Star Wars' 10 Oscar Wins

A complete history of Star Wars at the Academy Awards, including its 10 wins

The year was 1978. Star Wars, aka A New Hope, had blown up the box office the year before, becoming an international phenomenon and changing what it means to "go to the movies" forever.

Numerous studios around Hollywood turned down George Lucas when he pitched them his idea for a sprawling space adventure, vastly underestimating its appeal. But when Lucas used the "hero's journey" template to build a timeless fable of good vs. evil, he tapped into something that speaks to the human soul.

When nominations were announced for the 50th Academy Awards, aka the 1978 Oscars, Star Wars did something no "genre" film had ever done before: it was one of the top nominees. It scored ten nominations, including nods for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Score, and numerous technical categories.

The broadcast was the most-watched Academy Awards in TV history, a record that still holds today. While denied the top prize, Star Wars won six of its nominations, and got an additional Oscar in a "Special Achievement" category, for a total of seven statues -- the most Oscars for any film in 1978. Yet it was shut out of all of the major awards; I guess the Academy wasn't ready yet to recognize a science fiction film as serious drama.

Before we take a look at the seven Oscars won by Star Wars -- as well as the two for Empire Strikes Back and one for Return of the Jedi -- here's a little trivia, quite a bit of which may surprise you.

  • Despite his enormous contributions to cinema, George Lucas has never won a single Oscar for any of his Star Wars movies. For the original film, he was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, but lost both to Woody Allen for Annie Hall. (In keeping with his tradition, Allen did not attend the Oscars to receive his awards personally.)
  • The Best Picture award, which goes to a movie's producer (Gary Kurtz in this case), also lost to Annie Hall.
  • Lucas did, however, win an Irving Thalberg Memorial Award in 1991, an honorary award given for a consistently creative, high-quality filmmaking career.
  • Likewise, despite his enormous contributions to Empire and Jedi (and Force Awakens), screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan was never nominated for either film. He has been nominated four times for Academy Awards for other films, but never won.
  • Fans know that the earliest visionary for the physical look and feel of the Star Wars universe was illustrator Ralph McQuarrie. His influence lives on today, with his imagery popping up in The Force Awakens and Star Wars Rebels. Yet he was never even nominated for his work on the saga.
  • Current Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy has been nominated eight times (for eight different films) but never won. None of her nominations were for Star Wars.
  • Academy members had the same underwhelmed response to the prequel trilogy that critics (and some fans) did, giving just five nominations between the three movies, all in technical categories. None of them won.

At the 2016 Academy Awards, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was nominated in five categories: Film Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. It won none of them.

Art Direction (Star Wars)

John Barry and George Lucas at a preproduction meeting for 'Star Wars'
John Barry and George Lucas at a preproduction meeting for 'Star Wars'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Production designer John Barry, art directors Leslie Dilley and Norman Reynolds, and set decorator Roger Christian shared this award for crafting the realistic, lived-in look and feel of Star Wars: A New Hope.

John Barry accepted the award for the quartet, thanking only George Lucas by name.

  • Watch Star Wars win the 1978 Art Direction award here.

Costume Design (Star Wars)

Costume designer John Mollo pictured with actress Natalie Wood and Darth Vader
Costume designer John Mollo pictured with actress Natalie Wood and Darth Vader, at the 1978 Academy Awards. unknown

Can you imagine A New Hope without Darth Vader's imposing black uniform? Or the Stormtroopers' plastic white armor? Or Han Solo's black vest? Carrie Fisher's flowing white robes? Obi-Wan's brown Jedi robes -- an aesthetic that continues to inform the franchise today?

Those iconic looks were created by costume designer John Mollo, and the Academy recognized him for his work. The award ceremony charmingly showcased the nominees with the actual costumes worn on stage in a glamorous segment that felt very "old Hollywood."

  • Watch Star Wars win the 1978 Costume Design award here.

Film Editing (Star Wars)

Editors Richard Chew, Marcia Lucas, and Paul Hirsch with presenter Farrah Fawcett
Editors Richard Chew, Marcia Lucas, and Paul Hirsch with presenter Farrah Fawcett. unknown

Although George Lucas himself helped to edit Star Wars: A New Hope, the official nominations went to Richard Chew, Paul Hirsch, and Marcia Lucas (George's wife at the time).

Hirsch spoke at the podium, thanking the rest of the editing department and of course the Great Bearded One.

  • Watch Star Wars win the 1978 Film Editing award here.

Original Score (Star Wars)

John Williams (holding his Oscar) with presenters Olivia Newton-John and Henry Mancini
John Williams (holding his Oscar) with presenters Olivia Newton-John and Henry Mancini. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

What would Star Wars be without the music of the legendary John Williams? Apparently the Academy agreed with that sentiment, awarding Williams for his unforgettable score. He was double nominated in '78; his second nod was for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Star Wars was Williams' third win in the category, after Fiddler on the Roof and Jaws, amid his astounding 50 nominations (to-date). He was also nominated in 1981 for The Empire Strikes Back and 1984 for Return of the Jedi. He came full circle in 2016 with a nomination for his score for The Force Awakens, though he lost to Ennio Morricone.

Williams was never nominated for his work on the prequels, though he was nominated for other films in the years that the prequels were released -- 1999, 2002, and 2005.

  • Watch Star Wars win the 1978 Original Score award here.

Sound (Star Wars)

1978 Oscar winners for Sound
1978 Oscar winners for Sound. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Before there were separate awards for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, there was an award simply for "Best Sound." Historically speaking, the award went to the sound mixer(s) and re-recording mixer(s).

The sound mixer and re-recording mixer are responsible for combining all of the audio that goes into a film (dialogue, sound effects, music, etc.) and adjusting each sound's level so that it all works together seamlessly.

For Star Wars: A New Hope, the winners were sound mixer Derek Ball and re-recording mixers Don MacDougall, Bob Minkler, and Ray West. (MacDougall was also nominated for Close Encounters.)

  • Watch Star Wars win the 1978 Sound award here.

Visual Effects (Star Wars)

The 1978 Oscar winners for Visual Effects with presenter Joan Fontaine
The 1978 Oscar winners for Visual Effects with presenter Joan Fontaine. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The visual effects in Star Wars were unprecedented. The miniatures and compositing and other techniques covered new ground in cinematic visuals, and the effects artists behind them were duly recognized.

John Dykstra oversaw the visual effects department. John Stears supervised the physical, on-set effects (explosions, creatures, etc.). Grant McCune was the chief model maker that put together all those amazing miniatures. Richard Edlund was responsible for putting those miniatures on film. And Robert Blalack was the compositor who put it all into the frame together.

During the ceremony, the band repeatedly tried to play the winners off the stage, but the five guys were having none of it.

  • Watch Star Wars win the 1978 Visual Effects award here.

Special Achievement in Sound (Star Wars)

Ben Burtt with C-3PO and Mark Hamill
Ben Burtt with C-3PO and Mark Hamill. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Mark Hamill (sporting an enormous bow tie) was introduced as the presenter for this special award, for which there were no nominees. Soon he was joined by C-3PO (also in a bow tie) and R2-D2, who humorously interrupted Hamill repeatedly as he tried to introduce the award.

After Frank Warner was presented with a Special Achievement in Sound Effects Editing award for Close Encounters, Hamill presented a Special Achievement in Sound award to Star Wars' Ben Burtt, for his work creating all of the alien, creature, and droid voices.

Burtt had worked on just three movies prior to Star Wars, but he would go on to become a legend in Hollywood, creating sounds for every movie Lucasfilm has ever made, along with non-Lucas hits like E.T., WALL-E, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, and many more. He has since won three additional Academy Awards.

  • Watch Star Wars win the 1978 Special Achievement in Sound award here.

Sound (The Empire Strikes Back)

1981 Oscar winners Bill Varney and Steven Maslow with presenter Billy Dee Williams
1981 Oscar winners Bill Varney and Steven Maslow with presenter Billy Dee Williams. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

In 1981, The Empire Strikes Back was nominated for three awards, winning one plus a special achievement award. The award for Sound went to sound producer Peter Sutton and re-recording mixers Gregg Landaker, Steve Maslow, and Bill Varney.

Notably, although Star Wars won the exact same award three years earlier, the quartet of winners for Empire were a completely different group than those that worked on the original film (see #5).

The award was presented by Bernadette Peters and Billy Dee Williams. Williams sported a mullet for the occasion, though that was nothing compared to the foot-high man-perm displayed by one of the winners.

  • Watch The Empire Strikes Back win the 1981 Sound award here.

Special Achievement in Visual Effects (The Empire Strikes Back)

Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, and Bruce Nicholson, with Academy president Jack Valenti
Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, and Bruce Nicholson, with Academy president Jack Valenti. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

1981's Academy Awards ceremony saw The Empire Strikes Back receive a Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects. The winners were effects artists Richard Edlund and Brian Johnson, and miniatures wizards Dennis Muren and Bruce Nicholson.

If you haven't watched any of the other videos, this one is a must-see because it includes a short compilation of super rare behind-the-scenes footage from the making of Empire. Man, I could watch hours of that stuff.

  • Watch The Empire Strikes Back win the 1981 Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects here.

Special Achievement in Visual Effects (Return of the Jedi)

Jabba the Hutt is displayed at a Star Wars Exhibition in 2002
Jabba the Hutt is displayed at a Star Wars Exhibition in 2002. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Repeating the recognition Empire received three years prior, Return of the Jedi was given a Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects at the 1984 Oscars.

Returning to accept were effects artists Richard Edlund and Denis Muren; they were joined by effects artist Ken Ralston and creature designer Phil Tippett. At the ceremony, the award was preceded by a two-minute bit by presenters Cheech and Chong. No, I'm serious.

  • Watch Return of the Jedi win the 1984 Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects here.