A Brief History of Star Wars Teaser Trailers, 1995 – 2005

I have to admit, George Lucas had me fooled. After 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, I really thought Star Wars movies were a thing of the past. In interview after interview, Lucas steadfastly insisted that the story was done. I believed him. I put Stars Wars on the shelf, its legacy a mixed bag.

Now we’re on the verge of a new generation of Star Wars, with JJ Abrams’ Episode VII: The Force Awakens coming in 2015. The Internet enters another decade of buzzing about Star Wars rumors, with countless blogs and forums speculating this week about an Episode VII teaser trailer. As a long time lover of all things Star Wars, all the modern trailer ruminations, as silly as they can be, brought back some memories of trailers from a long time ago, in a media landscape far, far away. Let’s take a look at how Star Wars has deployed teaser trailers from the VHS age up to the end of the prequel era.

Original Trilogy 1995 VHS Reissue 

I was pretty obsessed with this when it came out. Up until this point, my Star Wars movie collection consisted of a broadcast version of Return of the Jedi taped off Boston’s Channel 5, The Ewok Adventure also taped off TV, and a bootleg copy of A New Hope I dubbed by putting electrical tape over a rented copy and hooking up two VCRs. In 1995, I finally had the wherewithal to get my favorite movie series (hell, pretty much my favorite thing) in a a proper commercial release format– with THX remastering, no less!

The tagline “…One last time” set a feverish itch upon my mind. Could¬†Star Wars sequels possibly be coming?

Star Wars Special Edition Trailer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y96wKCLbfGE

This was the first trailer I ever downloaded. It took hours over dialup for the postage-stamp sized Quicktime file to make its way to my computer, and once it did I studied this thing like the Zapruder film. Each frame, each new shot offered something I had spent most of my life craving– more Star Wars.

The Special Editions marked the end of a quiet era for Star Wars, closing the wasteland of inactivity that persisted from Return of the Jedi to the late ’90s. An entire generation of fans came of age and discovered Star Wars during its lost years, which serves as a testament to the unique energy and magic the films have.

The Special Editions have since fallen into infamy, with cheesy CGI inserts, Greedo shooting first, and an absolutely deplorable dance scene. In 1997 though, seeing Star Wars on the big screen in a theater that was standing room only was something of a thrill. Up until then Star Wars had felt secretive, cultish even. Star Wars was a universe of novels I carried in my backpack, comics I read behind my algebra books in class, old toys I bought at flea markets. To see it with a packed theater of people– young and old, all races, colors, and creeds…the entire variety of humanity my working class town had to offer– it exposed the popular side of Star Wars to me. It took the story out of the geeky closet and showed it as the crowd-pleasing roller coaster it is.

Episode I Teaser Trailer

It was late 1998 when this bad boy landed. I went to see Star Trek: Insurrection solely to lay my eyes on this trailer. Everything about it blew me away. The verdict has long been in on the numerous failures of The Phantom Menace, but this trailer reminds me of its gorgeous production design. In some strange way, Lucas does manage to convey the sense that this story takes place before the original trilogy, in spite of the updated effects.

Darth Maul pretty much rendered me speechless. I sat through the Trek movie mildly entertained yet thoroughly distracted– my mind was already in May 1999.

Episode II Teaser Trailer

I vividly remember tagging along on a bizarre family outing to a viewing of Monsters, Inc. just to see this trailer. The guy in front of me talked for about half of it. The breathing is a cool effect, and sets a somber mood, but the content is as disjointed and off-kilter as the final product.

Episode III Teaser Trailer

I love this trailer. It harkens back to the heart and soul of the saga in a way that was sorely lacking in the bulk of the prequel films. I like Episode III a lot, and this trailer served as a good indicator that Lucas had made some substantial gains in quality from his first two outings. The Force Awakens trailer could do worse than to borrow from this style.