The Star Wars universe encompasses twelve feature films, not to mention countless novels, comic books, TV series, and video games. But an underrated component of the whole franchise are the trailers that promote these iconic films. And among these previews, you can’t beat the early trailers for nostalgia value. Take, for example, the original Star Wars trailer (below) from way back in 1977. It stands in stark contrast to the way Disney markets the films today.
As you can see, the original trailer for Star Wars was made before “Episode IV: A New Hope” was tacked on to the title as an afterthought. The marketing is old-fashioned enough to refer to the film as a “romance,” which is probably not a word you’re likely to see in any 21st century Star Wars trailer. But it gives you a good sense of the appeal of the film, and why it went on to become such an immortal pop culture icon. It also gives you a chance to see some of the original special effects shots that have been scrubbed away and replaced with CGI in subsequent “Special Edition” re-releases of the movie.
By the time Star Wars got its first sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, some of the more familiar trappings of the franchise were in place. But this original trailer for Empire still has plenty of the old-fashioned charm that older fans of the series might miss -- just listen to that narrator:
Whatever you might think of the trailer for The Empire Strikes Back, it must have been effective, since the film drove the franchise's popularity to new heights, and paved the way for 1983's Return of the Jedi. In Jedi's original theatrical trailer, we see the familiar Star Wars graphics emblazoned over a star field, but you might notice that it’s still not being called “Episode VI,” even though the numbered-episode format was applied to the original Star Wars in 1981:
Just for comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at the trailer for the most recent Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker. It's clearly a slicker, more suspenseful showcase of its film. More jaded Star Wars fans might even argue that it's better than the film it's promoting. But it also lacks the charm and innocence of the old-school Star Wars trailers.
Which one of these trailers is the best Star Wars trailer of all? If you polled a hundred Star Wars fans to get the answer, you’d probably end up with something approaching a three-way split. But in this writer’s opinion, all of the original trilogy's trailers are invaluable time capsules that give us a peek at what Star Wars looked and sounded like before modern CGI and digital cinematography. And by that standard, you have to give it up for the original Star Wars trailer. The fact that it feels like something from a completely different era is very appropriate, considering George Lucas intended it to be an homage to the adventure films of his youth.
Whatever your opinion might be, hopefully you agree that these promotional relics are worth watching even at a time when Star Wars films are some of the most ceaselessly promoted films on the planet.