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!