clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The 12 best and worst Star Wars trailers of all time

A lot of people who couldn't care less about football will be watching ESPN tonight. During Monday Night Football, the world will see the premiere of final trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Star Wars trailers are nothing new. They've been around since the late 1970s, back when Star Wars wasn't even a franchise.

Some … are better than others.

Today, on the day that we'll see the next (and presumably final) full-length Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer, we've corralled some of the best and worst trailers from the distant galaxy that George Lucas created. A dozen made the cut. They range from terribly awkward to so hype-inducing that they stuck with us through the years like mynocks to a spacecraft.

So while we all while away the hours until the New York Giants take on the Philadelphia Eagles at 8:30 p.m. ET on the Disney-owned sports network, treat yourself to a sometimes weird, sometimes odd and always interesting collection of Star Wars trailers.

12. Star Wars' original theatrical teaser (1977)

A long time ago, in this very galaxy, movie trailers were kind of terrible.

They look even worse today because modern trailers are often amazing. But in 1977, when the Star Wars franchise was just a glint on the horizon, 20th Century Fox released a trailer for what wasn't yet known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Allow us to present that vintage trailer below.

When the shock wears off, you can press play again to watch for a few things:

  • The camera lingering on the interrogation droid's syringe before cutting back to a shocked Leia. It's like a deliberate, if goofy, attempt to give this flick some edge in the drugged-out 1970s.
  • The Star Wars logo that fades in slowly throughout the entire trailer isn't set in the series' iconic font. It's in Helvetica. A fine font, but not the Star Wars font.
  • Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi's lightsabers aren't colored. They're just glowing white sticks.
  • David Prowse's disinterested grunt as Vader choke-slams the poor Rebel officer. John Williams' score makes this scene intriguing; natural sound makes it look silly.
  • Again, lacking Williams' score, the Stormtrooper's faceplant in the grappling-hook escape scene becomes a lot more hilarious.

12. Star Wars' next theatrical teaser (1977)

Things got better … but not much better.

Today, Luke Skywalker is a household name. But when this trailer ran in theaters, its creators needed to explain who he was. Press play below to see another trailer for the first movie, this time focusing on the actors — none of whom was exactly a Hollywood powerhouse at the time.

Fun things to watch for:

  • When Luke says "I think we took a wrong turn," there's no echo — and certainly no sound bouncing around in surround sound.

10. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back trailer #1 (1979)

Someone almost certainly told the trailer's narrator to act excited — like he was doing voiceover for a classic Hollywood matinee — and he was happy oblige. He wants you to know that Star Wars is continuing, though it's difficult to imagine anyone in the late '70s who didn't know that already. Surely, the narrator knew about Star Wars. Because it's Harrison Ford.

Fun things to watch for:

  • Once again, we're treated to the romance angle, which, given what we know now, is a little weird.
  • The iconic Star Wars font logo's font is here — but for some reason it's blue, not yellow.
  • Introducing Lando Calrissian!

9. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back theatrical trailer #2 (1980)

In this trailer, the action does the talking.

There's no narrator — at least until the very end. Instead of one walking us through the galaxy, those who cut this trailer focused on characters, John Williams' iconic score and Empire's special effects. Well, that and blaster sounds and explosions. It is an action movie, after all.

Also, nearly every shot of this trailer screams danger, from R2-D2 failing to run through a closed door to Chewie screaming his frustration at the disassembled C–3PO

Fun things to watch for:

  • Luke and Vader's lightsabers aren't colored.
  • Chewbacca and R2-D2 are the only characters who speak — and they don't say words we can understand.
  • There's that blue Star Wars logo again — though, through the photographs of characters revealed with window blind effects, it appears to have been reused from the previous trailer.
  • It ends with the canonical logo for The Empire Strikes Back.

8. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi TV spot (1983)

This is a trailer focused squarely on Star Wars fans. Its call to action is about characters they would know, like Jabba the Hutt and locations like the Death Star.

It's also the first trailer with a modern feel. There are no introductions, and there is no setup. It's basically saying: Here's more Star Wars. We know you want it.

Fun things to watch for:

  • This isn't for theaters. It's for TVs, and it aired after Jedi was already playing.
  • It includes a brief, tantalizing glimpse of the Emperor, though without calling any attention to him.
  • The narrator calls it "the climactic chapter in the Star Wars saga," which we now know isn't even a little bit true.

7. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Yoda. Digital freaking Yoda.

And Jango Fett.

The first trailer for Attack of the Clones is a montage of tiny little glimpses of the movie. And it still looks amazing. It teases the first digital version of Yoda, after the ridiculous, puffy puppet from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It teases a bounty hunter we now know as Jango Fett, Boba Fett's, well, complicated father.

And it's also set against the audio backdrop of Darth Vader's breathing, leaving no doubt where the prequel trilogy is heading. It's a reminder of how good the prequels can seem, if you divorce them from all the messy context and dialogue and just look at them.

Fun things to watch for:

  • This is the first time anyone would have seen Hayden Christensen as older Anakin Skywalker.
  • We see Kamino for the first time, the water planet where the long-necked aliens are growing a secret clone army.

6. Star Wars Episode VI: Revenge of the Jedi (1982)

As any deeply nerdy Star Wars fan will tell you, Star Wars Episode VI began with a different name. At some point not long before the movie's release, George Lucas had a change of heart (and title). Fans reminded him that Jedi don't seek revenge, according to Yoda himself in Empire Strikes Back. Thus, Revenge of the Jedi became Return of the Jedi.

This theatrical trailer is a reminder of what once was.

Fun things to watch for:

  • Luke's lightsaber is blue in this version, but the filmmakers changed it to green before release. It was easier, the story goes, to see against the backdrop of Tatooine's sky.
  • The narrator returns, reminding us of the main characters and the omnipresent battle between good and evil, aliens, heroes and villains.

5. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back teaser trailer (1979)

The original theatrical teaser trailer for The Empire Strikes Backhas exactly no footage from the movie. And yet, it achieves a form of greatness for one very specific reason: It's filled with Ralph McQuarrie's concept art.

Fun things to watch for:

  • The concept art for Hoth, the ice planet on which Empire begins, shows almost exactly what would appear years later.
  • For the briefest of moments, we see the bacta tank in which Luke Skywalker recuperates after meeting a particularly angry wampa.
  • It foreshadows Chewbacca, Han, Lando and Leia's fateful dinner on Cloud City and the Imperial probe droid — as well as giving away the movie's … handy confrontation.
  • The narrator pronounces Princess Leia's name in a, well, non-canonical way — twice. He doesn't do any better with Lando.

4. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars prequel actors never had much to work with when it came to dialogue, but Ian McDiarmid (Chancellor and Emperor Palpatine) always managed to take bantha poodoo and make bantha fodder. He adds an element of gravitas to a story that, in content, doesn't always make a ton of sense. But for two and a half minutes in this trailer, it works.

Of course, John Williams' haunting score brings a sense of unease — a sense of wordless tension, too.

But, really, its the big bad in black in last moments that make this trailer so impactful.

Fun things to watch for:

  • Perhaps even better than in the movie, this Revenge of the Sith trailer portrays Anakin's struggles — and these struggles of those around him, like Samuel L. Jackson's Mace Windu, who seems genuinely worried about the reckless Jedi.
  • We get our first look at the disfigured Emperor Palpatine since his 1983 appearance in Return of the Jedi.
  • We also get our first look at something very nearly like the Tantive IV, which we hadn't been on screen since Princess Leia traveled in it at the beginning of A New Hope in 1977.

3. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens trailer (2014)

Nov. 28, 2014. The day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday. There are deals at retail stores across the U.S. Leftover Turkey fills refrigerators.

Online, there has been an awakening. Star Wars isn't just back. We can see it now, with the first trailer for Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

There is little context, little by way of explanation. It is filled with characters we don't know and can't name. But there are callbacks to the previous movies, visually in the form of a desert planet, hulking wreck of a Star Destroyer and the Millennium Falcon. Underneath it all is a new score from John Williams.

This it he Friday that millions fall in love with a little droid called BB–8. It's the day that, again, we get officially, terribly excited for Star Wars.

Things to watch for:

  • Literally everything.
  • It's a reinforcement of ITC Serif Gothic, a venerable typeface whose history inside and outside of Star Wars our sister publication The Verge chronicled.

Be sure to read our scene-by-scene breakdown of the trailer for more.

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser #2 (2015)

Han. Freaking. Solo.

Be sure to read our scene-by-scene breakdown of the trailer for more.

1. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace theatrical trailer (1999)

Forget everything you know (and probably dislike) about The Phantom Menace for a moment, and place yourself in a movie theater in late 1998 or early 1999. This is among the first new Star Wars footage you'd have seen (leaving aside the enhancements in the Special Editions) since 1983.

George Lucas, the man who defined modern special effects and created a trilogy of movies that inspired a generation, was returning to the galaxy far, far away that he'd created.

What would Star Wars look like now, with modern technology? This trailer, for about two and a half minutes, gave viewers the answer. And the answer was stunning.

Forget the story, the acting, the stilted dialogue. The movie teased here looks poised to succeed its predecessors — as it links back to them with cameos from characters we already know.

It was designed to create hype. It ends with screams and explosions that manufactured it for millions.

Fun things to watch for:

  • There was no way to know it then, but this trailer contains every word that Darth Maul speaks in The Phantom Manace.
  • We get our first look at Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine, not the Emperor he portrayed in Return of the Jedi, and the look he gives is perfectly sinister.
  • C–3PO and R2-D2 return, both with speaking roles.
  • So does Yoda, but as the weird, puffy puppet LucasFilm created and then subsequently replaced with a digital representation that looks, well, a lot more like Yoda.
  • Jar Jar Binks' only line is serious, a stark contrast to his eventual role in the movie.
  • Jake Lloyd, as Anakin Skywalker, says exactly no words.

Star Wars: Battlefront gameplay