Whoever said it ain’t easy being green obviously never met Yoda. Thanks in part to his saber-rattling duel with rogue Jedi Dooku, George Lucas’ ”Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” raked in $110.2 million over four days, the third-biggest debut in history. (The haul was topped only by ”Spider-Man” and ”Harry Potter,” though those films played on more screens.) ”Thesenumbers exceeded our hopes,” says Fox domestic distribution president Bruce Snyder. Still, the studio had to downgrade the weekend’s initial tally by $6.2 million after a bigger-than-expected drop on Sunday, May 19 — which may not bode well for ”Clones” besting ”Spider-Man,” a box office daddy longlegs that appears to be heading north of $400 million. ”We were never in a race,” insists Snyder. ”We were just hoping to get close to ‘Episode I.”’
Well, how close? In its first five days, 1999’s ”The Phantom Menace” grossed $105.7 million — on its way to a $431 million total. But given ”Phantom”’s dismissal by many diehards as Bantha fodder, TheForce.Net editor Joshua Griffin says, ”’Episode II’ was the make-it-or-break-it film in the franchise.” Griffin says fan reaction has been positive, with ”quite a few saying it’s right up there with the caliber of the original trilogy.”
But don’t do a Jabba jig just yet. Like ”Phantom,” ”Clones” has drawn less-than-stellar critical notices, which may take a toll this time. In addition, while rival studios steered clear of ”Phantom” during its first few weeks, Lucas now faces more competition — and not just from a certain wall crawler. Grown-up Memorial Day offerings ”Insomnia” and ”Enough,” big-bang actioner ”The Sum of All Fears” (May 31), kid-friendly ”Scooby-Doo” (June 14), and Tom Cruise’s ”Minority Report” (June 21) all could lure Lucas-friendly patrons. Notes box office analyst Adam Farasati of ReelSource, ”It’s a much tougher summer than any of the previous [”Star Wars”] films have had to deal with.”
The final ”Clones” gross is just one of many mysteries left to solve in the oft-byzantine ”Star Wars” universe. Other questions may never be answered — like how Amidala (Natalie Portman) manages to survive a tumble in the desert without so much as a bruise. Still, we’ve assembled a geek-geared tour de Force.
BINKS AND YOU’LL MISS ‘EM Look closely at the crowded bar where Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen) pursue bounty hunter Zam Wesell (Leanna Walsman): You’ll find two out-of-costume ”Star Wars” sidekicks — longtime C-3PO Anthony Daniels and Ahmed Best, who plays the jarring Senator Binks. (As for a rumored cameo by three ‘N Sync-ers, Lucas himself recently told Entertainment Weekly that it didn’t make the final cut.) Speaking of Binks, how does that aquatic Gungan survive on dry land? ”He does a little ‘Flashdance’ thing with a glass of water,” jokes Best, who promises to return in ”Episode III.” ”George told me I’m going to be there.” Wee-sah can’t wait.
JUMPIN’ JEDIS Though Luke and Vader could always execute some mean mid-fight leaps, Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu demonstrates more ambitious airborne aerobics in ”Clones.” ”We’re kind of higher up on the Jedi order,” Jackson says. ”We’ve learned how to use the Force a little better so we can do things they couldn’t [in the original trilogy].” Okay, but why couldn’t they all use Jedi mind tricks on those creepy creatures in the arena (as Anakin appears to do)? ”Beasts don’t have minds,” says Jackson. ”They work on instincts. They get hungry, they eat. They get angry, they fight.”