Yes, it is indeed that time. It’s finally time to delve into the incredible marketing being done for the upcoming cultural phenomenon – Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m sorry I missed the first trailer, but I think what needs to be said about that can really be explored in how it set up this second trailer. Check out the most recent teaser below (links to the first one in text) and join me after the jump for analysis.
First, if you want to understand the emotions people have when watching these trailers – the nostalgia it taps into – just check out Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar watching it. It’s a good illustration.
The First Teaser
Before we delve into the second trailer, let me briefly look at how the first trailer set this one up. The joint marketing team of LucasFilms and Disney is serving up a deliciously paced scheme of buzz-building. The first trailer, released last November, blasted onto the scene and took the world by storm. One could hardly find a news organization on the internet that wasn’t talking about it. But what did it do to earn such a great response? Of course, Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon; the precedent was set by the releases of the Prequels that people would flock to anything published by the LucasFilm team. However, the question is whether the first trailer did anything in and of itself to draw attention to the new movie or if it was purely the milieu of hype.
To that end, the first Force Awakens trailer acted as a testing ground for what I call Newness. Like I spoke about in my Batman v Superman trailer review, smart marketing teams are realizing the potential of a feedback system where they show off changes to a pre-existing property with their trailers, and then let audience criticisms give filmmakers feedback, while also developing hype (think Bane’s voice from the Dark Knight Rises teaser). Thus, while they can rely on a level of assumed cultural appreciation simply because of the brand, this trailer provides a test for the new directions JJ Abrams is taking the franchise, and therefore elevates itself beyond a passable first glimpse.
For the first 45 seconds, the teaser opens with New elements. By this I mean it takes things that are familiar visually but tweaks them in way’s we’ve not seen before (a black stormtrooper, new speeder, etc). Even after the first 45 when we get our first shot of something intimately familiar (the X-Wing), it’s in a setting in which we’ve never really seen it before. Except for the sounds and general environments, everything is fresh and very JJ Abrams-y – SPECIFICALLY so that you will know this won’t be the same kind of thing as you’ve gotten before.
Say what you will about the weird Ball Droid, the Black Stormtrooper, or the Lightsaber cross-guard – they are there precisely because you will be talking about them the next day. This is the juicy stuff the trailer-makers know will get the buzz-mill going, with controversies and quandaries abounding. By leading off their marketing campaign with these elements, they set the tone both that: 1) this is not going to be your father’s Star Wars (and that’s okay) and 2) that this is going to be new and exciting for all of us. By intentionally separating their work from the previous entries in the franchise, they prime audiences for the new experience they are about to enjoy.
And to cap off their masterful work, at the minute mark they give us a glorious nostalgia trip to assure us that things are going to be good again. The flight of the Millennium Falcon coupled with John Williams’ score and some masterful (VFX) camerawork makes for that lasting memorable moment we walk away dreaming about. It is a wonderful “cherry on top” to a great work that grounds our expectations in the joys we’ve all experience with the original franchise, and promises a return to those glorious days.
One final note before I get to the second trailer: notice that, during the title card, there is a three second buffer from the time “Star Wars” appears to when it opens up to reveal the new subtitle “The Force Awakens”. Compare this to the almost instantaneous reveal of the subtitle in the second trailer. Just an interesting bit of cutting to debut the new moniker.
The Second Teaser
A long five months passed with only small tidbits of news before finally (note the demand) we received the second teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. First, I’m so glad they’ve stuck with teasers – it makes the experience all the more tantalizing. Second, and in a fun coincidence, the second trailer dropped on my birthday! Thanks for the gift, JJ. I love it!
What the second trailer did is pick up where the first trailer left off. The first teaser hit us with a baseball bat of Newness, but left us with a nice taste of nostalgia to keep the franchise connection alive. Now with this second trailer, the marketers envelop us in a tightly wound blanket of nostalgia that subtly reminds us of the Newness.
We open on the nostalgic LucasFilm logo (not in first trailer), and fade up on a shot both alien and remarkably familiar. Many others have commented on the similarities of this shot to the one in A New Hope when Luke races his speeder across the desert to discover the remains of his home. Couple that with the hero’s theme swelling in the background and you’ve got an opener guaranteed to grab us by the heartstrings and raise goose-flesh. However, this great nostalgia trip comes with new elements (the downed Star Destroyer and X-wing), quietly hinting that, again, this will be New.
That’s the first 30 seconds of the teaser. After that bomb of good-feelings, we get an interesting sequence. Watching it the first time, it takes a moment to recognize the speaker and even then one asks “is it really him?”. The editor of the trailer does a great job choosing shots that connect either with what Luke is saying or with what we know of him (a smart choice to trust the audience’s imagination and memory to make the connections). Vader’s broken mask, the robotic right hand (yes this does match from Empire Strikes Back), handling a lightsaber – all these build strong visual connections to powerfully emotional moments from the original series. The monologue takes the viewer on a journey through the entire franchise in 30 seconds, and provides a teasing last line – “you have that power too”. Here again we find an intentional design to trigger our emotional memories through carefully planned shots and music, all the while introducing us to new and unfamiliar elements.
Going beyond the first minute, notice that as the music reaches it’s highest point, we get a soaring shot and a mighty “WooHoo!” (do you see what they are doing here?). This is to help shift the tone and get us from happy-crying back to pure excitement.
The next 30 seconds (notice how neatly subdivided this trailer is, but how it doesn’t feel like it) gives us a fast-paced, action-packed montage of intensity that is mostly familiar things in New situations. The Stormtroopers, TIE-Fighters, and Sith all make immediate affiliation with our knowledge of the Star Wars lore, but each is presented with some element we’ve never seen before (major firefight on the desert, space-fight inside a star destroyer, Chrome-armored TIE-Fighter Pilot). It continues to build on our nostalgia while constantly presenting something New to us. Capping off this section is yet another Millennium Falcon fight but this one specifically mimics the Death Star sequence from Return of the Jedi, flying through cramped corridors trying to shake a tail. It is a powerful visual and encapsulates the tone the marketers want you to feel about this upcoming flick.
Finally, the moment you’ve all heard about, the biggest nostalgia bomb they could have possibly dropped – the return of Han and Chewie. This is exactly the kind of reveal we’ve come to expect and love from a good trailer (thanks mostly to Marvel). It works well because they’ve built up the connections to the older films throughout so that this arrives not out of the blue, but as a logical endpoint of what the trailer-makers are doing here. Personally, I hope this line is only used for the trailer – I cannot really imagine it working well in the film now that the surprise has been ruined (though I admit we do not know where “home” is yet). Either way, it works beautifully and leaves us all on a high as we go into the title card.
The marketing teams at LucasFilm and Disney are doing a magnificent job building buzz and excitement around the upcoming seventh installment of the Star Wars saga. Accomplishing the goal of building on nostalgia while easing us into the idea that this movie will be new and different is no easy task (cf – Jurassic World, Terminator: Genisys, Batman v Superman), but somehow this team is making all the right moves.
Who knows when the next trailer will be released? Until it does, fans and film buffs will be pouring through these two trailers, looking for any minute detail they can use to get an idea of what the new film will be like. Most are optimistic that this will not be another Prequel situation, but that is yet to be seen. However, if marketing can be any indicator (and I think it can), then it would seem we are headed for something wonderfully fun and exciting this holiday season. Thanks for reading and tune in again soon for another posting on the Art of the Trailer.