At the very least, Attack of the Clones provides of a glimpse of a tumultuous time in the galaxy’s history, Jedi in their waning days battling a separatist army en masse on Geonosis. It’s a merciful break for Episode II in those closing moments, moving away from hokey, forced romance, creepy Hayden Christensen stares, and endless political bickering.

Maybe The Simpsons had it right, a 2004 episode beginning with an extended text crawl following by senate hearings. An AT-AT walker bursts into the room, only to sit down, planning for an extended stay. It’s not just a zinger against the general plot threads, but the sheer boredom this script introduces.

Until that gorgeous final Geonosis scuffle, Attack limps along, an overlong chase post-Padme (Natalie Portman) assassination attempt the beginning of the film’s long downfall. A trip through a droid creation facility only makes you wonder why R2 never saw fit to fly before, and the Obi-Wan (Ewan McGreggor) brawl with Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) is… well, that’s pure spectacle, but still.

So much of this action-oriented nonsense goes nowhere, generally spliced with more romantic duds or Anakin whining. It’s easy to see where Luke would get his Episode IV demeanor from. Thankfully, Luke grew up by the sequel. For the prequels, there’s still another movie to deal with.

Attack feels a little desperate, trying to appease the fan base rallying against Jar Jar Binks (used merely as a pawn here). The origins of Boba Fett are brought in, Yoda enters into a goofy lightsaber duel played entirely for fan reaction, foreshadowed lines reference better films, and the misadventures of C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) return. It’s trying to soften the blow while giving the film a bit of life where romantic entanglement will kill it. All of that still isn’t enough. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]

Lucas ditches film entirely for Episode II, a bit of head scratcher in terms of synchronization between the others, but undoubtedly easier for the visual effects squads. Dominating this Sony CineAlta captured production is softness, that razor sharpness that has been brought from the original trilogy into the home forever lost here. Aside from those epic panoramas of various planet-scapes, this video-based presentation is lacking life, not unlike the material itself.

Whereas it’s easy for longtime fans to piece together unseen material from the original trilogy thanks to the boost in resolution, the Blu-ray format is barely a helper here. Compression techniques improve to produce a cleaner image, not necessarily a richly detailed one. Such is the fate Lucas chose. High-fidelity detail lacks consistency, a handful shots bringing forth a lighter level of texture than what was previously available. Jedi cloaks, for example, are better resolved. Faces are simply flat though, not helped by meager black levels that need a better push. Crush is no concern here.

One thing that can be said for Episode II is that it’s pure, no technical anomalies present. Tremendous amounts of action engulf the screen, from the sparks in the droid factory to the heavy dust blasting clones during the finale. This powerful AVC encode never misses a beat or exposes itself, content to remain in the background, processing each frame. Filmed right at 1080p, fantastic in 2002, not so much in 2011, it’s no surprise that the resolution isn’t enough to dodge some pesky aliasing. Mostly contained to the first act, it’s nonetheless a distraction.

Along with the black levels, the CineAlta also drains the color from the frame. Dry and lacking impact, the rather intense hues now present in the originals and the prior prequel are lost. Flesh tones are missing some needed life, primaries are dull, and those lightsabers sure stand out. They offer the only vividness in a pale palette. It looks as if this master was created a long time ago in a galaxy far… you get the point. Those closing moments, backed by sunsets and reddish tints, will provide the intensity needed during the previous two hours. Some neon lights earlier fight the good fight but lose out to everything else.

Lucas’ short-sighted decision to use soon-to-be-eclipsed technology will now backfire, Blu-ray the height of the material as it sits at the source. Whatever comes next, whether that’s 2K, 4K, or maybe even 8K, Attack of the Clones will always be what it is right now. That said, a better, maybe even more up to date master certainly couldn’t hurt. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]

Audio tech utilized isn’t short-sighted though, rousing and intense which is exactly what is expected from these discs. The movie begins on an attempted assassination, Padme’s ship blowing up resulting in a furious, brutal explosion that soaks all the power out of the subwoofer. That won’t be the last one. Episode II loves blowing stuff up; it has to in order to drown out the romantic garbage.

Bass never subsides, from the slamming presses of the factory to the seismic charges during the asteroid chase sequence. All of it is lifted by a presence in the low-end, tight, controlled, and balanced. Even during the war itself, ships drop to the ground with a furious rumble, lasers pinging in the surrounds and stereos, still audible amongst the growing wreckage.

As a DTS-HD 6.1 track, the additional speaker will rally during the early city chase, cars whipping by or overhead, the side rears just as responsive and active as that center. It’s not lost during lightsaber clashes either, reverberating as they whirr or are spun, the hum balanced in the extreme. Clashes are brilliant in their brutality; the Dooku battle in the cave is the obvious highlight.

Mild mixing will prove important as Anakin and Padme escape to a retreat for safety, animal calls evident in the surrounds. Kamino, rainy as it is, pounds the mix with rushing water and oceans, all effectively conveyed through proper mixing. Positionals are as lively as the sub. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]

George Lucas will be joined by Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Pablo Helman, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, and Ben Snow for a commentary track. A new archival mix brings in quotes from 17 different participants, all mixed from various interviews.

The rest of Episode II’s extras are on a separate disc in the box set, ready to be reviewed at a later date in the interest of being as thorough as possible. The score reflects the film’s disc only. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]

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