JJ Abrams’s continuation of the beloved sci-fi saga has won critical plaudits, but don’t expect to see it shake up the 2016 Oscar race.
Star Wars fans can rest assured: JJ Abrams’s massively hyped seventh instalment in the blockbuster series, The Force Awakens, delivers, and then some.
It’s one for the fans, bringing back familiar faces from the original trilogy, and employing a similar structure to George Lucas’s first film in the series, A New Hope. It’s also sure to lure in a whole new generation through the introduction of new spunky heroes and foes, and thrilling non-stop action.
But is that all enough to push it over the hill and make Abrams’s film a major player in next year’s Oscars race? Unfortunately for fans of the series, not quite. When it comes to Hollywood’s biggest awards show, the Force is not strong with Star Wars.
The first film, A New Hope, set a high bar for the franchise that no sequel has yet matched, with a tally of 10 Oscar nominations and six wins in the technical categories. When it was released in 1977, George Lucas’s spectacle, then known simply as Star Wars, was unlike anything else ever attempted on screen before, and was deservedly heralded as a landmark in the history of the medium. Still, that wasn’t enough to net it a best picture win; it lost to Woody Allen’s romantic comedy Annie Hall.
The second instalment, The Empire Strikes Back, received even stronger reviews than its predecessor, yet it failed to win over Academy voters, earning only three craft nominations, and two wins for visual effects and sound design. Return of the Jedi didn’t fare much better, earning four nominations in similar categories, and another win for effects. None of the maligned prequels won an Oscar.
The Oscars are not averse to celebrating mainstream, high-grossing entertainment. Gravity, Inception, and Avatar all managed best picture nominations, with Gravity netting a major win for director Alfonso Cuarón. The last Lord of the Rings film, The Return of the King, swept the show in 2003, with best picture and director honours; ditto Titanic in 1997.
But unlike the aforementioned films, The Force Awakens doesn’t push cinema in any new directions. (It could be argued that The Return of the King didn’t either, but it capped off one of the most celebrated cinematic trilogies of all time.) Abrams’ film, while technically accomplished and emotionally satisfying, treads familiar ground in playing to the franchise’s enduring strengths. Avatar revolutionised the industry with its groundbreaking use of 3D; The Force Awakens is merely concerned with making sure the Star Wars franchise lives on.
Newcomer Daisy Ridley is no doubt the standout in the cast as Rey, the film’s fierce heroine, but the chances of her entering the best actress arena are slim given the abundance of strong female performances this year (current frontrunners include Room’s Brie Larson and Brooklyn’s Saoirse Ronan).
A best picture nomination is a definite possibility; the film merits it, and its inclusion would no doubt boost the show’s ratings. A win for that award is whole other matter.
For months, Tom McCarthy’s journalistic thriller Spotlight has been at the head of the pack – further bolstered by its recent Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations. George Miller’s ecstatically received Mad Max: Fury Road is also closing in on the race, following a recent wealth of critical awards, and Golden Globe nominations for picture and director.
It’s all but assured that The Force Awakens will dominate nominations in the technical categories – it could lose in several, however, to Fury Road, which eclipses Abrams’s film in terms of sheer spectacle.
Should The Force Awakens do that, it could net the most nods since the first Star Wars film. Just don’t expect it to pull off a Titanic-sized triumph.