Forget the triviality, clumsiness, and blatant corporate synergy of "The Phantom Menace". The great news is that "Attack of the Clones" is a far more focused and richly dramatic entry in the "Star Wars" canon.
Picking up ten years after "TPM", Anakin Skywalker (a surprisingly believable and sympathetic Christensen) is the precocious, rebellious Jedi apprentice to Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor, more comfortable second time round).
When an assassination attempt on Senator Amidala (Portman) fails, Obi-Wan investigates the peace-threatening conspiracy by Separatists, while smitten kitten Anakin is charged with protecting Amidala.
The film echoes the structure of franchise peak "The Empire Strikes Back", and co-writer Jonathan Hales' contribution is keenly felt, with better defined characters and an altogether smoother story.
Shot digitally, "Clones" looks gorgeous, with CGI superbly realising Lucas’ imaginative galaxies and alien lifeforms (including, for the first time, a computer-generated Yoda).
Of course, "Star Wars" movies demand action, and George duly delivers - opening with a breathless night-time chase through the city-planet Coruscant.
And the climatic triple-whammy - of lightsabre duels (with the film’s undisputed party-popper moment); an arena face-off between hundreds of Jedi and countless robots; and the breathtakingly immense and gritty launch of the oft-mentioned Clone Wars - is nothing short of astounding.
However, for non "Star Wars" believers, the perennial problems remain: clunky dialogue and wooden performances, while the occasionally overwhelming CGI is weak in places. Fans will willingly overlook these shortcomings, though.
Consistently thrilling and massively enjoyable, "Clones" redeems Lucas' reputation after "Menace". And while "Episode II" doesn't match the cliffhanger ending to "Empire", it does climax with an expertly subtle sense of approaching doom that - George willing - should lead to a magnificent conclusion. Roll on 2005!