EP II is my least favorite one of the six.
EP II didn’t have to do much to explain the beginning compare to EP I and III since there were little happened in the 10 years between EP I and EP II. EP II also didn’t have those childish plot like EP I. However, there are new problems.
The problem is that Anakin and his love story.
I once heard someone said Lucas wanted to show Anakin as a rebellious young man, which is very different than many people had expected and very different than Vader. I agreed with that, however a while ago when I heard many people said TCW Anakin was portrayed better than PT Anakin. I now realized Lucas’ characterization of Anakin is not that different than people had expected, the problem is to show his conflict and downfall. EP II was set in his most immature and rebellious time. Anakin was just a 19-years-old padawan, who has not experienced the war, just had a few missions with his master. In fact, most people have a “rebellious, whiny teenager” period around this age , even Palpatine is no different. TCW and PT Anakin is not different or inconsistent, but rather reflects different stages of the character, compared to the EP II, TCW Anakin had been knighted and experienced war, of course he became more mature. In fact, not just TCW, in CW and many other Clone Wars era EU, Anakin was more mature than EP II.
I think the weakest part of EP V’s plot is the romance of Leia and Han was a bit rushed. Lucas is not good at writing romance. But Leia and Han’s romance is not a huge part of the OT and Ford’s great performance made it stronger. However, in EP II Lucas intended to make the love story of Anakin and Padme the most important plot of EP II and one of the most important reasons Anakin fall to the Dark Side. So this caused the problem of EP II, we saw some badly written love story became the main theme of the movie. Lucas’ writing of the love story script is even worse, the “angel” scene in EP I also showed it. Even in EP IV, Obi Wan and Vader’s dialogue is a bit weird.
Hayden was blamed a lot a lot since people saw him play Anakin in EP II. However I don’t think it’s mostly his fault. Hayden performances in EP II is not great, especially the love scenes, he did fine in the scenes of Shmi’s death. If we look at Natalie Portman’s performance we could see she was no different in those romance scenes. Many people also said there was no chemistry between the two. I guess that has to do with Lucas as well. If we look at their other works, they were both talented actors but not great like Harrison Ford. So their performance rely on the director since the script and the plot is not amazing, but Lucas wasn‘t able to do so. EP II showed Lucas might be good at write the overall theme and plot, but love story is not what he‘s good at, his writing of script is also not impressive.
The major villain of EP II, Count Dooku clearly had more screen time, dialogue and characterization than Darth Maul, the lightsaber duel in the end showed his strength. However, compare to Maul, Dooku is a much more complexed and important character of the whole story. He was against the old JedI way also had a tight connection with Anakin. They even deleted the scene of Jocasta Nu telling Obi Wan about Dooku. The audience could only know he was an arrogant, powerful and elegant old gentleman through Sir Christopher Lee’s great performance in his limited screen time. There wasn’t enough screen time to show more of his character, which he should get more. Especially how did he change from one of the greatest Jedi Masters of that era to a cold and manipulative Sith Lord. This is not only the most important change in his character, it also has quite a bit to do with the overall theme, to show the old JedI‘s flaw and link with Anakin. We still have to mostly rely on EU to understand his character. If Lucas had thought of him in EP I he should let Dooku be there as the JedI Master. So we could understand his downfall better. This showed one of the biggest problems of the PT again. It got too much to tell and could not focus on certain plot and characters.
Compare to Saruman in Lord of the Rings, who was also played by Lee. Since the antagonist Sauron lost his physical form and appeared a giant burning eye, Saruman got more scenes than in the novel since the movie need an active villain. In the first two films, Saruman certainly had more presence than any other villains, including Sauron. Although I like Dooku’s character better, but if we just look at the movies, Saruman was portrayed more successful both as a character and a villain.
Of course, Palpatine is still great and he started to make close relationship with Anakin to seduce him. EP II overall is better than EP I, the PT haters mostly use the plots and elements of EP I, when they talk about EP II they mostly list the love scene and Hayden‘s performance.