‘Star Wars’ and the Oscars: Keeping Things in Perspective

'Star Wars' and the Oscars: Keeping
Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

A preemptive strike on the unfair onus of 'awards season game changer.'

Best original score, best sound editing, best sound mixing, best visual effects and maybe best film editing or best production design. If you’re asking me, that’s the Oscar ceiling on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Make an overt case for much beyond that and you’re at risk of being a bit sweaty (or arbitrarily filling column inches).

Of course, that’s not at all meant to be a knock on the film, which unspooled at a lavish three-theater ultra premiere in Hollywood Monday night. The movie does its job. It’s exactly what you probably expect it to be. And as befits this series, it excels in certain craft departments — not least of them being sound design, a huge part of the filmmaking legacy of this series, in my book. The splash was big and the smiles were bigger. It satisfied and relieved many, but Academy Awards recognition? A certain perspective is in order.

The first “Star Wars” landed 10 Oscar nominations and six wins (all in crafts fields). It also picked up two special achievement awards. It was a landmark. A thunder strike. That kind of haul was warranted. But even in 1977, things were kept in check; the film lost the best picture Oscar to Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.”

It was diminishing Oscar returns after that: score, sound and art direction recognition for “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” (plus special achievement honors for visual effects, in years when the competitive field didn’t exist); sound and visual effects noms for “The Phantom Menace”; a visual effects nom for “Attack of the Clones”; and finally, makeup recognition for “Revenge of the Sith,” a first for the series at the time.

None of the prequels won an Oscar.

I expect the industry will be on a bit of a sugar high with this thing throughout the first few weeks of release. And I imagine the inevitable box office explosion will bubble up the “what about best picture?” sentiments once again. Disney will make its case with a pair of Academy screenings this weekend, standard operating procedure.

But — and not to be overly reductive — this breed of passion will already be gobbled up in part by “Mad Max: Fury Road,” dominating the critics circuit lately and insinuating itself into the best picture race, with Warner Bros. finally waking up to its real potential. Is there room for another blockbuster nostalgia pop? The Academy would certainly appreciate it. Ratings, ya know?

But by my gauge, “The Force Awakens” could do a couple of things. It could net the largest nomination haul for a “Star Wars” film since the first in the franchise (a low bar to clear at four). It could be the first to walk out of the Academy Awards with an Oscar in hand since “Return of the Jedi.” But there is very little in the movie that you haven’t seen before, either in other “Star Wars” films or in other J.J. Abrams films. And that’s not a knock, either. It’s familiar. It’s warm. It’s fuzzy. It’s what you want.

But it’s not some awards season game changer, so to go in with that kind of expectation would be a disservice to the movie. Just enjoy it!

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  1. yakagootchie says:

    um, Best Picture Editing nom? Yes indeed!

  2. Stefan Dee says:

    No Academy Award for production design either… Mad Max deserves that one. Some of the designs in TFA were pretty off.

  3. mnhiyrlk says:

    Might be time to reevaluate your claims, especially regarding box office performance. And I’d be willing to bet real money that you’re wrong about TFA’s chances at a Best Picture nomination. We’ll see…

  4. Russ Turk says:

    I loved The Force Awakens, but do I think it should get a Best Picture nomination? Probably not. However, if it did I would happy because I really thought it was a fun, crowd pleasing return toi what made Star Wars great. Remember folks, the Oscars were invented so that Hollywood could pat itself on the back and get more people to go see movies in the theaters. It is long overdue that hit movies start winning awards just like the small budget movies that get limited release. Movies are ENTERTAINMENT. Just because a movie is a big special effects extravaganza doesn’t mean it’s not a quality piece of work.
    Remember a little movie called The Artist? It won Best Picture and Best Actor a few years ago, and most people have completely forgotten about it. Can you name the actor who won the Best Actor Oscar for it? Me either. I’m thrilled Mad Max Fury Road was so acclaimed by critics because it should be a Best Picture nominee. It was a breathtaking piece of excitement filled with female empowered characters. Hollywood news MORE of that and hopefully we will get it. As for the next STAR WARS movie, I cannot wait to see what Rian Johnson does with it.

  5. 85wzen says:

    Turin of the LA Times said it’s okay and not okay… about what I thought. Sure see it but I’m almost certain that the Energy of the time, I mean back then is long Gone! You can’t do it without certain elements… maybe in 150 years or so they might make another one worthy of it….

  6. j says:

    Pretty rich of you to accuse others of writting about the movie’s oscar chances just to fill column inches when you’re doing the exact same thing. (Also… “column inches”? Happy 1983.)

  7. After seeing the movie, loved it by the way, it will be nominated for at least 4 academy awards

    It has an excellent shot for winning Best Original Score (score was amazing and it was very original, also could be nominated for Visual Effects and Sound Editing, Cinematography, Sound Mixing and Best Production Design, could it be the first movie in history to win all 6 (even 5) and without a best picture nomination… should be interesting

  8. Mal Warner says:

    Star Wars Episode VII: Haven’t We Seen All This Before?

    Do the makers of this film seriously think no-one will notice the almost complete copying of the original? I challenge anyone to count the shots, scenes and characters that mirror the first film. You’ll run out of fingers and toes in no time. Bring 10 octopuses to a screening, you’ll need them.

    The plan obviously was to sell the exact same product people bought in droves back in the 70’s, so why reinvent the wheel? But the lack of originality was truly the biggest shock. Barely an original idea in the whole shebang. Staggering.

    Talk of Oscars outside the tech fields is ludicrous. Unless there’s a gold statue for ripping yourself off.

    • Figaro says:

      Are you really so ignorant of Star Wars that you don’t know that the whole point is that it’s classical, cyclical mythology? The entire saga deliberately plays same beats and tropes over and over. This has nothing to do with Abrams, really. If Lucas were doing the sequel trilogy, there would be tons of parallels to the original trilogy, just like there were in his prequel trilogy. The parallels might manifest differently but they’d be there and perhaps even more numerous because he’d make reference to prequel trilogy tropes as well. The first sequel film would’ve still been constructed on the template of A New Hope. If you don’t like it, you don’t like Star Wars and if you don’t like Star Wars, why do you care?

      • Mal Warner says:

        I am more than familiar with Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero With a Thousand Faces’ work and his extensive writing in myth of which Lucas was a big fan. The Campbell structure, “call to adventure”, “refusal of the call”, etc, etc, of which ‘Star Wars’ and in fact most Hollywood films (big and small) adopted as a structural “blueprint” for the various turning points of a story (the beats) is not the issue here.

        The Campbell underlying foundation is mot just used in ‘Star ‘Wars’, its archetypes and turning point construction is utilized in the vast majority of films as it was widely adopted right across the board. Perhaps you can familiarize yourself with Christopher Vogler too.

        I am talking about blatantly ripping yourself off within the infinite choices that structure affords. For instance the hero’s call to adventure can be created in infinite ways. You could get a morse code message. You could get a talking pigeon. You could think you’ve won the lottery as in ‘Nebraska’.

        As I have outlined they used an orphaned kid on a desert planet who comes across a cute droid who has been captured by a junk trader, and who has a secret message inside. That’s not just one of infinite character and story choices they could have made, that is a blatant direct copy of the first film. That’s not “story beats”, that is story detail. And on it goes in a staggering display, an audacious (planned) lack of originality.

        The goal or quest could have been anything (infinite) but here it is the blowing up of a Death Star. Every single Star Wars story could have different goals (different climax) but they chose to retread the exact same details with even identical mirror shots. Again we’re not talking about structure, but the infinite choices, the detail on top of the structure.

        IMO it was a sophisticated con job to try to ensure this ‘Star Wars’ reboot is a success, by selling the audience the exact same product as the original film mildly disguised and the audience (the odds would suggest) will fall for it, not exactly understanding why. Disney really wanted this reboot to work. They had invested a lot of money.

        The evidence IMO is overwhelming that their decision was to present the audience with a sophisticated remake, which is the deliberate choice of the studio and the filmmakers as a strategy to minimize their risk.

        In the context of this ‘Variety’ article, IMO, if the film won Best Picture, the audacious marketing con job heist would be complete… and I think they would be laughing their heads off.

    • Mal Warner says:

      And just to add to that… would Disney have opened up its check-book and given me 10 million dollars if I ran into a story meeting 2 years ago and hollered, “I have the opening! I have it! An orphan on a desert planet who doesn’t realize they possess the Force, comes across a cute little droid who has a hidden message inside.”

      Would anyone have gone, “Er, didn’t we do that already?” Would they have opened their check-book and paid me? Seriously?

      Amazingly someone got a check for that, and for all the other blatant copying. (George Lucas must be thinking imitation is the best form of flattery.) By the time the X-wing fighters dove into the trench to blow up the Death Star (after a main character dies in yet another mirror of the first film)… I thought is there one, just one, original idea in this? Anywhere?

      • WOW – someone thinks their views are the most valid in the universe! I defy you to name ANY blockbuster that has an original premise! Also “originality” is no substitute for quality. Swinging with the Finkels was an “original”, so was Human Centipede!

        Maybe in your opinion these “original” films deserve award simply for being original. However the people who actually matter (the audience) prefer a film that is watchable!

        Close the door on your way out

      • Mal Warner says:

        … a cute droid who gets rescued in the beginning after it had been captured by a junk trader no less! Oh my goodness!

        What about in the original when Han Solo has seemingly disappeared for good. How does he reappear? How does the younger new, mirror image Han Solo reappear in this new movie after seemingly being gone for good? Oh my goodness again.

        Across the board it’s a shameless and possibly cynicall strategy of re-selling the same product, barely tweaked.

  9. Jonathan says:

    “It’s what you want,” the ominous corporate mantra selling this predigested mush. I’m glad you enjoyed the film, but if that’s your idea of a compliment then my fears have been confirmed.

    • Mal Warner says:

      If Coca-Cola is watching, they should take note. Get JJ Abrams to represent the launch of “New Coke.” Pay him a fortune. Here’s his strategy. An ever so slightly tweaked can with exactly the same drink inside. People will love it and not be sure exactly why. They will talk of awards for best new cola. (Just as an aside, wasn’t this JJ’s plan with ‘Star Trek’?)

      It’s a marketing con-job of the highest order (stealing which is taken to sophisticated new heights), a company repackaging its own existing product and presenting it as new.

    • How dare the movie industry make films people watch! More Howard the duck, Pudsey the dog: the movie, and kite!

    • You’re not wrong in your takeaway re: that comment.

  10. sia says:

    Wow calm down Star Wars fans this is whats wrong with fandoms.

  11. AA_Hill says:

    This is what’s wrong with the hype machine. Kristopher is just being realistic. This comment section hasn’t even seen the movie yet and you all are already getting mad at him? He’s the one who’s seen it. The guy likes the movie, so what’s the problem?

    Also, can you guys stop being so desperate? Seriously, trying to tear down Fury Road to help The Force Awakens’ case is pure stupidity.

  12. Penji says:

    Sounds like the same “higher than art thou” stuff we here time after time

  13. Andrej says:

    I get the feeling the people behind these comments are the same bunch of folks that upon seeing The Phantom Menace got that confused feeling of “I kind of liked it?”, not wanting to face things critically because they were so emotionally invested with the franchise at that point.

    Guys, he liked it. Not liked it 100%, give-it-every-award-there-is-including-the-Nobel-Prize, but he liked it nonetheless. It’s a positive review.

  14. Brando says:

    Wow. Another out of touch critic. America and even many Academy members are sick of movies no one sees being nominated. So let’s start a smear campaign against Star Wars early, Variety, so instead a film no one sees and no one remembers five years from now will get nominated in Star Wars’ place.

  15. HPR says:

    Fine, we get it, it’s not a fucking Oscar movie. Who’s running the offense that required this defense?

  16. If it’s as great with critics and fans, then hopefully this insurgency campaign by Mad Max Fury Road will be stopped dead in its tracks. At some point, Kristopher, the genre bias against science fiction must end.

  17. Mark says:

    Wow this reader is so down on Star Wars we get it it’s “exactly what you’d expect” (although I honestly have no idea what to expect from it). How about someone who enjoyed it writing the article?

  18. Ian Safer says:

    Mad Max and its terrible script can go screw itself.

    • Jonathan Bowen says:

      Amen! I’m already 100% sure Star Wars has a way better story and way better characters than the completely empty action film Mad Max, which was NOT special at all! It was just a run of the mill action / car chase film. Who cares?! If that can get any awards attention, Star Wars should get more.

  19. Dean says:

    Jumping to assumptions? No one is taking Best Picture nor will they and no one will be angry if it doesn’t get the nod. You need to calm down.

    • I’m calm. You don’t read enough outlets if you don’t think people are jumping to best picture conclusions.

    • politicaldefiance says:

      Scott Feinberg wrote an article over at The Hollywood Reporter touting the film as a potential Oscar player in major categories like Best Picture and Best Director. I think you may need to calm down.

  20. Scott says:

    Star Wars lost to Annie Hall, sigh.

  21. Sam says:

    I hate that there is a divide between popular movies and what the oscars consider as great movies– why can’t the two agree at some point. Mad max should be the front runner and if this is good, it should also be in the running. A film is a film and if it’s well made and the best, there should be no restrictions on what it should and should not be nominated for

    • Penji says:

      Except mad max isn’t that great… you do bring up an interesting point I don’t see discussed 2015 year Mad Max cam back or Star Wars?

    • Technically there aren’t restrictions on what it can be nominated for, but the main point of the article is that this basically delivers what people expect, which is a good Star Wars movie. The original one was nominated for a bunch of Oscars back in the 1970s because it was something new and fresh at the time. Now, almost 40 years later, it doesn’t have quite that same game-changing impact. That’s not to say it’s bad, but putting these kinds of lofty expectations on a film is unfair to it and, more often than not, ends in disappointment.

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