‘Rogue One’ Won’t Screen in Time for Critics’ Awards: Is That a Problem?

Rogue One A Star Wars Story
Courtesy of Jonathan Olley/©Lucasfilms

I am not a “Star Wars” person. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t like “Star Wars.” I saw the original movie (one that I refuse, now and forever, to call “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope”) on the day it opened in 1977, and I thought it was enthralling. Three years later, I saw “The Empire Strikes Back” on the day it opened, and I found it even more enthralling. (By the time I saw “Return of the Jedi,” I was a professional critic and watched it at a preview, and…well, we all know how well that movie worked out on the enthrallment scale. Not so much.)

I’ve seen “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back” four or five times apiece since then, and have continued to relish them, but the whole fan-geek metasphere of “Star Wars” means nothing to me. I have never been obsessed with its universe, have never felt a deep and abiding identification with Luke Skywalker and his Zen joystick daddy-issue Rebel Force journey, and I thought that all three episodes of the revived “Star Wars” trilogy (“The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones,” “Revenge of the Sith”) played like scattered and unconvincing digital pulp. I glaze over at the thought of any conversation that involves Sith Lords or Clone Wars or Trade Federations or Malastare or Starkiller Base or the supple ways of hyperdrive. To me, “Star Wars” mania is a cosmic distraction, the original fake news.

Yet I also take “Star Wars” utterly seriously: as entertainment, as cultural spectacle, and (in the case of the first two films) as indelible pop artistry. When I go into a new “Star Wars” movie, it’s always with a new hope — that they really pulled it together this time, that they made a movie that has some of the elemental thrust and techno-religious majesty of “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” Last year, sure enough, “The Force Awakens” took us a good part of the way there. I did the same sort of two-step with it that I think a lot of viewers did — loving, at first, that it so conjured the look and spirit of the original “Star Wars,” then realizing, a few days after I saw it, that there’s a limitation to retro-fitted nostalgia, since the original “Star Wars,” while inspired by old serials, didn’t conjure the spirit of anything so much as itself. Nevertheless, J.J. Abrams set the series back on course. And — hope springs eternal — he set the stage for what could now turn out to be a vastly exciting stand-alone episode.

Which brings me to the subject of year-end critics’ awards. This year, in a direct repetition of what happened last year, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” will not be screened in time to be viewed by members of the New York Film Critics Circle — a group I’m part of — when we gather Thursday to vote for our year-end awards. The film’s studio, Disney, has every right to miss the voting deadline; clearly, it’s not part of their roll-out plan. (Disney isn’t the only studio to make that decision: Sony won’t be screening “Passengers,” the romantic star-voyage thriller that pairs Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, in time for the voting, and Warner Bros. will miss the deadline with “Collateral Beauty,” starring Will Smith as a fallen advertising executive.)

I used to argue, pretty vociferously, that critics’ groups should wait before voting until they’ve had the chance to see every last movie. But that ship, I’m afraid, has sailed. The whole timing of awards season has inexorably moved up, so that critics’ groups now feel — with some degree of reasonableness — that to remain in the loop of influence, their awards have to be timely. The point of this post is not to toss blame around for the fact that the NYFCC will be voting without having seen “Rogue One.”

Yet I think it’s worth noting, for just a minute, what the casual, nearly unquestioned acceptance of this situation says about how we now view popular movies, and how that has changed. The conventional wisdom has it that popcorn cinema has taken over the culture, and in one way it has. But in another way it’s never been held in less high regard.

A number of my friends and colleagues in the New York Film Critics Circle are “Star Wars” people, and I’m always curious to know how they feel about a movie like “The Force Awakens” or “Rogue One” not being included in the voting. Almost every time I ask about it, I get a variation on the same answer: They’re breathless with anticipation to see the film, but they shrug off its de facto ineligibility, because — this is the phrase I always hear, usually uttered with a quizzical grin — “It’s not a critics’ movie.” Which always makes me want to say: How do you know that? Or maybe just: Really, why not? (Actually, that usually is my response.) After all, the ones who are saying this are “Star Wars” people.

Forty years ago, a lot of critics didn’t know what to make of “Star Wars,” but if you were assembling a 10 Best of 1977 list in hindsight, I know more than a few critics who wouldn’t hesitate to place “Star Wars” at #1. The Academy Awards had the same general feeling about it: The movie was one of the five nominees for Best Picture that year. Just to give you a sense of the landscape, here were the other four: “The Turning Point” (maudlin semi-kitschy ballet-world soap opera), “Julia” (gauzy semi-fraudulent Lillian Hellman biopic), “The Goodbye Girl” (glibly amusing, at times cloying Neil Simon romcom), and — the movie that won — “Annie Hall.” As popular art, “Star Wars” now looms, rightly, over most of those films. If a “Star Wars” movie was worthy of consideration then, why shouldn’t it be worthy of consideration now?

One answer may be: “Rogue One” is no original “Star Wars.” (And really, what is?) But where’s the open mind about the prospect that it could be? What if the movie turns out to be great? Will critics look at their awards and wish, deep down, that they could ask for a do-over? My point is that in the era of all-popcorn-all-the-time, critics have chosen to deal with popcorn movies not by disliking them but by compartmentalizing them. Overall, these films tend to get nowhere near 10 Best lists, year-end critical awards love, or — for the most part — the major Academy Award nominations. Yet what kind of a movie culture do we have that reflexively turns its back on taking what could well be the most important popcorn movie of the year seriously? That treats its absence from the potential awards pool as an afterthought? We have a movie culture that’s become too complacent about its categories of achievement, and maybe too calculated about what it adores.

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  1. James C says:

    Star Wars has never really been respected in terms of awards. Not the important ones anyway. They are just popcorn movies for kids after all with silly rubber puppets. You can’t take this sort of rubbish seriously.

  2. I think Rogue one is gonna be great, much better than TFA. TFA was a bit of a let down, but don’t let me convince you. Darth Maul singing Bieber music says more than I ever could…

  3. Stu Freeman says:

    So, Mr. Glieberman, have you and your colleagues gotten to see Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” as yet? Apparently, he’s just now showing it to the Pope. If it hasn’t yet been screened for the press, the idea that the NYFC Circle couldn’t bring itself to wait before handing out its trophies is not only indefensible, it’s practically sinful.

  4. thekeenguy says:

    The Academy nominated The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road for Best Picture last year, so I don’t think it’s that hard to believe they would nominate a Star Wars picture were it worthy.

    • quigonj2014 says:

      Owen, I would heartily recommend you head over to Amazon or itunes and watch “The Prequels Strike Back.” It is a complete defense of the movies you are being condescending about, since it shows that Lucas made the movies with deliberate choices, eschewing method acting for something closer to the style of the 40s, choosing deliberate shots of Jar Jar that are homages to Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, and that people who grew up with all six films can see them as part of a single, cohesive unit even if you cannot.

      As for screening for critics, critics make up their minds well before a Star Wars movie gets released that they will have to trash the series in general and then bop the new one on the head for good measure anyway, so what would be the point?

  5. SmartMFer says:

    Hey film critics, quit being so hardheaded and move your cutoff date to another time. What sense does it make to critique the films of any given 52-week year by only accepting the films released in the first 50 weeks? Don’t blame this on any studios – they have the right to release their films whenever they choose. Hold your vote on December 31st. How hard could it be? Make the change, geniuses.

    • Stu Freeman says:

      Here here! I’ve been saying precisely that for years. The “film critics”/attention seekers feel worthless unless they can influence AMPAS members with their selections. When the Oscars moved up their ceremonies and nominating schedules some years back, the critics organizations, Foreign Freeloaders and other assorted hacks decided to do the same. The consequence being that movies scheduled for release before year’s end but not yet ready to be shown get squeezed out. Absolutely pathetic.

  6. BC says:

    Hey …. If it doesn’t make this years deadline, guess what? You can consider for the next year!!!!

    What your pissed about is you don’t get the first opportunity to gush over or piss on one of the most significant releases of the year.

  7. bkellysask says:

    I can’t believe I was bored enough to read this- and ultimately annoyed enough to write this. NYFCC- neither Disney nor anyone else is anxiously anticipating your review of this, or any other movie for that matter. Sorry but your craft/ hobby is very outdated and irrelevant. Get together with your fancy club in Starbucks after the show and talk about how it changed your life. Very arrogant article.

  8. Earl Cochrane says:

    Return of the Jedi is #73 on the IMDB top 250. Who does this guy think he’s speaking for? Certainly not the average movie goer.

  9. IRON WILL says:

    This article OOZES with arrogant condescending elitism that NY Movie Critics would be known for

    Honestly, what this boils down to, is saying a whole lot more about critic cultural bias against popcorn fare and nothing about the hinted quality concerns of ‘Rogue One’.

    Also, an example of why I don’t watch the Oscars…

  10. B says:

    Or, perhaps, it boils down to the question you really don’t want to ask.

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