Fox Searchlight via Everett Collection
Ever since the rumors started swirling several months ago, the Internet has been waiting impatiently for a Star Wars VII casting announcement that included Oscar winner and instant style icon Lupita Nyong'o. They finally got that wish on Monday morning, when StarWars.com revealed that she would be joining the cast along with Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie. The pair join an impressive cast for the latest installment of the franchise, with acclaimed actors like Oscar Isaac, Max Von Sydow and John Boyega all playing significant roles. However, when it comes to buzz, they all pale in comparison to Nyong'o, who has won over both critics and fans since her breakout performance last year in 12 Years a Slave.
Casting an Academy Award winner is a big deal for a major blockbuster like Episode VII, but Nyong'o is far from the first winner to journey to a galaxy far, far away. Since the first film was released in 1977, the Star Wars franchise has featured several Oscar winners and nominees on both sides of the camera, and seen several of its alum take home the award later on. In honor of Nyong'o's casting, we've rounded up all of the actors, writers, directors and editors who fall in the middle of the Venn Diagram of "Oscar winners and nominees" and "involved in the Star Wars universe."
Academy Award Wins
PRE-STAR WARS: -Nyong'o, who won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in 12 Years a Slave at this year's awards, is the third actor who has taken home an Oscar before starring in one of the Star Wars films, and the fifth team member to hold the distinction. -Alec Guinness won Best Actor in 1957 for his work in The Bridge on the River Kwai, before he played everyone's favorite Jedi Master and mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi. He later earned an Oscar nomination for the part. -Composer John Williams, who has been nominated for a total of 49 Oscars, won his first for Best Scoring Adaptation and Original Score Song in 1971 for Fiddler on the Roof. Since then, he's won four more, including Best Original Score in 1977 for Star Wars. -Ben Burtt had established himself as a talented editor with two Best Sound Editing Oscars in 1982 and 1989 before he edited The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
POST-STAR WARS: -James Earl Jones, who provided the iconic voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars films received an Honorary Oscar in 2011.-Natalie Portman won Best Actress for playing Nina Sayers in Black Swan in 2010, five years after her final installment of the trilogy was released. -Director Sofia Coppola played one of Queen Amidala's handmaidens in The Phantom Menace, and then went on to win Best Original Screenplay in 2003 for her film Lost in Translation. She was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture that year.
20th Century Fox Film via Everett Collection
Academy Award Nominations
PRE-STAR WARS: -Before he created the franchise that eventually became Star Wars, George Lucas made American Graffitti, and was nominated for Best Director and Best original Screenplay in 1972 for his hard work. Five years later, he was nominated in those same categories for the first installment in the series. -Terence Stamp was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1962 for his work in the film Billy Budd, 30 years before he played Supreme Chancellor Valorum in The Phantom Menace. -His co-star in that film, Samuel L. Jackson, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1994 for his performances as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, a first of many iconic characters. -Marcia Lucas received an Oscar nomination in 1974 for Best Editing alongside Verna Fields for American Graffiti, before winning the same award three years later for Star Wars, with Richard Chew and Paul Hirsch. -Liam Neeson was nominated for Best Actor in 1993 for his heartbreaking performance in Schindler's List before stepping into the role of Obi Wan's mentor, Qui Gon Jinn in 1999.
POST-STAR WARS: -After he played Han Solo, Harrison Ford was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in the 1985 film Witness. -Keira Knightley, who played one of Amidala's handmaidens in one of her first film roles, was nominated for Best Actress in 2005 for her turn as Elizabeth Bennet in Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice. -Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with Lucas, was nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 1984 and 1992 for The Big Chill and Grand Canyon, respectively, and Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture in 1989 for The Accidental Tourist.
Other Awards Of Note
-Three of the key supporting characters in Attack of the Clones were played by actors who were nominated or have won AFI and AACTA awards, the Australian equivalent of the Oscars and the BAFTAs. They are: Rose Byrne, Joel Edgerton, and Jack Thompson. -Ford has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and C3PO, R2D2, and Darth Vader have their "footprints" outside of the TCL Chinese Theater. -Christopher Lee, who played Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith has never been nominated for an Oscar, but he has been knighted, made a Commander of Order of the British Empire and a Commander of the Venerable Order of Saint John, been awarded both the BAFTA and BFI Fellowships, and is a French Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. He was also a war hero, serving as part of the RAF Intelligence and Special Forces during World War II, and was attached to the SAS for a time during his service. He also once climbed Mt. Vesuvius right before it erupted and fronts several heavy metal bands, because he's cooler than the rest of us could ever hope to be.
Spike Jonze doesn't waste any time introducing us to the technology at the center of Her. "An operating system that can mimic human sentience?" a dangerously lonely Joaquin Phoenix wonders after catching glimpse of an ad in a transit station. "Don't mind if I do!" (He doesn't actually say that, don't worry.) But by the time we're meant to believe that such a world can seamlessly integrate characters like Scarlett Johansson's automated voice Samantha into the lives of living, breathing men and women like Phoenix's Theodore, we're already established residents of this arresting, icy, quivering world the filmmaker has built. We meet Theodore midway through his recitation of a "handwritten letter" he penned on behalf of a woman to her husband of many years. That's his job — tapping into his own unique sensititivies to play ghostwriter for people hoping to adorn their spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, and children with personal notes of personal affection. Theodore is no independent contractor; he's part of a thriving company, and we almost get the feeling that the folks on the receiving end of these letters are in the know. Before we ever encounter Samantha, we're embedded in the central conceit of the movie: emotional surrogacy is an industry on the rise.
What makes Jonze's world so palatable is that, beneath its marvelously eerie aesthetic, this idea is barely science-fiction. Theodore, humbled and scarred by a recent divorce from lifelong love Catherine (Rooney Mara, who contrasts Johansson by giving a performance that, for a large sum of the movie, is all body and no voice), accesses the will to go on through interractions with video game characters and phone-sex hotlines. But the ante is upped with Samantha, the self-named operating system that Theodore purchases to stave off loneliness, deeming choice a far less contorting one than spending time with old pals like Amy (Amy Adams)... at first.
Samantha evolves rather quickly from an articulate Siri into a curious companion, who is fed and engaged by Theodore just as much as she feeds and engages him. Jonze paces his construction of what, exactly, Samantha is so carefully that we won't even catch the individual steps in her change — along with Theodore, we slowly grow more and more enamored and mystified by his computer/assistant/friend/lover before we can recognize that we're dealing with a different being altogether from the one we met at that inceptive self-aware "H-hello?" But Jonze lays tremendous groundwork to let us know this story is all for something: all the while, as the attractions build and the hearts beat faster for Samantha, we foster an unmistakable sense of doom. We can't help but dread the very same perils that instituted one infamous admission: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
But Jonze's sci-fi constructs are so cohesively intertwined with his love story that our dread doesn't exactly translate to an anticipation of HAL's hostile takeover. Her wedges us so tightly between Theodore and Samantha that our fears of the inevitable clash between man and machine apprehend a smaller, more intimate ruin. As Samantha's growth become more surprising and challenging to Theodore, to herself, and to us, the omens build for each.
And although all three parties know better, we cannot help but affix ourselves to the chemistry between Theodore and Samantha, and to the possibility that we're building toward something supreme. A good faction of this is due to the unbelievable performances of Phoenix — representing the cautious excitement that we all know so painfully well — and Johansson, who twists her disembodied voice so empathetically that we find ourselves, like Theodore, forgetting that we have yet to actually meet her. The one castigation that we can attach to the casting of Johansson is that such a recognizable face will, inevitably, work its way into our heads when we're listening to her performance. It almost feels like a cheat, although we can guarantee that a performance this good would render a figure just as vivid even if delivered by an unknown.
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In this way, Her is as effective a comment on the healthiest human relationships as it is on those that rope in third parties — be they of the living, automated, or greeting card variety. In fact, the movie has so many things to say that it occasionally steps on its own feet, opening up ideas so grand (and coloring them so brightly) that it sometimes has trouble capping them coherently. Admittedly, if Spike Jonze had an answer to some of the questions he's asking here, he'd probably be suspected of himself being a super-intelligent computer. But in telling the story of a man struggling to understand what it means to be in love, to an operating system or not, Jonze invites us to dissect all of the manic and trying and wonderful and terrifying and incomprehensible elements therein. Just like Samantha, Her doesn't always know what to do with all of its brilliance. But that might be part of why we're so crazy over the both of them.
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