The Oscar Project
If you've missed the last few posts about the Oscar nominated films coming to Disney+ next month, I urge you to check them out.
So far I've covered live action films, animated films, and Pixar films.
My last two posts after this one will cover Marvel films and the one Oscar nominated documentary that will be available on the service.
Star Wars Films
Every live action Star Wars film released to date has received at least one nomination for an Oscar. However, only two films from the entire franchise have won an Academy Award. Will that change this time around with the upcoming release of The Rise of Skywalker? We will have to wait an see.
Star Wars (1977) - No, the true title of the film is NOT Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. The film was originally released simple as Star Wars, so that is how it shall remain here.
If you've never seen Star Wars, what's wrong with you? Don't wait for it to appear on Disney+, go watch it right now. Seriously, don't read another word of this article until you've at least watched one Star Wars film.
OK, now that we got that out of the way, regular readers of my writing should know that I'm a huge Star Wars fan. This saga was the first series of films I ever fell in love with. Unfortunately, I was not alive when the original came out, but through VHS re-releases in the 1990s, I spent many an afternoon watching and re-watching the original trilogy films until I knew them front to back and back to front.
The effects in the film were cutting edge at the time and while some of them may be outdated by today's standards, the film as a whole holds up quite well. It's only fitting that I'm writing this just a few days after the release of the final trailer for the final chapter in the nine film saga, The Rise of Skywalker.
With the most nominations of all the franchise's films, Star Wars was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (George Lucas), Best Supporting Actor (Alec Guiness), and Best Original Screenplay (Lucas). It also won the awards for Best Costume Design (John Mollo), Best Film Editing (Paul Hirsch, Martha Lucas, and Richard Chew), Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Art Direction (John Barry, Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, and Roger Christian), Best Sound (Don MacDougall, Ray West, Bob Minkler, and Derek Ball), and Best Visual Effects (John Stears, John Dykstra, Richard Edlund, Grant McCune, and Robert Blalack). A Special Achievement Award was also given for the alien, creature, and robot voices in the film.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - Often considered the best film in the series, Empire arrived three years after the original Star Wars.
The film has one of the biggest plot twists in modern cinema history and one that audiences around the world marveled at when they realized the true identity of the villain Darth Vader. I remember watching the film with my own father the first time and finding out who he was. Though it was many years after the original release, I still gasped at the revelation.
The best thing about this sequel is that it moved away from the common tropes we see in movies where the good guys get put into a bad situation, eventually work together to figure things out and end up as the victors at the end. From the very beginning, the Empire is turning the screws on the Rebellion in this movie, first forcing them to flee a newly established base before tracking down and imprisoning several of their leaders.
By the end, we're left with very little hope, something that was readily available in the first film. I can only imaging the uncertainty as people walked out of theaters in 1980, unsure what they just watched and why the bad guys were allowed to win.
Despite being a favorite among fans, Empire Strikes back did not strike as well with the Academy. It was only nominated for three Oscars. It lost in the Best Original Score (John Williams) and Best Art Direction (Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, Harry Lange, Alan Tomkins, and Michael Ford) categories but did take home the award for Best Sound (Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, and Peter Sutton).
Return of the Jedi (1983) - My favorite of the original trilogy when I was growing up, this film has taken a few steps down my personal rankings in recent years, especially with the release of The Force Awakens and Rogue One. It is still a great film and kept the series humming along, while wrapping things up neatly, at least until now.
Many people get frustrated with this film for various reasons including the Ewoks or the fact that it's just ANOTHER Death Star (just bigger this time). Some great things came out of this film though. Without this, we wouldn't have Admiral Ackbar "It's a trap!" memes on the internet. We wouldn't have awesome spaceships like the B-Wing. There would be no reason to put a new dish on top of the Millennium Falcon. And we would still be wondering if Darth Vader truly was Luke's father, or was that just a ruse by the Sith lord to throw the young Jedi off.
We also might not have the wonderful career of Warwick Davis. He played the first Ewok that Leia meets on Endor and would go on to play the lead role in the Lucasfilm produced Willow as well as many other roles throughout a long career.
This film did garner one additional nomination than Empire, but failed to win in any category in which it was nominated. The nominations came in Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Art Direction (Norman Reynolds, Fred Hole, James L. Schoppe, and Michael D. Ford), Best Sound Effects Editing (Ben Burtt), and Best Sound (Burtt, Gary Summers, Randy Thom, and Tony Dawe).
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) - As the first Star Wars film in 16 years, I was terribly excited to see this one in the theaters for the first time. It arrived on the heels of the Special Edition releases of the original trilogy and ushered in a new era of Star Wars films.
Despite the hatred of the prequels as a whole by many fans, they are still fun movies. If you can look at them for what they are, intended for perhaps a younger audience than the fanboys that had grown up with them in the 1980s and 1990s, it's easier to appreciate them that way.
That said, I still think this film falls far down my list in terms of top Star Wars films. It takes us a little too far outside the greater timeline of Anakin's story and introduces us to characters on both the good and bad side that we only see for this film before they get killed off.
Like Return of the Jedi, and the remaining films, The Phantom Menace was nominated for several awards but did not end up winning. It received nominations for Best Sound Effects Editing (Ben Burtt and Tom Bellfort), Best Sound (Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Shawn Murphy, and John Midgley), and Best Visual Effects (John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires, and Rob Coleman). It lost in all three categories to The Matrix.
Star Wars: Episode II - The Attack of the Clones (2002) - Even though it is widely considered the worst of all the Star Wars films by many fans, the second entry into the prequel trilogy brought us some great new characters and interesting new settings.
It's hard to think that Lucas wasn't using this film for the sole purpose of setting up the finale of the prequels along with setting up the animated Clone Wars series which would come out several years later. It unfortunately reeked of the increased commercialization of the movie industry and started tying things together that didn't necessarily have to be tied together.
Despite some very wooden acting from some of the actors (see Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman) there were bright points in Ewan McGregor's portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi as he grew into the veteran Jedi we know and love from the original films (as portrayed by Alec Guinness). His scene with Yoda and the younglings in the Jedi temple remains one of my favorite scenes in this film.
One of three Star Wars films to only receive one Oscar nomination, Attack of the Clones was nominated for Best Visual Effects (Rob Coleman, Pablo Helman, John Knoll, and Ben Snow) and lost to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Star Wars: Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith (2005) - In the final chapter directed by the creator of Star Wars, Lucas delivered a tour de force that kept moving from the opening sequence in space over Coruscant to the final epic lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Akywalker, the newly crowned Darth Vader. This last piece was something that fans had waited decades to see ever since the the first time the characters crossed blades at the end of Star Wars, and it didn't disappoint.
Falling a bit into the same trap as Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King where the endings seemed to go on for a half hour, Revenge of the Sith struggled to find its ending in a proper spot, saddled with the fact that it had to wrap up many loose ends before the story could shift to what had now become known as Episode IV: A New Hope. We needed to see Anakin make the transition into Vader, wipe out the Jedi order, see the birth of his twins Luke and Leia before they were whisked into hiding by Obi-Wan and his friends, and push both Obi-Wan and Yoda into hiding to set up their whereabouts in the original trilogy. While some of these felt a little forced, it did seem to bring a sense of closure for many of these elements.
As with Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith was only nominated for one Oscar, for Best Makeup (Dave Elsey and Nikki Gooley) but lost out to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) - After another decade, Star Wars made it back to the big screen in a big way. Between Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens, George Lucas sold Lucasfilm, Ltd. to Disney for around $4 billion. Not a bad chunk of change for something he created three decades earlier and originally produced with his own money.
This time the action shifted to a period 30 years after Return of the Jedi, making this the beginning of the "sequel trilogy." The new film brought veteran filmmaker J. J. Abrams into the director's chair and he did not disappoint. The film was the highest grossing film of the year and broke all kinds of box office records. We were introduced to a new cast of characters that would carry through the next few films while also starting to say goodbye to the faces we had grown to love from the original trilogy. There was something special about Harrison Ford delivering Han Solo's line "we're home" when he first boarded the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca. It echoed the feelings of audiences around the world and made it that much harder to deal with the fact that he would be killed by his own son later in the film.
The main argument about the film was that it was yet another re-tread of the original Star Wars, but with new characters. It featured a new bad guy in a black mask, a new Death Star-like superweapon, even bigger than before, and even had a miniature trench run during the final battle sequence. But these were the exact opposite of the critiques of fans about the prequel trilogy. Then they had complained that it was too different from the originals, so Abrams brought things full circle while at the same time pushing them forward narratively.
Beyond re-invigorating the series, The Force Awakens brought the franchise back to the Oscars in a big way. While it did not win any awards, it was nominated for Best Film Editing (Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey), Best Original Score, (John Williams), Best Sound Editing (Matthew Wood and David Acord), Best Sound Mixing (Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson), and Best Visual Effects (Chris Corbould, Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, and Neal Scanlan).
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) - As the first Star Wars film to fall outside of the immediate story line of the Skywalker saga, Rogue One was incredibly refreshing. While completely predictable since the tragic end of the main characters was already covered in the opening crawl from the original film, it was still strong.
This film along with The Force Awakens were the first two that I was able to take my own son to in the theater. He had already fallen in love with the series and was just as excited as I was about going to these films. We actually had to trek through a snowstorm the came to town the week before Christmas to see this on opening night, but I wasn't about to miss it.
I immediately connected with all the characters in this story. As I mentioned, we knew how it was going to end. This was the story of the rebels that sacrificed their lives to get the Death Star plans to Princess Leia at the beginning of Star Wars. Going we knew that none of them would survive the film, but that didn't make it any less impactful when they met their ends. It is a testament to director Gareth Edwards and the entire cast and crew to make us connect with the characters in such a short time that we mourn their deaths.
While not raking in the nominations like some of the bigger films in the series, Rogue One did land nominations for Best Sound Mixing (David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson) and Best Visual Effects (John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel, and Neil Corbould), losing out to Hacksaw Ridge and The Jungle Book respectively.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) - In what was a somewhat disappointing follow-up to The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi picked the story up pretty much right where we left off at the end of the previous film. As my son says, this is the funniest Star Wars film, mainly because of Poe's (Oscar Isaac) antics throughout the film and his not so subtle "your mom" joke directed at General Hux in the opening sequence.
This was one of the films that I enjoyed tremendously the first time I saw it in the theater, but have gradually softened on it over time. Like the other middle films (Empire and Clones) it suffers from a timeline problem. The main Resistance fleet is on the run from the First Order with mere hours to escape, while the parallel stories of Rey training with Luke to be a Jedi and Rose and Finn taking a joy ride to a casino appear to take days or even weeks. This was something I was willing to forgive in Empire, less so in Clones, but can't seem to get over it here.
There was so much potential for this film, and I feel like it was a bit wasted. The final battle between the First Order and the Resistance is too much of a rehash of the beginning battle on Hoth from Empire, but the Jedi/family duel between Kylo Ren and Luke is almost worth the price of admission alone.
Despite not faring as well as The Force Awakens at the box office, The Last Jedi did garner nominations in the four of the five same categories as the previous film: Best Original Score, (John Williams), Best Sound Editing (Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce), Best Sound Mixing (David Parker, Michael Semanick, Klyce, and Stuart Wilson), and Best Visual Effects (Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan, and Chris Corbould).
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) - If you're looking for a plain old fun film set in the Star Wars universe, this is the one for you.
Telling the backstory of Han Solo, the film shows us how he met and saved the life of Chewbacca, met Lando and swindled him out of the Millennium Falcon, and of course, how he managed to complete the famous Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (though we find out that this last fact is a bit in question).
Packed with fun gags including how Han gets his last name when he first signs up to be in the Imperial Army, the cast does a good job of bringing life to the characters we know (Han, Lando, and Chewie) while at the same time introducing us to new characters they interact with. There are even a few cameos that hearken back to Rogue One and The Phantom Menace/The Clone Wars. All in all, it felt like a very nostalgic film, but one that was a ton of fun.
This is the third film that was only nominated for one award, Best Visual Effects (Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, and Dominic Tuohy) which lost to First Man earlier this year.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) - No, this film will not be on the streaming service when it kicks off next month, but I wanted an excuse to include a little bit about it and the recently released trailer.
No doubt this film will be nominated for at least a few Oscars. Expect to see it appear in the Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects categories and probably win at least 2-3 of those. I also wouldn't be surprised to see a Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director nomination along with a long shot for Best Picture since it is the final film of the series.
We saw The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King clean up at the Oscars and while this film won't ultimately win as many as Jackson's final film in the series did, we may get some of the "career achievement" recognition for Star Wars as a whole at the Oscars this year.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?