for Anakin. Obi-Wan shows a concern for him even years later in Episode IV, most apparent as he’s telling Luke about his father.
Emotion then is denounced practically when it takes a negative form. Indeed, the primary message of the entire prequel trilogy is that unchecked anger will turn you into a monster. There are any messages that today’s youth is hearing, but this is one of the better to be found in mainstream entertainment.