A “Darth” of Respect From Oscar

It’s taken the Academy Awards decades to finally honor "Star Wars" icon James Earl Jones. But will Harry Potter be as old as Dumbledore before getting his due?

We're thrilled by the news that James Earl Jones is set to receive an honorary Oscar at the Academy Awards. The move marks a fitting tribute to a great actor – and can be seen, in part, as a belated recognition of the "Star Wars" series.

It's worth noting word of the honor for the 80-year-old icon, best known as the doom-laden voice of Darth Vader, comes amid talk about whether the final chapter of the most successful movie series of all time – the "Harry Potter" franchise – will earn any major Academy Award nominations.

Which leads us to ask: Will Daniel Radcliffe and the gang, shut out through seven movies, have to wait until they're as old as Dumbledore to get Oscar's respect?

The Academy of Motion Picture Art and Science sports, at best, a mixed record in rewarding fantasy-action flicks that scale both artistic and box-office heights. The "Star Wars" films bagged a bunch of technical awards, but only the first installment received any major nominations (Best Picture, Best Director and a Best Supporting Actor nod for Alec Guinness), with nary a win.

It took three tries for "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy to complete its Oscar quest, with "The Return of the King" taking a record-tying 11 Academy Awards in 2004, on a night as memorable as Bilbo Baggins’ 111th birthday party.

But "The Dark Knight" got shut out of Best Picture category in 2009, a foolish snub that spurred the Academy to double the field of nominees to 10. That apparently didn't much help "Avatar," which lost in 2010 to "The Hurt Locker."

At least "Avatar," by some measures the biggest movie moneymaker of all time, got nominated for Best Picture: the "Potter" series, considered so far only for behind-the-scenes categories, hasn’t notched a major nomination or a single statue.

We're not saying that "Potter" deserves Oscar recognition simply because the eight-movie series has brought in a record $7 billion – and counting – at the box office. The franchise, though, is overdue industry kudos for giving moviegoers some great films.

The final chapter, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," may be the best of them all, save for perhaps “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” For all the action and special effects, "Deathly Hallows" is driven by character – offering an ambiguity-tinged battle of good against evil wrapped in a story about growing up amid death and uncertainty.

The year in movies isn't over, but Best Picture, Best Director (David Yates), Best Actor (Daniel Radcliffe) and Best Supporting Actor (Alan Rickman) nods, at a minimum, would seem in order.

In purely practical term, Oscar voters, who haven't always been in sync with moviegoers, might want to think about the generation of fans who grew up with the “Potter” films over the last decade.  Last year’s bid to draw a younger crowd to the Academy Awards show by enlisting James Franco and Anne Hathaway as co-host failed, as ratings actually dropped amid the duo's lackluster performances.

What could be more magical for movie fans of all ages than an Oscars ceremony celebrating “Harry Potter,” Jones and, by extension, “Star Wars?” Otherwise, the Academy Awards might not have many viewers left by 2069 when 80-year-old Radcliffe picks up his honorary Oscar.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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