The Oscar Academy hasn’t paid any attention to Star Wars since the original trilogy, but why
With the Academy Awards nominations out, the Oscar season has officially begun. As every year, millions of movie fans around the world are either rejoicing to see their favourite movie among the shortlisted ones or miffed about the movie they were rooting for being snubbed. Of course, there are those fans too, who do not care about the Academy Awards at all, and for good reason — the selection and voting processes aren’t all-inclusive.
Whether the Academy Awards deserves the popularity it enjoys or how relevant it still is, is a matter of unending deliberation, something that is for another article. So, let us just accept that the Oscars is a prestigious affair and get straight to this article’s point — how has the Oscars treated Star Wars over the years?
Watch: Darth Vader Crashes Academy’s Governors Awards
What makes this year’s Oscars a bit different or, if you may, bare, is the fact that no Star Wars movie has received a nomination in 2021. That is because no new Star Wars movie was released in 2020. From the mid 2010s, Star Wars has seemingly been on a roll with one movie every year, from 2015 to 2019. Blame it on Solo’s poor performance, the sequel trilogy’s divisive reception or Disney’s increasing focus on the OTT platform but one thing is certain that we won’t get another Star Wars movie until, at least, 2023.
Since the release of A New Hope in 1977, and the initial appreciation showered upon it by the Academy, the Star Wars movies have seemingly fallen out of the Academy’s favor.
The last Oscar the Star Wars franchise had won was in 1984 for the Return of the Jedi. It was a Special Achievements Award for visual effects and not an award of merit because it was the sole contender that year. The first movie in the original trilogy had a lot better run in comparison. It was nominated for a total of 11 Academy Awards and won 7 of them, all major technical awards, including film editing, visual effects, sound mixing and original score (for John Williams).
By the second movie the nominations and wins had already begun plummeting — Empire Strikes Back (1980) received 4 nominations (best original score, best art direction, best sound, and a special achievements award for visual effects) and won in the latter two categories. Return of the Jedi scored one more nomination (best sound effects editing) than Empire Strikes Back; however, it won only in the special achievements category.
Continuing the dry run
The prequel trilogy had it even worse — the three films garnered 5 nominations in total and zero wins. The Phantom Menace (1999) received three nominations (best original score, best visual effects, and best sound effects editing). Attack of the Clones (2002) received a best visual effects nomination, which it lost to (if it is any consolation) Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, a better film. Revenge of the Sith (2005) received best make up, and surprisingly, no best visual effects nomination, making it the only film in the Star Wars canon to be not considered for a visual effects award.
For Star Wars to get back into the good books of the Academy, either the franchise needs a complete overhaul or it needs to rope in talent like previous winner Taika Waititi.
Force awakens only to fizzle out again
As if the title to this section wasn’t clear enough, let me elaborate: The Force Awakens (2015) fetched 5 nominations (best original score, best visual effects, best sound editing, best sound mixing, and best film editing). Even though it didn’t win any, it scored an equal number of nominations as the three prequel films combined, John Williams managed to return as a nominee, and it was pretty much better received than the previous three films.
For fans, this was seemingly a resurgence of Star Wars’ popularity among Academy members, but this turned out to be a false hope. Even as the number of Star Wars movies increased in the past decade, the post-Force Awakens Oscars seasons have largely been disappointing for Star Wars, with The Last Jedi scoring only 4 nominations and Rise of Skywalker garnering 3 nods. The two spin-offs Rogue One and Solo scored 2 and 1 nominations, respectively.
Can Star Wars win over the Academy again?
One of the major reasons why the Academy has been less than favorable toward Star Wars movies since the original trilogy is the fact that the Academy voters do not care much for franchise movies. Although the Lord of the Rings trilogy was an exception, along with Mad Max: Fury Road, those movies have been largely the vision of a single filmmaker that culminated into arguably the best in the respective franchises.
In short, a singular vision, consistency, and high-quality execution likely enabled the Academy voters to be more invested in the said franchises.
Star Wars movies of late have lacked in some of those departments. For it to get back into the good books of the Academy, either a complete overhaul of the franchise is needed (like doing something completely different from what Star Wars stands for, which is hardly possible) or rope in Oscar favorite filmmakers like Taika Waititi, who would be directing a Star Wars movie soon. Patty Jenkins, who was the director of Oscar-nominated Wonder Woman, is also expected to direct a Star Wars movie. And with Rian Johnson having been given the responsibility to oversee an entirely new trilogy.
It seems the franchise is finally showing more confidence in more unique voices. Waititi, Jenkins and Johnson have all proven to be critically and commercially successful and all of them have distinct voices that may work in Star Wars’ favor. In this regard, it must also be noted that when George Lucas made A New Hope, he too was coming from the critical and commercial success of American Graffiti, which had managed to amaze the Academy with its independent voice even though it was funded by Universal.