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But can we even say film? Lucas seems to want to make that word obsolete: Clones is by far the most ambitious movie to be shot and, in certain theaters, exhibited with digital technology. For a movie industry that has been slow to embrace digital filmmaking, Clones heralds a breakthrough that Lucas compares with the advent of sound and the arrival of color. The whizzes at Lucasfilm, Panavision and Sony blended their expertise to devise sophisticated lenses and cameras that enable digital images to replace traditional 35-mm film. The result is an astoundingly clear image that lends a hyperreal glamour to the gritty city of Coruscant and the pastoral reaches of Padme's home planet, Naboo.
Lucas may be obsessed with all things digital, but in this film he and co-writer Jonathan Hales also appear fully engaged with his flesh-and-blood characters. Obi-Wan, in the form of McGregor's bearded visage, is growing into the moral authority and gruff wit exuded by Alec Guinness as the fogie Kenobi in Star Wars. His exasperation with Anakin has a paternal tint. In that Coruscant night chase, Anakin is the car-crazy teenager of many Lucas films, and Obi-wan is the speed demon's nervous dad who regrets giving his son the keys to the family sedan.
As for Padme and Anakin, they could be the first plausible love duo in the Lucas oeuvre. Theirs is a coming-of-age story: Padme's slow realization that the 9-year-old she left behind has grown up. At first she deflects his ardor by calling him by his old diminutive, Annie--a girl's nickname, a gentle emasculator--and telling him, "You'll always be that little boy I knew on Tatooine." He doesn't help his case by plighting his troth at every opportunity. (Is there anything less sexy than declared devotion?) But gradually, Padme, beguiled by Anakin's quick wit and impressed by his martial skills, comes to realize that they are destined to be together. And not just because the audience knows they will be the parents of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. As the galaxy careers toward catastrophe, the imminence of total war unites them, gives emotional weight to their puppy love, makes their romance more urgent.
The Anakin of Clones is an attractive fellow, full of a young man's roiling contradictions. He respects the Jedi ethic while squirming to elude its strictures; he loves both his faraway mother and the royal temptation at his side; he does engage in a revenge massacre but feels remorse for it; he is disarming and, finally, literally disarmed. By the end of Clones, Anakin is still a decent, stalwart gent, light-years removed from the malefic Vader.
So how will Lucas, who once created an angelic Luke, morph his new hero into Lucifer? "He turns into Darth Vader because he gets attached to things," says Lucas. "He can't let go of his mother; he can't let go of his girlfriend. He can't let go of things. It makes you greedy. And when you're greedy, you are on the path to the dark side, because you fear you're going to lose things, that you're not going to have the power you need."