The Evolution Of The ‘Star Wars’ Trailer, From ‘A New Hope’ To ‘The Force Awakens’

It’s hard to believe, but when Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens up in December 2015, Star Wars will have been a part of our culture for 38 years. Forget about how much the world has changed in that time, what about movies themselves? Everyone knows that Star Wars elevated the art form and made it possible to harvest portions of the imagination that once seemed impossible, but before it did that, it was just a film from the guy who directed American Graffiti and then, when the trailer was released, it became a real thing.

With every one of these 7 Star Wars trailers over the years, there has been a growing tide of anticipation. Today, the release of that trailer took over the internet and garnered an opinion from everyone with even the slightest interest in movies, sci-fi, pop culture, and Star Wars. So with that in mind, it seemed like a right time to look back at the trailers for all of the Star Wars films with an eye on analyzing what they told us about the projects that they were promoting at that time.

Star Wars: A New Hope

Naturally, you have to view the first Star Wars trailer with the understanding that the release of these trailers wasn’t an event back then like they are now, and they certainly weren’t dissected like contemporary trailers are. To me, this is a much more utilitarian trailer than we’re used to seeing. There’s no cuteness or subtlety, just the meat and potatoes of what the film is.

You want robots? Here’s a robot. Aliens? Ditto, and here’s a big bad guy in black and a pretty girl too. The teases about the story are similarly basic:

“This is a story about a boy, a girl, and a universe.”

“A big sprawling saga of rebellion and romance.”

Those lines would be written off as corny and in-artful now, especially if they were delivered in such a self-serious tone, but it got the job done back in a time before space epics and big budget extravaganzas were commonplace.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 

Holy crap is the energy different when you compare the trailer from Empire to the one from New Hope. The narrator is so much more enthusiastic and the action is more present and loud. This is an adventure trailer and that is rammed home by the uptempo John Williams score that tussles with the sounds of blaster guns and explosions for our attention. I like how both trailers end with the Star Wars title exploding in space.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

The deep space motif returns, but the narrator is both super serious and enthused as the themes from both the New Hope trailer and the Empire Strikes Back one are touched upon: heroes, villains, alien worlds, and a fight against oppression. It’s like an amalgamation of the first two trailers, but there is a lot more focus on Darth Vader here. There’s also no real look at the Ewoks. It’s as if they were a dirty little secret.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace 

There was a 16 year gap between films and trailers and it absolutely shows when you watch these together. I like how this trailer begins with a whisper before breaking out into a roar with the thrilling pod-race scene and that Williams score that really gives these trailers their pulse. I am, however, surprised by how much dialogue George Lucas used.

It seems to me that The Phantom Menace trailer is very concerned with standing out on its own as an appetizer to the story of this film and not just a showcase for the special effects and a few cool moments, though it’s certainly that as well.

This is a very impressive trailer, and I say that despite the abundance of Jar Jar Binks appearances that are laced throughout.

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones 

The teaser trailer for Attack of the Clones plays heavily on the coming emergence of Darth Vader, but it’s a bit disingenuous since he isn’t actually in this film. With that said, I’ll take the teaser over the full length trailer, which was burdened by an over-abundance of “look at me” visual effects and a few slivers of boring legislative debate until it got enjoyable during the massive battle against the clones — just like the film.

Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith

There is a lot of focus on Vader here as well, though that makes more sense for with this film. I like the full length trailer way more here as well, simply because it really gets into Anakin’s turn toward the Dark Side, whereas this trailer focuses more on the end result. With that said, there’s a ton of action for a teaser trailer and it’s an improvement over the Attack of the Clones teaser.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens 

Once again, we have dealt with a long break between Star Wars movies. By the time Episode VII opens it will have been a little more than a decade, and once again there is a significant difference in the look of the trailers, though everything seems a bit calmer and less showy in JJ Abrams’ first look. Really, you get everything you need — cool lightsaber, robot, kick-ass Millennium Falcon moneyshot — with no filler, but also no clue what’s going to happen in the story.

But while that may be frustrating, it’s important to remember that, like with the first film, this is a completely new story with no rules and no real narrative ceiling. So while Abrams could have opened the mystery box just a bit more (and maybe broken off a look at Han Solo for the people), this trailer’s job is to get people excited, not set up the story, and in doing that, it feels as though it aligned itself more with the trailers from the original trilogy than the last one.