Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones, the sequel to the first prequel in a proposed trilogy, delivers the requisite goods, but no more, to fans of the spectacularly popular sci-fi saga. What really makes this latest installment noteworthy is that it will go down in cinema history as the first major end-to-end digital production. Captured with 6 Sony 24P cameras, it looks and sounds fine. Whether it passes the audience test with anticipated stratospheric scores is another question.

George Lucas, who unleashed the original Star Wars in 1977, delivers here that chunk of the backstory that begins ten years after the events of Episode I--The Phantom Menace. The powerful Jedi are threatened by a galaxy-wide separatist movement that endangers the Republic. To counter this, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) mobilizes an army to aid the Jedi. Drawn into the intrigue are Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and the now grown-up Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), who has become his Jedi apprentice. Senator Padm (Natalie Portman), former Queen Amidala of Naboo whom Anakin knew as a youth, becomes an assassin's target and Anakin and Obi-Wan are assigned to protect her.

Leaving Anakin to guard Padm, Obi-Wan ventures off to solve the separatist mystery and avenge the attempt on Padm's life. Significant clues lead him to a bounty hunter (played by New Zealand star Temuera Morrison, so memorable in Once Were Warriors) and Jedi turncoat Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), the film's resident villain.

Meanwhile, Anakin, alone with Padm, has the far easier job. And the time to fall further in love with her. But their love is thwarted by convention and the imminent showdown between Jedi and separatists. Immediately pressing is the kidnapping of Anakin's mother, and his revenge reveals a capacity for gratuitous violence. Attack of the Clones also presents the once-innocent Anakin as a hero whose interest in power might become dangerous. Thus are sown the seeds for his transition to the evil Darth Vader.

But first, Anakin and colleagues must do battle with Count Dooku, who holds them captive in a gladiator-style arena as twisted amusement for throngs of insect-like spectators. Of course, against all odds, the heroes prevail, even in the ensuing battle with the separatists. And, of course, it helps to have the eponymous clones on your side.

Technically, Attack of the Clones serves up terrific special effects, but nothing unexpected. There are lots of shiny robots who do everything but flip pancakes, great futuristic vistas teeming with space traffic, and mighty intergalactic fights, including the legions of clones. And creatures like Yoda (the voice of Frank Oz) are even more lifelike.

Eye-popping and ear-bending special effects and hardware aside, the film is soft in other areas: The acting is convincing at best, but largely wooden and uninspired. Dialogue is forgettable and the story is merely serviceable. Most disappointing is Christensen, in his first appearance since his startling, career-making performance in Life as a House.

Even if Episode II suggests there's less life in the Star Wars franchise, it also suggests that end-to-end digital cinema on a big scale is very much alive.

--Doris Toumarkine