“Star Wars” got five Oscar nominations — and that’s maddening, if you really think about it

Five Oscar nominations for Star Wars? Five is pretty good, but in my book, it should have been ten or 15. Maybe 30.

Here’s a perspective from constitutional law. (Needed, of course.)

As everyone knows, The Force Awakens is episode VII. That mean that J.J. Abrams and his crew were sharply constrained by Episodes 1 through VI. They couldn’t (easily) decide that Obi-Wan and Yoda were still alive, or that the whole series was set in the 1980s, or that Return of the Jedi was just Luke’s dream. They had to be faithful to what had come before — but they also had to do something good, that is, to continue the narrative in a way that people would like, or love, rather than think, WTF?

That’s a lot like how constitutional law works. Suppose the Supreme Court is deciding on affirmative action, or abortion, or campaign finance law. (It’s doing the first two this year.) It’s actually producing episodes. It has to be faithful, more or less (preferably more), to what has come before, which creates a serious constraint, possibly even a problem. But it also has to produce something that makes the narrative, taken as a whole, coherent and good, rather than incoherent and bad. That’s a challenge.

If the Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action is OK on Tuesday, but only on Tuesday, it would be pretty dumb. If it ruled that you could abort girls but not boys, it would be much worse than dumb. The task is to produce an overall account that fits with the past episodes — and that makes the whole narrative as good as it can be.

On constitutional law, of course, there’s a lot more to say, so let’s focus on The Force Awakens. J.J. Abrams and company had a truly formidable task, and a daunting constraint, one not faced by the makers of Spotlight, The Martian, or The Big Short. It may not be so easy to remain faithful to a previous narrative; it is also hard to continue it in a way that works. The Force Awakens succeeds on both counts.

True, it is mostly a remake of A New Hope. True, it doesn’t show George Lucas’s creative genius. (What does? By the way, Lucas also has an underappreciated literary sensibility.) True, some smart people have argued that because it lacks Lucas’ originality, it’s basically just OK.

Maybe. Still, it’s beautiful, and it moves fast, and it stirs emotions (not only because of nostalgia). Improbably, it succeeds in merging the old and the new. Even better, it succeeds in unifying people across generations, political divides, and geography. Red State, Blue State — Obama, Clinton, Sanders, Rubio, Cruz, Trump — who cares, when it comes to Star Wars?

What other movie does that? The spotlight belongs on Star Wars, the biggest short of them all. Five nominations is really good, but still: Star Wars really matters, and it wuz robbed. (More to come, in the space.)

Cass R. Sunstein’s forthcoming book is The World According to Star Wars, to be published in May by HarperCollins.