10 years have passed between the end of Episode I and the beginning of Episode II, and our main characters have changed significantly. Obi-Wan is now an experienced Jedi Master while his young apprentice Anakin has grown into a feisty and powerful Jedi knight. Former Jedi Master Count Dooku is the new villain, who has organized a separatist movement that threatens the safety and stability of the Galactic Republic.
A main plot point of Episode II is that it ends up splitting Anakin and Obi-Wan for much of the film, as each pursue their different interests. Obi-Wan investigates the production of a clone army and the mysterious bounty hunter Jango Fett while Anakin revisits his family and slaughters those who hurt them in a fit of rage. Anakin also develops a romantic relationship with Padme. This relationship leaves a bad taste in many viewers’ mouths because of the huge age difference between the teenager and the flowered senator. Hayden Christensen’s poor acting combined with the awkward dynamic between him and Natalie Portman result in a romantic relationship that is not very convincing.
Aside from this, Episode II focuses more on the other Jedi Masters in the Jedi council, including powerful Jedis Master Yoda and Mace Windu. After Obi-Wan is captured after discovering a separatist meeting led by Count Dooku, Yoda and Mace Windu along with the daring Anakin and Padme lead a clone army to rescue Obi-Wan and crush the separatists. Anakin and Obi-Wan intercept Dooku as he is trying to escape, leading to a short-lived lightsaber duel. Count Dooku easily dispatches Anakin with the first display of Force lightning, then injures Obi-Wan. Anakin reengages and is ultimately overwhelmed and gets his hand chopped off. It is disappointing to see Anakin and Obi-Wan, who have been training for so long, to get defeated so easily. However, it fits in, as Dooku was Yoda’s former apprentice and has clearly mastered the more powerful dark side of the Force. Just as our two heroes are about to be struck down, Yoda appears and engages Dooku. The two battle to a stalemate, and Dooku escapes. Yoda’s feeble appearance is quickly dashed, as he displays a remarkable show of athleticism and agility, utilizing jumps and flips to engage the bigger Dooku. For Star Wars fans, it is amazing to see Yoda in action after seeing him at the end of his life in the original trilogy. Previously, we were only aware of Yoda’s deep knowledge of the Jedi ways and how he trains Luke to become stronger physically and mentally, but his days as a warrior were long past during the time of the Empire. We were therefore left to only imagine his potential as a lightsaber dueler.
The escape of Dooku, however, seems like a major flaw in the movie. It reflects a certain ambivalence of director and writer George Lucas towards the character. The trend of the new series seems to be to introduce one Sith lord and have him be defeated by one of our Jedi heroes, but Lucas seems to have an affinity for Dooku for no reason at all. Dooku is not a very interesting character and could have easily been killed off by Yoda at the end, but they choose an underwhelming end to his character. What a disappointment.
Overall, Episode II continues the deeper dive in the politics of the Galactic Republic and sets the stage for a dramatic finish. However, I feel Lucas tends to get too cute with introducing complex characters and storylines that ultimately do not mesh well together. He has the opportunity to make things right, but ends up ruining much of it with unsatisfying conclusions.