Star Wars and the Oscars: Two Forces That Rarely Meet

December 1, 2015 – The 88th Academy Awards or Oscars will be held on February 28th, 2016, but don’t expect Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be nominated or much less win any of the major Oscar prize categories.

Sketch Credit: Etsy/Studio in Budapest

Sketch Credit: Etsy/Studio in Budapest

Despite the media frenzy and high expectations surrounding The Force Awakens, there are many reasons why you should lower your expectations as to the likelihood of any Oscar glory being bestowed upon Episode VII. Here’s why:

1. The deadline for movie candidates to submit their films for screening is this week. Disney has made the conscious decision to skip the process, thus removing the opportunity to be considered by the National Review Board (Dec. 2nd), the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Some speculate that Disney’s decision is an attempt to prevent any unwanted leaks before the Dec. 14th premiere in Los Angeles. Others believe the secrecy is meant to forestall video piracy. But the most credible view is that Disney believes The Force Awakens has very little chance to snag any major Oscars, so why bother.

2. The “why bother” argument is based on the historical knowledge that the Academy, since the first Oscars were awarded in 1929, has rarely bestowed Best Picture, Best Director or other similar major-category awards upon any sequels. The Academy is averse to considering sequels (though there are some exceptions) – so a director had better make his or her best effort in the first film.

In 1977, Star Wars (later re-named in part “A New Hope”) was honored with ten nominations, including best picture, director and original screenplay. And while the movie did win an impressive six Oscars, including one for John Williams’ musical score, it lost out to Annie Hall for best picture and best director (Woody Allen).

The first Star Wars film racked up the most nominations (10) and wins (6) out of all the six Star Wars movies. It was new. It was different. It was exciting. And it wasn’t a sequel.

By contrast, consider the following episodes’ Oscars history: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – despite being widely hailed by critics and audiences alike as being perhaps the best written and produced Star Wars film – received only three nominations and won for sound (plus a special award for visual effects). Return of the Jedi (1983) garnered four nominations, but won nothing – except a “special achievement citation” for visual special effects.

The prequels had even less success: The Phantom Menace (1999) received three nominations, but no wins. And both Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) scraped the bottom with just one nomination each, and no wins.

The Force Awakens is No. 7 in the franchise, so no matter how well written, acted, directed and produced, it still carries the burden of being a sequel.

Still, there may be some hope. Five sequels have been nominated for best picture, and two have won: The Godfather: Part II (1974) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). With the return of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and others, sentimentality may well increase the odds of a major Oscar nod.

3. The public misunderstands the Academy, which is made up of approximately 6,000 actors, writers, directors, editors, and the like. As a somewhat older group of voters, the Academy members are not looking for the movie with the greatest box office receipts (likely to be The Force Awakens), the highest audience attendance (same), or the most popular movie of the year.

The Academy, in theory, seeks to honor and shine the light on those movies it believes to show the best of what Hollywood and filmmakers can produce in a particular year. It’s aspirational. It’s artsy-pie-in-the-sky. And, frankly, the awards are sometimes bullsh*t, based on behind-the-scenes politicking and campaigning for an award, based on who knows who, and whether or not the members have actually seen and screened each submission. (They have not; it’s impossible to see all submissions by the deadline).

4. Fantasy space operas rarely win the major Oscars. Yes, The Force Awakens may get nominations in – and even win – the technical categories (effects, sound, editing and so on). But fantasy-type movies, especially sci-fi productions, rarely get anywhere near Best Director or Best Picture.

Because the Academy aspires to what it considers more serious films, do not be surprised if the Oscar nominations tilt heavily toward independent movies, social issues pictures and biographical or historical films. This bias means that The Force Awakens will have to be exceedingly brilliant before the Academy deems to give it a second look.

In the final analysis, the Star Wars universe is so beloved by a worldwide audience that it does not need a stamp of approval from the Academy Awards. Both Star Wars and the Oscars will survive, and even thrive, with or without each other.


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