Oscars: A History of ‘Star Wars’ Films in the Best Visual Effects Category
By: Carson Blackwelder
Star Wars is one of the biggest — if not the biggest — franchises in film history and they have certainly left their mark on the Academy Awards. One of the most consistent categories these space operas have popped up in throughout the years is the best visual effects category, with only one of the films not making the cut between the ceremonies of 1978 and 2017 to varying success. Let’s take a look back at how well the eight installments have done in terms of wowing us with optic splendor.
We have to start with the most recent, just for the sake that it’s currently in contention. That brings us to the Gareth Edwards-directed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which is nominated in for best visual effects alongside Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, The Jungle Book, and Kubo and the Two Strings. Per The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg, it’s expected that The Jungle Book, the live-action Disney flick, will take home the 2017 trophy with the first-ever Star Wars offshoot in the second position. Now that we’ve taken care of the present, let’s go back to the beginning, shall we?
The very first installment, Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, was only up against one other film in 1978: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the end, the one that started it all and was the brainchild of the great George Lucas took down a sci-fi staple. Not only that, but it ended up winning six other awards that night and was even nominated for — among others — best picture and best director, too. That’s some solid representation for A New Hope, which has 93% on RottenTomatoes.com.
Next up was Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back, which was nominated by itself at the 1981 ceremony. That means that, of course, the Irvin Kershner-directed film was able to take home the coveted golden statue without even lifting a finger. In addition, it only won one other technical award while being nominated for two others — not a strong showing for what is considered the greatest chapter of the entire franchise. The Empire Strikes Back sits at 94% on RottenTomatoes.com today.
Then came the Richard Marquand-directed Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi. This film was once again the only nominee at the 1984 ceremony and therefore won the trophy. Elsewhere that year, the final part of the original trilogy was also nominated in four other categories, all technical, but didn’t win any. Return of the Jedi film dipped a little from its predecessors and only has an 80% on RottenTomatoes.com.
Fast forward a little while and we arrive at the prequel trilogy, starting with Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace. The film, which saw Lucas return to the director’s chair, was nominated against The Matrix and Stuart Little at the 2000 ceremony and ultimately lost out to The Matrix. As it turns out, this installment was nominated in three categories but failed to take home any trophies. The Phantom Menace has the lowest RottenTomatoes.com score of any Star Wars films at just 55%.
Next up was Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones which was nominated against The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Spider-Man. In the end, it lost to the second film in the Middle Earth-set franchise — but it should be noted that all three of them took home honor for best visual effects. Lucas was once again back to direct this chapter but it turns out that this was the only nomination it received at the 2003 ceremony. Attack of the Clones actually has a decent score of 65% on RottenTomatoes.com.
Finishing up the prequel trilogy was Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, the last film with Lucas behind the camera. This film only garnered one nomination at the 2006 ceremony: best makeup. That’s right, this is the one film in the saga that — up until this point and thus far since then — to not be nominated for best visual effects. The category that year was dominated by King Kong with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as well as War of the Worlds being nominated. Revenge of the Sith sits at rebounded on RottenTomatoes.com and has a 79%.
And finally we find ourselves at the beginning of the new trilogy with Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens. The J. J. Abrams-directed film was nominated against Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and The Revenant, with Ex Machina winning in the end. In total this comeback for the franchise earned five nominations, all technical, but didn’t find success on the big night. The Force Awakens was a return to form for the series and has a 92% on RottenTomatoes.com.
Anything can happen between now and February 26 when the trophies are handed out and — as you can see from the data above — it’s pretty much up in the air as to whether or not Rogue One can pull out a win. These films have proven that they are worthy of winning, but that seems to only have come when they were nominated with one other film or with no other films. When there is more competition, these fan-adored movies don’t seem to be able to triumph. Nominations are almost guaranteed for a Star Wars, film but it’s pretty up in the air whether or not a victory is actually tangible for them.
Tags: Best Visual Effects, Oscars 2017, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens