With two teasers, a behind-the-scenes reel at Comic Con and two seconds of unseen footage glimpsed in a Korean TV spot, the wait for the first full trailer for The Force Awakens was reaching a climax. Now that this wait is over, speculations are running even higher than before. What will this new movie bring us? What will happen to our heroes, both new and familiar? What has happened in that galaxy far, far away since Endor? Who is Kylo Ren?
One may find it useful to look at the past and see how revealing Star Wars movie trailers were. In this first part we look at the teasers and trailers from the original trilogy!
A New Hope
With the production in a mad rush to finish the special effects, Charles Lippincott was busy promoting the movie at conventions and by other means like the novelization and the Marvel comic that was in development. One of the other tools in his shed was the first teaser trailer. Lippincott met with Lucas, Kurtz, assistant optical editor Bruce Green and three ad agency people in November 26, 1976, to talk about the trailer’s storyboard and everything that was needed to make a rough cut. This was finished a mere three days later and talks began about what needed to be changed and what music would be heard in the trailer.
In the next couple of weeks, Bruce Green would travel back and forth between ILM and MFE (Modern Film Effects — the company responsible for the effects of the trailer like the exploding logo) to get the teaser ready. It was fully approved by Lucas in early December and ready for review by Fox. However, tensions were high due to the troublesome production that the movie had up to this point, and the executives were far from pleased with a teaser that featured a couple of unfinished shots and was seen by Lucas and his team as a “spirit of the movie” trailer. Fox even went as far as trying to change the title of the movie, but that never happened because nobody ever gave Lucas acceptable title alternatives. The teaser was finally released in cinemas during the Christmas season, and receptions were a bit of a mixed bag with some people becoming curious for the movie while critics said it would never work.
- The music heard is a variation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Winter).
- The narration is done by an actor named Malachi Throne, who is also known for his work on Star Trek, making him the first actor to be involved in both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. The narration puts extra focus on George Lucas being the man behind American Graffiti, which was his big success at the time.
- While Chewbacca growls angrily a lot of times in the film — at mouse droids, at droids who are beating him at Dejarik, at people who try to handcuff him, or while escaping Tatooine and the Death Star — the growl heard at 0:42 is not seen in the actual movie and appears to be from an alternate take.
- Unfinished effects include the blaster effects (you can even hear them shooting blanks), the lightsabers, and the background of the cockpit with Leia and Chewbacca, which was a front-projection directly from how the scene was filmed.
- Out of the $3,915.10 budget for the entire teaser, $1,268 went to the effects of MFE. The exploding Star Wars logo (which was in a different font then the one we are used to these days) was made by Joe Viskocil and Bruce Logan.
With the teaser designed to showcase the spirit of the movie and the strange new worlds, the launch trailer made sure to cover the story of Luke Skywalker, who was just a farmboy until he received a mysterious message from a princess. In fact, the trailer gives almost everything away because you see both the rescue of Leia and the escape from the Death Star, as well as a quick shot of the Death Star exploding after quite a few Battle of Yavin shots. One can think of this as strange, but consider that in the ’70s you could not constantly re-watch or freeze trailers like we can today and overanalyze what we see. Plus with the novelization out as early as December 1976, it obviously wasn’t important to keep the story that much of a secret.
- This trailer starts the trend of introducing the actors in the movie; here it is done by naming them one by one followed by a short clip of them in the film.
- This is the first trailer to feature the actual music from John Williams.
- What’s curious: The blink-and-you-miss-it shot of the Rebel Alliance technicians at 0:41 . You could wonder why they were even added in the trailer.
- The logo at the end, while still not the logo that we have today, is one that actually appeared quite a few times on various merchandise of the time.
It was inevitable that the movie would be re-released due to its tremendous success, and that happened the very next year, with a new trailer that highlighted some of the most famous scenes.
- The first and only time we see the famous words of “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” in a trailer, though it would still be mentioned in later trailers.
- The narration combines many of the lines from previous trailers, including the often-used marketing line, “A movie billions of years in the making.”
- While this trailer finally shows an Imperial other then Darth Vader and stormtroopers, it is not Tarkin as one might suspect, but rather Admiral Motti.
- The original Star Wars logo from the previous trailer is again seen here, and is used as a frame for scenes that are shown within the letters.
- What’s curious: The fight between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader features unfinished lightsabers effects while the movie was already finished and in cinemas the year before. Could this mean they re-used the negatives from the teaser that also had this very same scene with unfinished effects?
- At the end of the trailer is a closing graphic celebrating the seven Academy Awards that the movie had won.
Star Wars again returned to cinemas on April 10, 1981 for a limited two-week engagement. With the sequel well into production, this re-release would feature for the first time ever the subtitle A New Hope, revealing that this was actually the fourth movie in a saga.
- The first trailer to feature the new MPAA title card telling the audience that this trailer is approved for all audiences.
- This is also the first time that the proper Star Wars logo is seen in a trailer, yet weirdly enough the trailer ends with the classic teaser logo seen in 1976.
The Empire Strikes Back
Presumably to quench the thirst for anything new from the sequel to Star Wars, the production of The Empire Strikes Back decided to quickly release a teaser despite having not yet shot any footage. Instead the audience was treated with quick shots and extreme close-ups from various works of Ralph McQuarrie, whose work once again became very important to promote a Star Wars movie.
- Art works featured include the Rebel hangar on Hoth, Luke on a tauntaun, the Imperial probe droid, the asteroid sequence, Cloud City (as an new exotic world according to the narrator), and even some quick shots of Dagobah.
- While the teaser speaks of evil machines, only the probe droid and a Star Destroyer are visible in the artworks. The AT-AT, which also fits the description of an evil machine, is strangely missing.
- Just like in the launch trailer for Star Wars, we are introduced to the heroes of the movie, but this time with sliding photo stills that are addressed by the name of the character instead of the name of the actors. While Yoda was kept a secret, we do learn of a new character called Lando Calrissian.
- The exploding logo is also back at the end, this time with the title of The Empire Strikes Back blowing out of it.
- A second teaser was released in the fall of 1979, which weirdly enough did not feature music from John Williams, but again used Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. What’s noticeable is a very quick shot of Luke pulling out his blaster and pointing it at Yoda, who quickly covers himself. However, the shot is over so quickly that without today’s ability to pause a video, his character remains a secret.
The first launch trailer for The Empire Strikes Back was released in cinemas during the fall of 1979 and features the voice of Harrison Ford as the narrator. Ford quickly brings the viewer back up to speed on where we left off with the previous movie and assures us that the story didn’t end there…
- There are a couple of returning shots from the second teaser like the blue logo with Darth Vader breathing menacingly behind it, as well as the same close-ups of Han, Leia, and Chewbacca.
- The trailer hints at a romance blossoming between Leia and Han, but also between Leia and Luke.
- Deleted scenes: C-3PO ripping a warning sign off a door on Hoth (that would have led to another deleted scene in which a couple of snowtroopers are ambushed by wampas as they enter this room), a different medical bay kiss between Leia and Luke (as the latter is just released from his bacta tank), and an alternate shot of Lando passing through a door (presumably the one that leads to the Darth Vader dinner table room).
Second trailer and re-release
A second trailer was made that features early looks at many sequences from the film, including more from the Battle of Hoth and the final duel between Luke and Darth Vader — something that was already mentioned in the first teaser.
This trailer was also used for the re-release in 1981, but with a couple of changes. Since Yoda was no longer a secret, he was shown speaking to Luke after the young Rebel had drawn his blaster on him. The green Jedi Master received his own sliding frame as well, with scenes of him training Luke, lifting the X-wing, and removing the lamp from the camp. There was also an added narration in the beginning informing viewers that the movie would be back for a special limited engagement starting November 19th.
- This was the first time the Imperial March was heard.
- Official debut of The Empire Strikes Back logo.
- Unfinished effects: The lightsabers during the duel between Luke and Darth Vader. This was not fixed for the re-release version either.
- The first time we see the AT-ATs, but strangely no Boba Fett.
- Deleted scene: Lando at the top of the elevator looking around to spot Luke, who has fallen on the hull of the Millennium Falcon. There’s also an alternate take (frontal view instead the side/back view you see in the movie) of Chewbacca knocking down a stormtrooper in the carbonite chamber.
Return of the Jedi
Please note that the YouTube teaser trailer differs from the one seen on the DVD box set. While many of the shots are the same, the YouTube version does not include the sliding-frames effect that was used in a slightly different way from the The Empire Strikes Back trailers.
Released in 1982, this teaser showed many scenes from the movie, introducing us to new characters like Jabba the Hutt and Admiral Ackbar, while also reintroducing us to heroes and villains from the previous movies. An identical version of this teaser with the new title, Return of the Jedi, was released later that same year. This version can be seen on the DVD and the official Star Wars YouTube channel.
- James Earl Jones narrates the teaser trailer. Considering his fame as Darth Vader and his incredible voice work, it is curious that he did not narrate more trailers for Star Wars.
- Unfinished special effects and errors: Luke is seen with a blue-colored lightsaber which later got changed to green. Obi-Wan also doesn’t appear as a flickering Force ghost.
- During Lando’s grapple with a skiff guard, the sound effect of a Tusken Raider can be heard despite them not appearing in the movie at all.
- Alternate shot: C-3PO’s introduction features him aboard Home One during the briefing. Standing behind him are two pilots, not two Endor troopers and a doorway as seen in the film.
- Deleted Scene: A brief flash of the infamous sandstorm scene. This scene was included in the 2011 Blu-ray release.
- First time Wedge Antilles appears in a trailer despite being an important recurring character in every film of the original trilogy.
- No exploding logo, but we still get the logo with the full title coming towards the viewer. This time it is colored red instead blue.
- “A journey to alien worlds,” a phrase that existed in several variations in every original trilogy movie trailer, is heard here as well, accompanied by images of Max Rebo, Jabba’s palace, and Admiral Ackbar. For the teaser of Star Wars the line was “Aliens from a thousand worlds,” while the The Empire Strikes Back teaser mentioned “Exotic worlds with alien creatures.”
- Apparently the Emperor, as well as the Ewoks, were being kept a secret as they are not revealed in this teaser.
With the word “Revenge” changed to “Return,” the narrator invites us to return to a galaxy far, far away where the battle rages on.
- Return of the Jedi was treated not as an end, but rather as the next chapter in the saga.
- While there are no character or actor introductions unlike in the previous trailers, we are reminded of the virtues of our heroes which has led us to this point in the saga: “The heart of a hero,” “The courage of a rebel,” “The strength of a leader,” “The loyalty of comrades,” and “The power of the Force.”
- Ever since the surprising reveal about Darth Vader being Luke’s father, audiences worldwide were speculating if it was true, or just another lie told by the Sith Lord to unnerve Luke. This trailer teases that the answer would be coming with footage of Luke asking Yoda the exact same thing.
- The line “And aliens from a thousand worlds” is once again heard.
While we focus on teasers and trailers in this article, it is noteworthy to mention this particular TV spot which was shown during the first theatrical release of the movie. This was the first time we saw the Ewoks in a trailer and it even features a quick shot of Palpatine, the other character who was kept a secret until the release of the movie. But the most noteworthy aspect about this TV spot is the fact that it spoils the movie completely by showing the Death Star exploding and the Rebels celebrating while the narrator declares “Rejoice in the triumph.” While we now live in a world of spoilers and want to see only more and more of a movie before it is released, it is a good thing to consider for yourself how revealing a trailer can be, and how much more fun it would be to speculate and be surprised at your local cinema on December 18 this year.
Join us next time for a look at how the modern teasers and trailers of the prequel trilogy compare to the classics and what they reveal!
Sander de Lange (Exar Xan) from the Netherlands worked on the Rogues Gallery feature in Star Wars Insider and has written the backstory for Niai Fieso through “What’s the Story?” He is an editor for TeeKay-421, the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub, and is an administrator for the Star Wars Sourcebooks page on Facebook. While he cannot wait to see The Force Awakens in the cinema, he tries his best to stay spoiler free.