As for the actors, it seemed a near impossible feat to follow in the footsteps of a man like Alec Guinness, who held the role of the older Obi-Wan a quarter of a century ago, but it couldn't have been done more admirably than by Ewan McGregor who handles the role with the same dignity, class and wit as his predecessor. While the story's focal point may be Anakin and his slow transformation, the rock it rests upon is McGregor who takes care of some action, some humor and also walks us through the convoluted political storyline. Christensen himself handles the role of the dual Anakin very well, his angelic face betraying the truth we all know in advance. In fact, the undertones in his first mano a mano meeting with Senator Palpatine (himself an enigma to the characters) are so dark and foreboding that they'll make any fan salivate for Episode III, especially once he goes medieval on a band of Tusken Raiders and describes the event with a smile on his face. Reprising her role as Padmé Amidala, Natalie Portman steps up to the challenge again and delivers a performance as good as the ones she's gotten us used to throughout her young (and hopefully very long) career. Kudos are also due to Ian McDiarmid as the creepy Palpatine and Christopher Lee as the Dark Count Dooku.
Naturally, not all projectiles hit the bull's eye in this film as Lucas once again tosses that walking garbage can by the name of Jar-Jar Binks into our faces. It's pretty sad that if I used up the only chance I had to blow someone off the planet, I'd use it on a computer graphic, but that's just how much I hate the bastard. Another serious recurring eyebrow raiser is the disastrous (and somewhat hilarious) choice of Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, leader of the Jedi Council. The poor guy is about as miscast as Clint Eastwood would be in the sequel to THE POWERPUFF GIRLS.
There is one thing that does stick out in the film though. Granted, it would be rather difficult (and probably impossible) to make this film the way it was made without using all the CGI, but it does overwhelm the viewer and the unfortunate part of that is that eventually, all the actual live sets stick out like sore thumbs among the rest. I'm a big supporter of the theory that CGI should only be used to support the story but in certain cases in this film, it seemed as though the opposite occurred, almost as if Lucas found a cool thing to do with his computer, and then wrote little scenes around it. At what point is it cool to watch and at what point is it just overkill? I guess we all have our opinions on that, but speaking for myself, I have to say that my threshold for computer generated effects is getting lower and lower as its usage increases continually. To Lucas' credit though, whatever effects he does use in his films are usually the best in terms of quality. The proof is in the pudding and that pudding, to me, happens to be the Coruscant, where diverse landscapes (light and dark) make up the geography and where 15 minutes into the movie, you'll be carried away into a dazzling action sequence high above the skies of the city.
All the other elements that make Star Wars what it is are included as well, starting first and foremost with the brilliant score by John Williams, which this time, adds a romantic theme and for longtime fans, the first few bars of the Imperial March. Another huge treat for old-timers was the introduction of a young Boba Fett and his father Jango. I think I speak for many of us when I say that the Boba Fett action figure released in the early eighties still ranks high up there as one of the coolest toys ever! We also get our first glimpse at the ultimate weapon, the Imperial Death Star. All in all, a fitting sequel to the first prequel and a movie that should definitely be watched.
Disc #2 is chockfull of Jedi goodness and although a lot of the material gets a tad slow every now and then, the content is more than adequate, even for a release as anticipated as this one.
Theatrical trailers and TV Spots (15:00): Aside from the full theatrical trailer, the DVD contains three teaser trailers including the really cool one in which the only audible sound is that of Darth Vader's infamous breathing. Twelve TV spots are also added, eight of them associated to a particular character and four to some different action aspects of the film. To top it off, a music video entitled "Across the stars" is also thrown in. It's a medley of some of John Williams' classic Star Wars themes, presented to clips of the film and of the orchestra blasting away.
"From Puppets to Pixels" (50:00): The first of two comprehensive documentaries, this one is a handheld walkthrough feature on the CGI creation of the characters of Episode II. It briefly explains the selection process of the characters' looks and basic character features as well as several attempts by animators to make them as realistic as possible. It also shows the procedure of mixing in animated characters with live actions shots and live characters into animated backgrounds. I have to admit that I'm getting a bit fatigued of seeing features relaying what CGI can do, but I guess ILM is the best in the business and they'd be frowned upon if they didn't discuss it. Yoda fans will get a kick out of it since a heavy focus is placed on his character and in trying to achieve a middle ground between the old puppet and the overly animated Yoda in Episode I.
"State of the Art: the Previsualization of Episode II" (25:00): The second documentary is one of those features I really got into and had a good time watching while all the while thinking: "Wow... will ya look at that...". In order to maximize filming and post-production time and in order to minimize costs, the crew shot an entire "virtual" Episode II using a blend of computer effects, models, blue screen, live shots and all kinds of other methods to serve as a visual reference for Lucas during the shoot. It was pretty fun to see what they came up with and it seems pretty useful since may of the shots were exactly the same as the mock shoot. Very cool to watch.
Deleted Scenes (20:00): The set is made up of eight individual deleted scenes that are available with optional intros by Burtt, Lucas and McCallum. Although the scenes on their own are pretty decent, many of them are pretty slow and would have brought the film to a halt had they been left in so, as Lucas explains, most of them were cut out for pacing purposes and a couple for character reasons. You won't find anything new added to the story though, as most of the messages they conveyed were passed along by other characters in the film.
Featurettes (30:00): This is a set of three 10-minute featurettes, each focusing on an aspect of the film, respectively "story", "love" and "action". With commentary by Lucas, cast members and other crewmembers, as well as lots of various footage, each little vignette covers many aspects such as music, sounds, stunts and more.
Web Documentaries (60:00): Real fans of the saga will really hit the motherlode here with a set of twelve short documentaries discussing various aspects of the five episodes to date. I won't get into all of them here but they cover topics ranging from sounds to characters, effects, models & maquettes and many more. My personal favorite was the one that focused on Boba and Jango Fett, since Boba is one of my longtime favorites.
Dex's Kitchen and Stills Galleries (50:00): Checking in to Dex's Kitchen will lead you to three different features. The first one is a 25-minute long documentary on the sounds of the movie entitled "Movies aren't released, they escape". Editor Ben Burtt, who also happens to be the supervising sound editor walks us through the thousands of sounds he's recorded and discusses both the Foley mixing of the film as well as the dialogue recording. It's a pretty fun featurette on a topic that always gets a laugh out of people, especially when they discover that the weird sound they hear in films are often made by stuff they use every day.
Next up is an Episode II visual effects breakdown montage. It's basically a musical montage of several effects scenes in various stages of completion. It's very well made in the sense that you can see the same scene go from rough animatics sketches to finished products in one swoop. Also included in the kitchen is "R2-D2: Beneath the Dome", a funny little mockumentary about everyone's favorite beeping droid, including comments by different people from Carrie Fisher to Steven Spielberg, all praising the distinguished "career" of the rolling ashtray.
Three stills galleries are inserted as well. One of them contains some production photos, the other, all kinds of one-sheet posters (very cool ones, I might add!) and the third, international campaign's foreign posters.