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Oscars: Can ‘Rogue One’ Top ‘Force Awakens’ Nomination Tally?

Variety logo Variety 12/13/2016 Kristopher Tapley
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Like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” a year ago, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” sent its world premiere audience into the streets of Hollywood with a sense of fan euphoria.

Gareth Edwards’ film, the first spin-off from the franchise’s central “episodes,” was greeted with thunderous applause Saturday night, producing yet another sugar high as many viewers continued cheering throughout the credits. Some confided in each other during the slow march out of the Pantages Theater that the film had surpassed their expectations and elicited unexpected pangs of emotion during its robust 135-minute running time, while others declared it a step up from J.J. Abrams’ 2015 franchise revival.

How far through the awards season can that buzz travel? “The Force Awakens” kept it going straight into the new year, en route to a best-all-time domestic box office haul of $936.6 million. Critics clamored to honor it with year-end kudos, lest they seem out of touch, while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized it with five Oscar nominations, for film editing, original score, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects — the most for any film in the series since the 1977 original.

“Rogue One” is probably good for notices in at least four of those same categories. Michael Giacchino’s score doesn’t bring with it the same combination of nostalgia and fresh musical identity that John Williams afforded Abrams’ film, but it hits the right notes (so to speak) throughout what is essentially a war film.

The visual effects in particular could even give one of Disney’s other hugely successful revamped intellectual properties a run for its money. “The Jungle Book” has been the frontrunner in that race all year long, but there are some choices in “Rogue One” that are incredibly bold in this realm. Detailing them would mean spoiling the movie’s (not-so-tightly-guarded) secrets, but let’s just say it’s the kind of thing the Academy’s largest branch — actors — may not appreciate as much as others.

The costumes are worth mentioning as well. Academy voters haven’t taken a shine to “Star Wars” threads since the first film, but the characters of “Rogue One” are sharply carved-out via wardrobe design choices. Maybe branch members will take note. The production design, meanwhile, is at least up to par with “The Force Awakens,” which was overlooked for a nomination.

Cinematographers could also delight in the added dimension DP Greig Fraser’s lighting adds to one of the franchise’s darker chapters. It’s one of the most beautifully photographed “Star Wars” films of all time. With “Lion,” for which he won the Golden Frog at the Camerimage cinematography festival this year, he could be in line for the category’s first dual nomination since Roger Deakins double-dipped with “The Assassinating of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “No Country for Old Men” in 2007.

All of that is on the table but we’ll just have to see where the chips fall. The 10-nomination tally of “Star Wars” will no doubt remain out of reach, but could “Rogue One” outmatch “The Force Awakens” with Academy members? It’s certainly possible. At the end of a rough year, escapist fare that delivers is sure to resonate.

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