Barnes & Noble - Ben Wolf
Fans waited 16 years for this latest entry in George Lucas's epic space opera, and the payoff was big. Advances in digital imaging technology gave Lucas the tools to bring his most extraordinary visions yet to dramatic life. Episode I: The Phantom Menace -- an action-packed intergalactic adventure -- introduces an eye-popping parade of new aliens (such as loopy amphibian Jar Jar Binks) to populate future installments, as it begins the backstory to the phenomenally popular Star Wars trilogy. Brave Jedi Knights Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor join forces with young Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) to save her civilization from invaders, setting the stage for political intrigues to come in future episodes. The film also sets sci-fi history in motion by bringing Queen Amidala face-to-face with prodigious Jedi-to-be Annakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a sweet boy with the darkest of destinies. From its breathtaking Pod Race to the exhilarating light-saber battles with the villainous Darth Maul, The Phantom Menace dazzles with its technical wizardry and whets the appetite for Lucas's next adventure.
Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
Writer-director George Lucas's fifth entry in the Star Wars saga (actually the second, chronologically speaking) is by far the richest since 1980's The Empire Strikes Back. The overall production value and special effects are spectacular -- that's par for the course -- and the narrative thrust and emotional resonance far surpass that of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It picks up the story ten years after the action in the previous film, as Annakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), now a Padouin apprentice to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), is impatient to become a full-fledged Jedi knight and find his long-lost mother. Meanwhile, he is assigned to safeguard Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), the former queen whom he has loved since he was a young boy. Separatist forces led by the sinister Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) threaten the peace of the galaxy, and a full-fledged war seems imminent. Lee offers strong, charismatic villainy with Dooku. It's a trait sorely missing from the previous film, and film buffs will enjoy it as a reference to the cold presence of the late Peter Cushing, Lee's former Hammer Studios costar, in the original film. For the Star Wars universe, Attack of the Clones is a stirring, powerful movie and an important turning point in the saga. It's also a major crowd-pleaser for fans of Yoda and Boba Fett alike. Among the supplemental features on the double-DVD set is a detailed commentary featuring Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, sound editor Ben Burtt, and effects supervisor Rob Cohen. The disc also affords several informative documentaries: "From Puppets to Pixels," describing the evolution of character animation; "State of the Art: The Previsualization of Episode II," including never-before-seen animation effects; and "Films Are Not Released, They Escape." There are also three behind-the-scenes featurettes, a gallery of poster art, and other incidental materials.