Awards Profile: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

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Welcome to the 2015 Awards Profiles series.  For the next two months, every day (except for Saturday), we will bring you a run down of a future 2015 film that we see as a potential awards vehicle for next year’s Academy Awards.  This is all speculative since with just about all these films, we haven’t seen a frame yet.  Nonetheless, we venture on.  If you miss a film, then click on the tag “2015 Awards Profile.”

Directed By: J.J. Abrams

Written By: J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Max von Sydow, Oscar Isaac, Peter Mayhew, Anthony
Daniels, Kenny Baker, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Warwick Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, Maisie Richardson-Sellers and Gwendoline Christie

Synopsis (From IMDB): “A continuation of the saga created by George Lucas set thirty years after Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)”

Why It Could Succeed:

Financially speaking, there’s no doubt in my mind this will be one of the highest grossing films in the history of cinema. The buzz and anticipation for this film has gone well past its boiling point, with plot spoilers and leaked photos only adding to the hunger for this franchise revival. More importantly, however, is the fact that Disney was wise to recruit an extremely diverse and talented cast. Even the “big” name stars who aren’t from the original trilogy have amassed considerable respect from colleagues and film critics alike (hello, Oscar Isaac and Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o!).

Also of note is J.J. Abrams is typically known for launching his extended narratives rather well. The pilot episodes of Lost and Alias – critically acclaimed shows Abrams helped create – are considered among the highest in quality to ever be produced on television. Sure, it all went downhill for those shows from there, but in the case of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Abrams won’t be given the opportunity to sour the greatness he launched since Looper director Rian Johnson will be handed the directorial baton for the next two sequels. Too bad the Trekkies weren’t given the same changing-of-the-guard luxury with Star Trek Into Darkness.

Finally, the script is being co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, the genius behind Empire Strikes Back, now deemed the saga’s most laudable entry thanks to its rich characterizations and iconic plot twist. If Kasdan puts the same effort into demonstrating the dramatic weight this franchise can offer as he did with Empire, we could very well be looking at a movie that packages itself more like an awards contender than generic commercial escapism.

Why It Could Fail:

Capturing the hearts of moviegoers for more than thirty five years – on top of ushering in a new generation of fans with youth-oriented properties like The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels – there’s simply no way the Star Wars brand could ever truly fail. Even when everyone’s confidence was shaken with those problematic and highly depressing prequels, the belief in Star Wars’ innate ability to magically transport viewers to a state of sheer cinematic ecstasy never wavered…as is evident by the uncontrollable excitement for The Force Awakens.

That being said, the film’s reputation will live or die by the tone this entry sets for the remaining trilogy. If it’s too somber and heavy-handed, critics will diagnose it as a film plagued with a severe Nolan complex. Worse yet, we could have a movie that plays like a greatest hits album, and not in the charming way that Guardians of the Galaxy pulled off brilliantly last summer. If there are too many obvious nods to the original trilogy – something Star Wars Rebels has been somewhat criticized for — fans and critics will condemn it for not standing on its own two feet as a wholly independent and original effort. Nobody is saying not to take inspiration or cues from Lucas’s first three films as a way of reminding audiences what they’ve been missing for all these years, but nostalgia should never be used as a crutch. My biggest fear is that is exactly what Kasdan and Abrams will strive for.

Awards Speculation:

For some bizarre reason that even I can’t truly comprehend, something tells me the Academy’s decision to possibly go back to five Best Picture nominees actually helps The Force Awakens’ cause more than hurts. Here’s the thing: the original Star Wars and all three Lord of the Rings movies cracked the top five, primarily because they captured the zeitgeist in a way no film had in their respective years. Abrams was very close to a Best Picture nod with 2009’s Star Trek, but its PGA nod failed to translate to Oscar love. If the Academy rallies behind this perennial franchise as a way of acknowledging its overwhelming 2015 dominance, I can see a scenario where it cracks the five out of zeitgeist respect.

Will Harrison Ford finally get an Oscar nomination for the role that turned him into a star?
Will Harrison Ford finally get an Oscar nomination for the role that spawned his stardom?

What also helps is how much the Academy is probably dying to see veteran movie star Harrison Ford snag an Oscar, or at the very least his first nomination in over twenty years. If the rumors are accurate, Ford’s Han Solo will have the most screen time among the original trio of actors returning to the saga, likely shouldering much of the dramatic and comedic responsibilities until the new characters find their groove and take over. Also of note are actors Adam Driver and Max von Sydow, both of whom are said to be playing Lords of the Sith or at the very least evildoers associated with the Dark Side. The Academy loves a calculating and enthralling villain, and if Driver and von Sydow deliver in this capacity they might hear their names called during the nomination announcement telecast.

Oscar Potential:

Best Picture
Best Director
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor – Harrison Ford, Max von Sydow and/or Adam Driver
Best Production Design
Best Visual Effects
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Hairstyling and Makeup
Best Costume Design
Best Film Editing