Will the massive popularity of The Force Awakens translate into more than just technical Oscar nominations? Here are our thoughts.
J.J. Abrams restored the Star Wars series to its former glory with The Force Awakens. Though the movie was by no means “perfect” (too similar to A New Hope, Captain Phasma turned off the shields like a wimp, etc.), it was good enough to help erase the sting that some felt from the underwhelming prequels. Though those prequels probably weren’t quite as “bad” as you remember, their execution was suspect (Jar Jar Binks, bad dialogue, too-slick special effects, Jar Jar Binks) and the entire affair left a bad taste in many moviegoers’ mouths. Abrams, however, has gone a long way toward soothing those pains. The new movie is a throwback to the old movies in spirit and look. The story may feel rather familiar, but it is the quintessential hero’s journey after all. Throw in some revolutionary-feeling feminism and more humor than expected and you have one of the biggest movies of all time.
Ah, but with the combative relationship between popular movies and critical “art,” could The Force Awakens actually break into some of the highest rung Oscar nominations? The answer is a resounding . . . maybe. The movie has been well reviewed enough to remove any possible future backlash. It’s not like it was Furious 7 or anything. This is a humongous movie, but well-crafted and intelligent, as well. However, the Star Wars movies haven’t received important Oscar noms since the 1977 original (Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Picture). The only actor this year with any shot at an Oscar nomination is Harrison Ford, but he doesn’t quite have enough support to break into the Supporting Actor field. The technical awards could be peppered with Force Awakens nominations, especially the sound categories and visual effects, and John Williams should get his 50th (!!) Oscar nomination for the score. The Best Director and Best Original Screenplay categories are far too competitive to have any extra room.
And so, we’re left with Best Picture as the one category where voters can hold The Force Awakens up as one of the very best movies made this year. Already, the People’s Choice Awards made an extra space for Star Wars and AFI waited to announce their top movies of the year until they could screen it. Those two pieces of information might not seem that significant, but these are big groups changing the way they do things EVERY year to accommodate ONE movie. It says a lot about the respect that the Star Wars franchise and J.J. Abrams command. Will that respect translate into a Best Picture nomination? I tend to think no. I think that most voters still view it as an incredibly well-made genre movie. The fact that the movie restored faith in the franchise cannot be overestimated. I could feel the relief in critics’ reviews: people were genuinely ecstatic to be able to write a positive review! (On Rotten Tomatoes, FYI, The Phantom Menace was 56% fresh, Attack of the Clones 66%, Revenge of the Sith 79%, The Force Awakens 93%.) In the end, though, I think that that goodwill will not quite extend to Oscar night’s biggest award. If the Academy chooses to reward the franchise, it will most likely be for 2019’s Episode IX (for parallels, look to The Lord of the Rings’ ample awards for The Return of the King). I don’t think any prognosticators would be absolutely floored if The Force Awakens did make its way into the Best Picture race, but my feeling is it will just miss the final list. But it’s a great accomplishment by Abrams and his team that we are even having this conversation.