Sixteen years ago, almost to the day, die-hard Star Wars fans had their first experience of ‘new Star Wars’. The trailer famously played before screenings of Meet Joe Black (or to the rest of us as the grainy labours of a night on the dial-up while distant Lucasfilm servers strained), where a band of poorly-armed Gungans emerged from a mist-gripped swamp. The rest is history; The Phantom Menace was upon us.
And now, despite the actuality of the films which followed, the excitement is back. In a matter of days the trailer for Episode VII will be revealed.
First there were supposed leaks, then a battle of screening rumours and knowing tweets back and forth, then the ego-clouds broke and the sunshine of reality broke through. The legion of Star Wars fans found out when they would get their first glimpse of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Putting to one side the oddity of the release strategy the preceding weeks have seen intense and terribly boring speculation of exactly what we’ll see with our eyes when the trailer arrives. Given that it’s over a year until the film arrives we’ll probably see only glimpses, indications of what is to come rather than a traditional money shots and quip-bait trailer.
Abrams met the rush of online speculation today with this, the latest in a series of playful tweets:
He’s been down this road before, indeed the director is well versed in teasing expectant audiences, and while he is playing rigidly to a massive legion of converts what do Abrams’ previous teasers tell us about what we might expect this Friday?
In 2007 it was rare, almost impossible in fact, for a studio film to drop in out of nowhere but that’s exactly what happened with 1-18-08.
I still remember the news spreading across the internet – people were coming out of the first Transformers film talking about a strange trailer they had seen. Reports grew in number, descriptions were posted on message boards and then the first footage came, recorded on a mobile phone.
It was this.
It is a brilliant trailer, and it does exactly what Abrams does best. Hints of something enormous, fragments of brilliant ideas and flashed images (and here, some exceptional sound design), enough to open up the world a little, leaving us to complete the picture ourselves.
It is the antithesis of the modern trailer, short change from the usual money shots and, in this case, it sparked off a huge ARG which had websites dedicated to solving its riddles. It’s hard to see the first glance of The Force Awakens taking this approach, but imagine if you hadn’t seen this…
There is too much baggage with Star Wars to land a trailer with such little fanfare, but Cloverfield remains a sterling example of what happens when a studio and director possess faith in their film and the fans.
Bonus clip: Another cool world-building clip.
That the first glimpse many of us here in the UK had of Abrams’ Lost was as a advert-break bookend tells of how far we’ve come in a short space of time. So much emphasis is now put on trends, sharing and the holy grail of social mobility that each new TV series arrives on screen with a pre-attuned audience.
Not so with Lost, which had only a whiff of the epic mystery to come when this arrived on Channel 4…
Watching it today makes me want to give the series another go, despite well, you know…
Again, there’s no chance we’ll see slow-dancing stormtroopers and a band of Wookiee kicking up the Tattooine sands, Star Wars is simply too big for that. Also, as the first non-prequel vision of the beloved Star Wars universe, the function of nostaglia cannot be underestimated.
Abrams could simply fill the promised 88 seconds with a still image of the three original trilogy leads in their new get up and fans would applaud until their hands broke.
Bonus: Alt. version of the David Lachapelle directed promo for Lost, with more talking voices and less Portishead.
I’m bypassing the very generic trailers for Mission: Impossible 3 and rushing headlong into the Amblinesque gloriousness of the Super 8 teaser.
Like Cloverfield this was an original vision, and thus the fetters were off and Abrams could spin us a mystery from the very first image.
All we knew prior was that it was a period piece, and a collaboration between Spielberg and Abrams. Then we saw this..
We had no idea of what was to come. This is a perfect teaser trailer, very well constructed to be its own mini film using footage from the film’s first, and most impressive, set piece. What is absent is context, the kids who lead the film, and importantly what’s in that train carriage.
There’s a chance that when we see the teaser for The Force Awakens it’ll follow this example in that it will lead up to a big reveal. Unlike this trailer we’ll likely see something iconic at the very end, and this is what the rumours are hinting at, but it’s the build up that we’ll see – and that worked so well here.
Bonus: An incredible interactive trailer using a Portal 2 map to place us in the events shown above. It’s short, sweet, very costly for sure and limited in terms of who could see it – but it’s certainly memorable.
Unsurprisingly this is where we’ll get our best indication on what Abrams has in store for us at the end of the week. In fact, you could easily substitute some hairy hands holding the blowtorch and replace the Falcon for the Enterprise and you’d have yourself the perfect Abrams Star Wars teaser.
There was a far greater feeling of uncertainty with the 2009 Star Trek reboot, and perhaps Abrams had something else to prove with this first look. Instead of the usual set piece trailer (see Into Darkness’s example below) this was an almost reverential message to fans – that Trek was still under construction, but in very good, and safe hands.
Here’s the Star Trek Into Darkness trailer, different in tone, pace and message. From ‘trust us with this…’ to ‘CUMBERBATCH IS NOT KHAN OK?’.
At the end of the week we’ll know what Abrams has done with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the whirligig of undying love and miserablist denigration of the things people love.
If this jaunt down trailer lane has shown us anything it is that Abrams is a master of the form. His mysteries become a magnet for attention and the biggest unknown with Star Wars: The Force Awakens right now is if it’ll live up to the enormous hype.
Only three hundred and eighty-eight days to go…