Wineskins Archive

February 11, 2014

Movie Review: “Star Wars Episode II” (Jul-Aug 2002)

Filed under: — @ 5:25 pm and

by Marla Walters
May – June 2002

I have been a Star Wars fan-atic since the “beginning of the middle” of the story in 1977. My family knows it — many Star Wars gifts; my friends know it — ditto; my piano students know it — posters, Star Wars music in recitals; my computer screen saver is the marquee, “May the Force Be With You!” I’ve seen the movies uncountable times. I know Episodes IV, V, and VI so well that I can quote the movies with the music. It’s like watching the movies without seeing them (works great while cleaning house!!). When I’m found in front of the TV with Episode IV, M&M’s and Diet Coke, one knows I am in critical need of a mood boost!

We, as spiritual beings, can glean much from this entire set of “fantasy” movies. George Lucas is simply using the “fantasy” genre to tell us a “fantastic” story that makes perfect sense to those of us who believe in a powerful entity that is good and will win. My husband says that my obsession with Star Wars reminds him of early Christian fascination with apocalyptic literature. There is evil in the world, and things can seem dark and hopeless. Most of all, the evil can seem to linger on and on and on. In that “galaxy far, far away,” the Jedi promote living a life of virtue. One can look at Christian documents (for example, Galatians 5:19-23) and reflect on the Star Wars story: the clash between good and evil, love and hate, compassion and judgment, peace and war, freedom and oppression, forgiveness and revenge, gentleness and anger, humility and arrogance, joy and sadness, truth and deceit, courage and cowardice, calm and fear, triumph and temptation, redemption and condemnation. In Episode II, Lucas becomes more explicit that the Jedi’s power is related to asceticism (it’s no accident that the Jedi are hooded like monks). Lucas amazingly blurs the lines (which seemed so clear in Episodes IV, V, VI and I) between good and evil, democracy and dictatorship, peace and war. We already knew that arrogance, hate, anger, fear, and greed were a temptation toward the “Dark Side.” Now Lucas suggests that love and hatred of evil can lead one to the “Dark Side” as well.

During the ten years between Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace, and Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones, the Separatists, made up of the Trade Federation and Commerce Guilds and led by Jedi Dooku, have broken away from the Republic and amassed a large droid army. In Episode II, “the shroud of the Dark Side” obscures the ability of the Jedi to keep the peace by preventing them from being aware that a clone army was being created. When the Senate grants “emergency power” to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, who then makes the executive order for the enlistment of the clone army as the Army of the Republic, one can’t miss the allusions to ancient Rome’s transition from republic to empire. The end of Episode II sees the Supreme Chancellor with greater power, the Senate with less power, and the Jedi on the defensive.

Set against this back-drop of the beginning of civil war is the love story of Luke and Leia’s parents. As a child in Episode I, Anakin Skywalker was identified as being strong in the “Force” and was granted permission to be the “paduwan apprentice” to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Obi-Wan is masterfully (no pun intended) played in both Episode I and II by Ewan McGregor, who at times in Episode II one would swear is a young Alec Guinness (who played Obi-Wan in Episodes IV, V & VI). Yoda, the oldest member of the Jedi Council, could be considered the “lead” in this installment of the story. We begin to understand his reputation for wisdom and strength in the “Force” as we see the demonstration of his leadership and power. As Yoda’s character develops, a line in Episode V becomes even more poinant, “Wars not make one great!”

In Episode II, Anakin has grown into a young man, the somewhat rebellious apprentice of Obi-Wan. Played well by Hayden Christensen, he embodies the emerging two sides of Anakin in facial expressions and oh, those eyes. Anakin realizes that he has always loved Padmé Amidala (played in both Episodes I and II by the talented Natalie Portman), who is no longer the elected Queen of Naboo but is now a member of the Senate. After an assassination attempt on Senator Amidala, the two Jedi are summoned to be her protectors. When the identity of the assassin is discovered, Obi-Wan goes to search for him and Anakin is left to be the sole protector of Padmé on her home planet of Naboo. Thus the scene is set for their relationship to evolve.

Similarities between the middle episode of each trilogy (Episode II and V) abound. Both show the development of characters and relationships and the set-up for the climax of each part of the story line. Episode II introduces new characters (which are really old characters) and develops the key relationships between Anakin and Obi-Wan, Padmé, his mother Schmi, and Palpatine, and even between R2D2 and C3PO. Lucas skillfully draws parallels between Anakin and Luke, as well as between Padmé and Leia, using specific lines, musical themes and clothing. And then there’s the asteroid field, the dual, the ending scene . . . well, you can make your own list.

The public should take this movie for what it is!! It is what it is: a Star Wars movie. Let’s face it: none of the Star Wars movies have been recognized by the “experts” for the acting, dialogue or directing! To adapt the political catch-phrase from 1992, “It’s the story, stupid!” George Lucas is a master story-teller and a visionary — how else could all this fit together so seamlessly through 25 years? The characters, music and special effects are there to fill out the story. The additional characters (yes, even Jar-Jar) are an interesting aside and I enjoy the new amazing special effects, but I want to understand how the story is woven throughout all the movies. We have waited a long time for one missing link: in Episode IV Leia says to Obi-Wan Kenobi, “General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars . . .” At the end of Episode II, Yoda says, “The shroud of the Dark Side has fallen, begun the Clone War has.”

As a musician, I am obviously crazy about the music! John Williams’ use of specific themes for characters and entities harkens back to Wagner and his use of leit-motif. Anakin and Padme’s love theme in Episode II is hauntingly beautiful and is the only really new theme developed. However, Williams’ use of many of the other themes in Episode II is masterful, especially the themes for the “Force,” Anakin, Darth Vader, the Emperor/Sith and the “Dual of the Fates.” The music, as well as the story, is getting darker and darker.

Every movie in the Star Wars story has been technically superior to the previous ones; Episode II is no exception. (One should note the irony: Lucas has always found ways to show the dangers and limitations of technology.) The special effects continue to amaze, mystify and push the envelope. From the creative ideas that seem so simple now (Corescant, the planet that is one big city, is seen from above cloud cover, the tops of skyscrapers jutting through the clouds), to the more complex (a car chase scene above the planet — so fun!), to the unbelievable! The highlight of Episode II is Yoda! Yoda has always been a convincing character through the expert puppetry of Frank Oz. In Episode II Yoda is entirely computer generated, but one would never know because he is again brought completely to life by that same voice and character. Yoda is now seen walking around and, well, you’ll have to see it. On opening night, in the theater where I first saw the movie, Yoda got the only spontaneous bursts of cheers and applause.

This is the story of Anakin Skywalker. In Episode I, as a young boy, he “brought hope to those who had none.” In Episode II, he is now a young man who is coming to a cross roads in his life. He succeeds in overcoming some temptations, but fails miserably at other times. To those of us who are aware of the “big picture” and the “end of the story,” we know he does succumb to the “Dark Side of the Force,” but is “redeemed” in the end. In the “big picture,” we see the “Force” working not only in the ones seeking the good, but also in the ones “It” is seeking to “redeem.” The “Force” is always at work, not in technology or the man-made, but in ways imperceptible to the characters at the moment, as well as to the viewers. When we see the whole story, we can see hints of the “Force” at work in all the movies, even as early as Episode IV when R2D2 and C3P0 walk through a barrage of lasers without even a singe. The “Force” is always at work, working “Its Plan” toward bringing balance to the universe.

Yes, as in ancient apocalyptic literature, evil can seem to be winning. But there’s always M & M’s, Diet Coke, and Star Wars. In Episode IV, when Luke turns off the targeting computer, loses R2D2 and only relies on “you know what” — when, along with the help of friends, brought it at exactly the right instant by “you know what,” Luke destroys the Death Star — I invite you to do what I do every time I see it — smile.New Wineskins

Marla Walters teaches piano and accompanies the chorus at the Hanover High School. She and her husband, James, coordinate worship and teach in their church in Hanover, New Hampshire, which till recently met in their home. She and James have two daughters: Elizabeth, and Charissa Wilson.

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