Revisiting The Six Classic Star Wars Trailers

You either get Star Wars, or you don’t. There’s really no middle ground. But fans of the series are divided when it comes to the prequel trilogy (1999-2005) and the original trilogy (1977-1982).

The prequel trilogy for some viewers – maybe a lot – didn’t really resonate emotionally. It’s a technological wonder for sure, a veritable feast for the eyes, but the story of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side wasn’t as tragic as Star Wars mastermind George Lucas might have hoped. The prequels were full of political chit chat, loads of green screen, and took themselves really seriously. Maybe too seriously.

The original trilogy, by contrast, was a romping space opera following the story of Luke Skywalker and his band of rebel fighters. The special effects were groundbreaking (for the late ‘70s and early ‘80s), the characters seemed more engaging, and while you can take those films apart intellectually, those early films had characters, and to another extent, character.

With the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer making waves, it’s a good time to review the trailers that have come before. Humorously, the quality of the trailers has almost no relation to the quality of the movies.

The Phantom Menace

This is the one that started it all. Literally. For some of you out there, The Phantom Menace was your first Star Wars theatrical experience. Perhaps you look back on it with fond memories. Whatever side you’re on, this trailer made believers out of all of us when it originally appeared. With its "Wipe them out. All of them…" line, lightsaber fights, and Darth Maul, it really seemed as if The Phantom Menace was going to be a great Star Wars film. The trailer’s kind of great, though. In fact, it’s actually better than the movie.

Attack of the Clones

Okay, this trailer really looks like it’s going to deliver the Star Wars goods. Most fans were so happy Star Wars was back, they sort of forgave the transgressions of The Phantom Menace, and welcomed this next installment with open arms. There’s no Jar-Jar in this trailer, and from the first images, you’re intrigued. This was the big tease for the genesis of the Clone Wars, every fan boy and girl’s collective Star Wars dream. Jango Fett. That big battle with all those Jedi on Geonosis. Anakin fighting Count Dooku with two lightsabers. If only the actual movie had this kind of energy.

Revenge of the Sith

First, the trailer feels creepy, with Chancellor Palpatine’s monologue on the Dark Side of the Force. Then, you’re getting the visuals, fighter planes that look more like X-Wing fighters. Darth Sidious versus Mace Windu? This trailer feels epic. We’re getting Wookies. Anakin’s transformation from the precious kid in The Phantom Menace to an evil villain. And, then…last shot…Darth Vader and the Emperor. It gave you a new hope, right?

A New Hope

Voiceovers in trailers. Gotta miss those. "The story of a boy, a girl, and a universe"? Kinda silly, but it’s cool. It’s Star Wars. This was 1977 and things – including movie trailers – unspooled at a slower pace. It plays out like a series of Ralph McQuarrie paintings come to life. Star Wars. Star Wars. Star Wars. That’s the refrain. It had to have been something sitting in a theater watching this trailer with no idea what this movie was going to be. Strangely, the trailer gives away most of the movie.

The Empire Strikes Back

Another classic trailer. Although in this case, the movie’s definitely better than the trailer. And clearly, at this point, Lucas wanted the audience to think there was still a chance for Luke to get the girl (Leia). Fair enough. Keep ‘em guessing, George. It’s action packed to the walls. And you’ve got to love the narrator’s enthusiasm for the material. It’s a really fun trailer to watch. Especially if you’ve already seen the film. They don’t make trailers like this anymore.

Return of the Jedi

"Return for the climatic clash between the forces of good and evil. Return to galaxy far, far, away." Wait for it. "Return of the Jedi!" The narrator for this one really relishes his lines. And he has you instantly at the word "return." Using the same tone as the previous trailers, but with a nice variation on previous themes, the Return of the Jedi is a quaint, feel good trailer. Of course, given the trailer, you would have thought the Ewoks would have played a lesser part in the movies. But no matter. If a trailer’s meant to hook the viewer. This one works. Oh, and Admiral Ackbar’s famous line, "It’s a trap" is perfectly timed. What more could you ask for?