Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones
directed by George Lucas
Twentieth Century-Fox
To End All Wars
directed by David L. Cunningham
Argyll Film Partners

With Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones, George Lucas recaptures an essential element of his epic series: foreboding. After Episode I—The Phantom Menace, many critics and even some fans worried that Lucas had lost his director's mojo. The special effects and fight choreography were still dazzling, but too much of the story dwelled on the frivolous Jar Jar Binks and on entirely digital characters like Watto the junkyard slaveholder.

In Episode II, Anakin Skywalker grows from a dimpled boy to a surly 20-year-old (played adequately by Hayden Christensen), Jar Jar (now an interim senator, against all odds) becomes a dupe of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, and Zen master Yoda wields a light saber with ferocity.

In short, Episode II leaves Star Wars fans feeling the same way we felt in the early 1980s: Lucas is a gifted storyteller, and it's a privilege to live in the time when he is creating new films. Lucas is one of the best filmmakers of his generation—not because of his often-stilted dialogue and the sometimes flat emotional range he draws out of actors, but because of his audacious vision. How many other directors have dared to commit so many of their most creative years to a serial drama, much less one that asks questions about good and evil?

Episode II renews the question of whether Lucas was crazy (or crazy like a fox) to start his saga midstory with what he eventually called Episode IV—A New Hope. The 25-year difference between the special effects of Episode IV and Episode II is striking; the past looks more technologically advanced than what follows it. But Lucas has consciously imitated the thrills of serials like Flash Gordon, which also began midstory and drew young audiences back to movie theaters week after week.

Let's admit it: The drama seems stronger in watching young Anakin struggle with good and evil because we know what a power-mad monster he will become for much of his adult life. We wait in dread for the definitive moment in the next film when Anakin (the future Darth Vader) surrenders himself to the Dark Side, but in Episode II we see many of his initial steps toward that end.

This is realistic filmmaking, for few of us merely stumble into doing evil. Often because of fear, pain, or a sense of helplessness, we lash out. In Anakin's case, because he has a light saber and the skills of a Jedi knight, the results are deadly.

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Lucas manages to keep Anakin a sympathetic character through most of Episode II. His sulking and rebellion will be familiar to the parents of most teenagers. But there are clear indications of where his character is moving, including the wholesale slaughter of a tribe.

Anticipating the showdown between Anakin and his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) will guarantee the return of long lines when Lucas wraps up the series with Episode III.

Real-Life Heroism

Like the Star Wars series, To End All Wars depicts good and evil on a larger-than-life canvas. Unlike Star Wars, To End All Wars tells a true story of British, Scottish, and American troops held captive by Japanese forces during World War II and forced to build the Burma-Siam "railroad of death." (Their story is told with greater fictional flourishes in David Lean's classic Bridge Over the River Kwai.)

Also unlike Star Wars, To End All Wars depicts Christianity as the best worldview for resisting evil. In Star Wars there's plenty of talk about trusting your feelings and restoring balance to the Force, but there's never any question about the ultimate way to confront evil: kill your enemies and let the Force sort them out.

In To End All Wars, by contrast, we see a believable story of living by Christ's teachings amid the worst deprivation. The heroes of this film are held captive by Japanese soldiers who live by Bushido, a brutal code that emphasizes face-saving and raw power. Yet through the example of prisoner Dusty Miller (Mark Strong), a self-sacrificing Christian, these soldiers find ways to show grace and forgiveness even to their tormentors.

To End All Wars is by no means a pacifist film, but it shows how a desire for justice must not be confused with mere vengeance.

Producer Jack Hafer plans to build an audience for his film through word of mouth and regional openings. His work will be made easier by a strong cast, including Kiefer Sutherland (most recently of Fox TV's 24), James Cosmo (Braveheart), and Japanese actors who have all appeared in the legendary films of Akira Kurosawa.

Those who believe that films about Christianity must be safe or tame should avoid To End All Wars. The story occurs during World War II, after all, so blood flows freely. Men struggle against starvation, and they are surrounded by daily reminders of impending death.

People who realize that Christianity is not a religion for the naïve or for cowards can see To End All Wars and celebrate its message. Prepare to grimace as you see men suffer, but also prepare to cry as you see the power of the gospel made manifest even in a World War II hellhole.

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Douglas LeBlanc edits The CT Review.

Related Elsewhere

The official website for To End All Wars includes a synopsis, images, media coverage links, and video clips.

The Star Wars website has more information than you ever thought you'd want to know about Episode II: Attack of the Clones, including a series of behind-the-scenes videos.

For more CT movie reviews, see our Film archive and also our Film Forum area, a weekly roundup of what Christian critics are saying about new and noteworthy movies.

Film Forum discussions of Attack of the Clones included "A New Hope for Star Wars Fans" and "Bad Boys Trying to Be Good."

In the March/April issue of Christianity Today sister publication Books & Culture, professor and writer Telford Work examined the reactions of fans to Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

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