Aside from the usual production schedules, there’s a reason why The Force Awakens is the only Star Wars movie so far to be slotted in for a December release date instead of a pre-summer movie season release in May. The folks at Disney and Lucasfilm likely had an idea for the first Star Wars movie in 10 years, and one that harkens back to the magic and potential of the original 1977 movie. They’re gunning for little gold statues. It’s a bold move, building a prestige picture around the most powerful children’s sci-fi franchise in cinema. Somehow, they pulled it off. So, what the hell, maybe this is worth that late December slot. Can this box office behemoth make like fellow juggernauts Titanic and Avatar and pull in some top Academy Awards or what?
Let’s take a look at some major categories and see if it have a shot.
Because of sheer volume the entire saga has racked up a ton of nominations and wins over its 40-plus-year lifespan. And yet the only one to be nominated for Best Picture was George Lucas‘ Star Wars. In retrospect it was a big deal, but in the subsequent years, and most recently, the Academy has loosened its stance on blockbusters by giving nods to movies like Avatar, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and District 9. It’s already an outrageously popular movie, and recently picked up a best picture nomination at the Critics Choice Awards, so why not plug The Force Awakens into the Oscar race? Well, the Critics Choice Awards are no Academy Awards, and despite being a naked crowd pleaser, it looks like Oscar’s blockbuster Best Picture choice is more likely to be Ridley Scott’s equally immense crowd pleaser, The Martian. This means Star Wars, or A New Hope as it’s currently known, will probably remain the sole Best Picture nominee of the saga.
You’ve got to hand it to director J.J. Abrams for doing the near-impossible. He came in and created something new while also catering to the diehard fans of the franchise. And he pulled it off! But Abrams’ direction lacks the flair or the standout buzz that will guarantee nominations for directors like Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Ridley Scott, or George Miller. Even though it was probably ridiculously tough to do, the Academy will most likely overlook Abrams because he stuck too close to directing the franchise with the same recognizable blockbuster template that makes a Star Wars movie a Star Wars movie. By shooting the movie so classically, Abrams will be unfairly disqualified because the direction, and even cinematographer Dan Mindel’s shots, won’t get to be singled out. Too bad, because Abrams’ [entire career] (https://www.inverse.com/article/6222-jj-abrams-entire-career-led-to-the-force-awakens) had led him to this feat.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Academy typically likes to highlight the smaller movies in the Best Screenplay category, and even when they don’t focus on an indie drama they usually give the statue to someone who’s known for being an extraordinary wordsmith like Quentin Tarantino. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt’s screenplay for The Force Awakens is more clever than good, and it does a great job of connecting all the characters, building their relationships, and shepherding them ahead through the action. For all intents and purposes, it’s a sufficient screenplay that kick-starts a moribund franchise after the linguistic dead end that was George Lucas’ prequels. Despite that efficiency, don’t expect it to pick up a screenplay Oscar.
Best Supporting Actor
Here’s where things get good. The Academy loves comeback stories. It’s what will probably get Sylvester Stallone a Supporting Actor nomination for his turn in the absolutely wonderful Creed, and it’ll probably be that same goodwill that may get Harrison Ford on the list as well. His performance in The Force Awakens is his best in years, and it is obvious he was actually trying to act and be charming onscreen. This ain’t no Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Ford has only been nominated for an Oscar once, and events in The Force Awakens will make him a sentimental favorite for the Academy. Plus, if Robert De Niro turns out to be any good in his supporting turn in Academy favorite David O. Russell’s movie Joy, there’s no way they’re going to pass up the chance to have a showdown among Stallone, DeNiro, and Ford.
We’ll take Daisy Ridley over Jennifer Lawrence any day, especially considering she was plucked from relative obscurity to lead one of the biggest franchises ever and has quickly become one of the strongest characters in the history of the Star Wars saga. And we still don’t even know her character’s entire backstory! Kudos to Ridley for bringing Rey to life and making the audience care about her in a way that’s difficult to do in a gigantic space epic. Unfortunately it may be a year where the field it too crowded, and she’ll get pushed out of contention by the likes of Brie Larson in Room, Cate Blanchett in Carol, Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, Lawrence in Joy, and more. Still, she’s deserving, and Hollywood has a history of recognizing actresses early in their careers.
Best Original Score
Composer John Williams is the most Oscar-nominated person alive, and The Force Awakens will probably continue that streak. He’s already been nominated 49 times (with five wins), so what’s one more? The best part is that the score to The Force Awakens is actually really good, and it won’t just be a legacy nomination. Williams took the hard way out, and managed to write new music to accompany his iconic themes. The score to The Force Awakens isn’t just a retread. For that, Williams is almost guaranteed a spot in the nomination pool.
The Final Verdict
While The Force Awakens is a great movie, any serious Oscar talk may have been a product of the huge anticipation from fans when they realized they might have a good new Star Wars movie on their hands. Look for it to pop up a healthy amount of times in the technical categories like Best Production Design or Best Visual Effects, but temper your expectations for the major awards. If this kind of thing makes you depressed, go see The Force Awakens again and you’ll forget all about it.