Star Wars: A Quick History of the Teaser Trailers

Now that we've all seen the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser, we can take a breath and check out the trailers that came before!

If you’re like us, then the announcement of a Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer pretty much made your holiday. Not only did we examine that rumored trailer gif a thousand times, arguing back and forth about whether it was real footage or not, but we also speculated about what theme might be included in the new teaser when it inevitably drops. I said it should be “The Imperial March,” but Mike Cecchini is all about “Yoda’s Theme.” The point is that we’re very excited. 

To kind of prevent any panic attacks at the Den of Geek offices, we decided to take a look back at the teasers that have come before from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. These teasers are awesome pieces of nostalgia, full of epic voice-overs (peep James Earl Jones in the original REVENGE of the Jedi teaser), beautiful concept art from Ralph McQuarrie, and just lots of awesome Star Wars. Relive the promise of each installment with us in our quick history of Star Wars teaser trailers!

Star Wars Teaser Trailer – 1976

We all know how it goes: “The story of a boy, a girl, and the universe!” Well, I guess that’s close enough for an epic sci-fi film with tons of production issues and a delay from Christmas 1976 to Summer 1977. Maybe because I know how it turned out in the end or because this trailer is awesome, I can imagine myself sitting in a theater in 1976 and watching this teaser with the sense that something world-changing was fastly approaching. The title creeps closer, as the narrator promises us that Star Wars is unlike anything we’ve ever seen on our planet. Interestingly enough, the teaser doesn’t really touch on the special effects that would really capture the audiences in ’77, but we do get brief glimpses of the Millennium Falcon and a TIE Fighter in battle, as well as the exploding titles at the end. Also notice how light on Han the teaser is. This “sprawling tale of rebellion and romance” features a whole lot of Luke and Leia — probably for the youngsters. What we got in the end, well, you know…

The Empire Strikes Back Teaser Trailer – 1979

If the Empire Strikes Back teaser was released today, there would be riots on the street. In a minute and a half, the new characters, locations, and climax of the film are revealed with context provided by the narrator. You could never get away with that in today’s anti-spoiler culture. This isn’t my soap box for why spoilerphobia is dumb, but I have to say that I find this approach a lot of fun. Riding the massive tidal wave that was Star Wars, the Empire Strikes Back had a lot of room to stretch its legs. Still, the teaser played things simple, opting to show only McQuarrie’s gorgeous concept art and portraits of the characters instead of ffilm footage. Once again, fans were buying into a promise, albeit one much easier to believe. That first shot of the Bespin concept art is breath-taking, and if this were 1979 and you told me Luke and Vader were going to finally duel, I’d’ve just sat somewhere and cried tears of joy. 

Revenge of the Jedi Teaser Trailer – 1982

Did no one think to ask James Earl Jones to narrate a Star Wars trailer before Return of the Jedi? Lucasfilm played it a bit coy in this teaser. Not once do you hear “culminating chapter” on the screen or “ending.” Even early promotional posters for the film read “The Saga Continues.” The teaser simply bills the film as “the further adventures.” Of course, the secret was out just 13 days before the film’s debut with the release of James Kahn’s novelization of the film, revealing the death of Darth Vader and the culmination of the saga. No sign of a duel between Luke and Vader in this teaser. Instead, we get nice glimpses of the Jabba story and the epic space battle. One interesting little detail from this teaser is the color of Luke’s lightsaber, which is blue. The final film version featured Luke with a green lightsaber. Seems to me that the decision to change colors was made a bit later on in production. 

The Phantom Menace Teaser Trailer – 1998

Ah, yes, we arrive to probably the most awaited moment in Star Wars history back in the 90s: 15 years after Return of the Jedi, fans were returned to their beloved galaxy far, far away for another adventure. The teaser accompanied 1998’s animated film success A Bug’s Life. According to media reports, crazed Star Wars fans were paying the price of a ticket JUST to see the teaser. Surely you didn’t think the dude in the Vader suit was there to see A Bug’s Life…I wonder now if this teaser accounted for that animated film’s success? Anyway, this teaser introduced a whole new art style for the franchise, one focusing on CGI and a bit of a brighter palette. Just look at the shots of Naboo — not a grim, grim, grim-looking battle in the woods even, but one in good old daylight. The underwater sections were also teased, as well as the new villain. Most importantly, there’s Anakin. The promise that this lovable boy (that little moment with his mom, amiright?) would grow up to be Darth Vader was enough to send people rushing to the theater. Of course, as you’ll see, these trailers (and the entire Prequel Trilogy) would lean on the Vader tease a bit too heavily in the years ahead.

Attack of the Clones Teaser Trailer – 2001

Okay, we got past The Phantom Menace. Some of us loved the film and others absolutely hated it. It was surely the most polarizing film in the franchise since Jedi. But we were all ready to buy into another film, even with those horrible NSYNC in Episode II rumors going around. The teaser accompanied Monsters, Inc. back in 2001. And thus we get a minute-long teaser full of Darth Vader’s breathing. “No really, guys, this guy is totally going to turn into Darth Vader!” the trailer confirms, which is rad, I guess…We don’t get much else to go on, really, except another tale of “a boy, a girl, and the universe.” There’s a lot of Anakin and Padme (including that kissing scene) and Obi-Wan being a bit dopey. But most importantly, there’s Jango Fett and the first shot of Slave I in the asteroid field. That’s enough for any Star Wars fan to go running back to the theaters. 

Revenge of the Sith Teaser Trailer – 2004

We arrive to the “culminating chapter” of the Star Wars saga, the one booked as “It can’t get any worse…until it does.” That’s a joke, but not a bad tagline in retrospect. Maybe Disney will consider it for the Special Edition Hologram Set in a couple years. Anyway, Revenge of the Sith was all about Anakin’s final turn to the dark side, so we get more Darth Vader, including the awkward Vader shackled to an operating table scene. The big draw here was the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan, and we get quite a bit of that in this teaser. There’s also the first shot of Prequel Emperor Palpatine, which doesn’t reveal the awful new make-up, but you can already kind of tell. It’s nice to see Old Ben, Qui-Gon, and Luke in this trailer, as well, before shifting into very dark territory. Not even the teaser to Empire Strikes Back, which is still the darkest and scariest Star Wars film to date, was this grim.

The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer – 2014

And now we have this baby. 88 seconds of awesome. If you want to know more about what we learned from the trailer, check our analysis of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser.

For more Star Wars, check out our coverage hub!

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