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.