Giddy Like a Schoolboy, Wistful Like an Old Man A tale of two Star Wars trailers

This morning I woke up to a fanboy break­fast: for starters, a spanking-new trailer for The Last Jedi was served up, and for seconds I ordered tickets for opening night.

I watched the trailer before my actual (you know, food) break­fast, then again while munching away – and for good measure, I had another round after finishing up. Then, intox­i­cated, I whis­tled you-know-what sound­track on my way to work. If there’s Cloud Nine some­where on Bespin, I’m on it right now. The weeks till December 13 can’t fly by fast enough!

In the unlikely case that you have no idea what I’m talking about, here you go:

Point Five Past Light Speed to the Nostalgia System

Since this year also marks the 40th anniver­sary of the orig­inal Star Wars, I decided to take a shortcut through hyper­space to memory lane and dig up the trailer for the film that started it all.

In all honesty, I don’t remember seeing this trailer back in 1977. I’m not sure if it was shown in cinemas in the Netherlands at the time. But thanks to the marvel that is the internet, it’s now only a few clicks away. Here it is:

What a world of differ­ence, right? The pacing is much slower, you get to see much less of the actual film and the poised, sonorous voice-over is almost soporific. It makes me want to twirl my nonex­is­tent mustache and say in a faux French accent: Ah, ze world was so much simpler back zen.

It is, dare I say, an elegant trailer for a more civi­lized age. But it is also a delightful docu­ment of its time. This is how film trailers were made in the 1970s, and no one yet knew how Star Wars was about to change the moviemaking land­scape forever.

Trailer to Trailer

Not only have movies them­selves evolved since Star Wars laid down the bench­mark for what a modern block­buster was and what an action-adven­ture film could achieve in terms of sheer kinetic enter­tain­ment – in the cine­matic gener­a­tion that followed, film trailers have become an art form unto itself.

Trailers are now made by dedi­cated compa­nies that do nothing else. There are trailers for movies, TV shows, video games, books, you name it. And since the internet has released movie trailers from their cinema-bound exis­tence, they have become enter­tain­ment events in their own right, with a visual language all their own.

Because trailers are short-form, you can push the bound­aries even further, inter­weaving ideas, images and sounds at a much faster clip than you could in a longer film. Instead of being a nutshell dilu­tion of the film they adver­tise, trailers now offer up a more concen­trated essence of their bigger cousin. In some cases, as with The Force Awakens, the trailer even features shots and dialog that do not appear in the final film at all.

Finally, First of All

To round off this musing, a little nugget of movie lore. It may seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive that previews for upcoming movies are called trailers when they precede the feature film. But in the early days of the cinema, the previews would in fact trail the main attrac­tion, coming after the head­line film.

You may have seen, in older films, how all of the credits are at the start of the film, with the movie ending imme­di­ately after “The End” appears on screen. It’s a seam­less tran­si­tion to the trailers that used to come next.

Later, when the prac­tice changed, the name stuck regard­less.

Nowadays, of course, online movie trailers don’t trail or precede anything anymore. They have become their own head­line attrac­tion. Unless, as with The Last Jedi this morning, the trailer precedes a repeat viewing of itself. And another. And another.

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Image credit: YouTube (adapted from source and source)

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