The Force Awakens Movie Trailers Were High Art

One of the most remarkable things about the new LucasArts studio release of the seventh installment of the venerable and highly lucrative Star Wars film franchise is not actually in the movie itself. It is not in the merchandising, or the clever casting of unknowns in the lead roles, or the adroit choice of J. J. Abrams as director. No, it is in an area normally overlooked–the movie trailer.

Although movie trailers have improved considerably since the 1970s when the original Star Wars was released (whose trailer was typically awful), most 21st century trailers make the same mistakes. Here is a list of four common movie trailer gaffes:

1) The Kitchen Sink Trailer. Studio executives, in their panic after an early screening of a not very good movie, have the editors throw everything but the kitchen sink into movie trailer in the vain hope that revealing more about the movie and not less will draw the core audience. It is a sort of preaching to the choir–sacrificing the possibility of drawing in a larger audience in the desire to salvage at least the production budget.

2) The Q45 Trailer. Sometimes even good directors get a little too cute with their movie trailers, releasing absolutely no details at all about the movie in the hope that the peaked interest will drive a viral response. This approach was infamously immortalized by Infiniti–the luxury nameplate of Nissan–in its Q45 launch advertising. The artificially manufactured suspense falls flat, leaving potential audiences wondering what the big deal is. Even J. J. Abrams isn’t immune from the temptation of an oblique or opaque trailer–the trailer for Cloverfield, although it was by any measure a commercially successful horror film, added little impetus to the overall marketing campaign.

3) The Spoiler Trailer. Sometimes a movie is so bad that studio executives go beyond the Kitchen Sink option and choose the nuclear option…the Spoiler Trailer. This sort of trailer shows every, and I mean every, good joke, punch line, plot twist, or character development in the movie in the hope that something can be salvaged from the now obviously lost studio investment. It is sure to draw in an audience in the first week, who will then be pissed that everything good in the move they saw in the trailer. Ticket sales drop to zero in the second week of release after the bad word-of-mouth gets out.

4) The Drama Queen Trailer. Sometime the trailer editors get a little out of hand. The trailer is so over the top with tension and bah-bah-BAH moments, that when the audience sees the actual product, they wonder what all the fuss is. The effect on the box office is the same as in the Spoiler Trailer.

LucasFilm had an advantage over that of one-time installment movies and even most franchises in that there was huge pent up demand for a new Star Wars movie. This demand was exacerbated by an terrible prequel trilogy that was consistently miscast and poorly written. Fortunately all of this changed when Disney, who had paid George Lucas $4 billion to give up the company and get lost (and take Jar Jar Binks with him), lavished a big budget on the movie and hired top production and directorial talent to make the best use of that budget. All that care and feeding showed up in the several trailers that LucasFilm released.

The Force Awakens trailers were all well designed, making excellent use of the available footage, including a lot of footage that failed to make the final cut. The result provided the necessary, but not over the top, tension to the trailers while avoiding the box office killing spoilers so relied on by others. Audiences were pleasantly surprised to realize that the trailers they had played over and over on Youtube a dozen times did not detract at all from the actual movie itself, and in many ways enhanced the enjoyment of the actual plot. That is a rare win for a movie trailer–not only drawing in the audience with anticipation, but improving the actual movie experience.

I’m putting in my unofficial nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the 2016 Annual Golden Trailer Awards. Well done!

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