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Looking Back At The History Of Star Wars Teaser Trailers

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The Internet is gearing itself up for the hype-explosion that is the very first trailer for The Force Awakens coming tomorrow. But what were our first glimpses of Star Wars movies like - and in turn, what can they tell us about what we might expect from tomorrow? Let's take a look back at the teasers of Star Wars past.

Star Wars, 1977

It's hard to go back and try and put yourself in the shoes of people seeing this trailer - and seeing Star Wars - for the very first time in a 70's movie theatre, now that we've had almost 40 years of Star Wars since. It's easy to get tingles as we see shots of characters and ships we love, but did it really have a big impact on people then (presumably it must have, considering the media frenzy that came with it).


It's a surprisingly modern-feeling trailer - the short, sharp cuts of fleeting imagery is something that Star Wars movies will return to for trailers later on - aside from the now admittedly hokey narration promising 'a big, sprawling space saga of rebellion and romance', but while hindsight won't let us experience this teaser in its original context any more, it allows us to see how interestingly the teaser reframes the whole movie around Luke and Leia and their relationship. They're the stars of the show here - Han has so little screentime you wouldn't think he's a main player at all. And on the same level, so little of the space action that would define many people's relationship with the franchise is present too. But for many, many people, this trailer was their first ever glimpse at the Galaxy far, far away, and it's definitely an interesting one.

The Empire Strikes Back, 1979

Considering the lofty pedestal Star Wars fans put the original trilogy's dark middle chapter on now, you might expect the first teaser for Empire to be ominous and brooding, reflecting the darker tones of the movie. But what audiences got in 1979 was something completely different - and I imagine something that would get modern day fans flailing at their keyboards in rage.


At least Star Wars' teaser largely confined its footage to the Death Star sequences and Tatooine - Empire's basically shows most of the film, even Luke and Vader's duel! The idea of a trailer spoiling the plot isn't a new one, it seems. What makes it doubly interesting is that this up beat trailer, with John Williams' theme blaring triumphantly, is that it is almost entirely made up of Ralph McQuarrie's concept art. Aside from some stills at the end introducing the main cast (including the addition of Lando), there's not a single second of actual footage from Empire in it at all. It manages to show almost the whole story - thankfully, although Dagobah makes an appearance, art of Yoda did not - without actually showing anything at all. I almost want to see The Force Awaken's trailer do this tomorrow, just to see the reaction. It would be nuts!

Revenge of the Jedi, 1982

Ah yes - it's common Star Wars knowledge these days that originally the third film in the saga was originally Revenge, not Return, of the Jedi, before George Lucas decided that Revenge seemed a bit hostile for the peaceful warrior monk that Luke Skywalker had become. But still, that change happened late enough that fans first look at the film came with the original trailer - it was quickly replaced with the 'Return' title card later that year though, with some slightly different footage and a new narration.

Unlike the Empire Trailer, thankfully Jedi's is all footage, but it's decidedly not finished footage - Luke's lightsaber is still blue, for example, and there's a brief shot of Obi-Wan Kenobi without the 'Force spirit' effect (bet that confused people!). But what's most interesting about the original 'Revenge' teaser, something that was changed in the Return one, was how little it hinted that this was the final movie in the trilogy. The 'Return' narration makes it obvious, calling it the 'Climactic entry' in the franchise - were Fox concerned that the original trailer would lead people to believe that there'd be more Star Wars coming soon?

Little did they know, they'd be waiting almost 2 decades to learn that there would be...


The Phantom Menace, 1998

If The Force Awakens has any real direct comparison from all these trailers, it's probably going to be The Phantom Menace. After years of absence, long thought done with, Star Wars was back - and people were excited.


The hype for the first glimpse at The Phantom Menace was extraordinary - Lucasfilm decided to only première it in front of showings for three movies at a meagre 75 Cinemas in the US: The Water Boy, The Siege and Meet Joe Black. Fans queued up in their thousands just to see it, streaming into theatre's only to leave the moment the Episode One trailer finished airing. With the internet still in relative infancy, it was the only way to see the trailer (thank god we're getting Episode Seven's online tomorrow, right?) - and it had such an impact that sales for those three movies spiked on the weekend the trailer launched. It was a level hype no movie could live up to, even without the ire that The Phantom Menace would ultimately draw from diehard fans after it finally released.

But regardless of however you feel about the prequels, it's a pretty great trailer - much more than just a teaser, coming in at 2 minutes of footage - even without the 'event' around it. Glimpses of new planets, podracing, even the most tantalising, fleeting look at Darth Maul, and a lightsaber here and there (and yes, even Jar Jar). It's easy to see why fans were whipped into such fervour.


Attack of the Clones, 2001

Now this is more like what you'd expect from a teaser - also, how on earth did it take Star Wars this long to give us a trailer punctuated by the breathing of Darth Vader!? And yet they do it for the one that's probably the least appropriate to use it for, but oh well, it's a great enough idea that it sends chills down your spine... even for Attack of the Clones.


Although much more fleeting than any of the other trailers here (it probably has the closest comparison to the very first teaser), there's still plenty of tantalising imagery in there - especially of the shots of Jango, or at least the person we'd later find out is Jango rather than Boba, of Slave One, and white-clad soldiers who look a lot like Stormtroopers from so far away, all designed with a laser focus to get old-school fans intrigued. It's surprisingly sinister in tone as well, rather different than the final movie, presumably to try and sell us on Anakin beginning is journey on a darker path. It's funny how good editing can really shape the tone into something largely different from the final movie (or at least something the final movie struggled to convey).

Revenge of the Sith, 2004

As befitting our first look at the last ever Star Wars movie (or so we all thought), Revenge of the Sith's teaser is decidedly nostalgic - the Force theme swelling in the background, Obi-Wan's narration about the fall of Anakin and the Jedi from the first movie - it's not even until half way through that we actually get to see footage from the movie.


It keeps a decent mix of action in at the end - including shots of Anakin and Obi-Wan's climactic duel - but it's really unified around the nostalgia hit of that infamous scene featuring Vader rising on his operating table. It's an interesting parallel to the Return of the Jedi trailers, which looked at all the newness of that movie rather than focusing on its nature as the end of the story, to see Revenge of the Sith's trailer look back on what came before so much, but like I said - we all expected this to be the last Star Wars we got for a while, so a little self-indulgence was allowed. At least this time, we wouldn't have to wait quite so long to see that this wasn't the case...

The Force Awakens, 2014


So can we use the teasers of old to hazard a guess about tomorrow's? Well, not really. There hasn't been a unifying theme to all of the trailers that could lead us to guess at how it'll go down tomorrow - but if rumours are to be believed, it sounds like we're getting something that's very similar to the Attack of the Clones trailer. Fleeting glimpses punctuated by fades, and the return of the Force theme, akin to Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith.

It'll be interesting to see what Disney shows off - will it be spaceships, like that gif of the Falcon floating around? Will it be the new cast members, or will they go for the nostalgia hit of seeing Han, Luke and Leia once again? It won't be long before we all find out.


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