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Menace_480.mov, and Other Trailer Memories

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Mike: Apparently I’m unusual.

And not just in the “runs a Star Wars blog” sense, but even amongst Star Wars people—I say this because when I pitched today’s topic to the staff—describe your earliest memory of seeing a Star Wars trailer—the majority either had no relevant memories whatsoever, or in one case, had never actually watched one!

Maybe it’s because my major in college, visual effects, happened to involve making a couple myself, but I’ve always been a huge fan of trailers—and I have numerous strong memories of my favorites, both Star Wars and otherwise. Ironically, while the Special Edition trailers were almost certainly the first ones I technically saw, I don’t remember them at all. It’s funny; I remember the two guys behind me laughing maniacally at Threepio in A New Hope, and I remember getting to Empire a couple minutes late and missing the opening crawl (still the only part of a SW film I haven’t seen on a big screen), but the advertising beforehand? Nothing.

That changes when I think back to the prequels; though instead of big screens or TV spots, all my memories of prequel trailers are of patchy internet connections and complex URLs with “akamai” in them. Any memories of the internet in those days are bound to be very generationally-biased—hence, I think, the lack of input from some of us ETE people—-but I guarantee you that there’s a certain group of fans who see file names like “star-wars-320.mov” or “menace_480.mov” and have harsh, unbidden flashbacks.

Those memories, though, are less of the content of the trailers, and more of desperate attempts to play the damned things. When the first teaser for Episode I came out in November of ’98, I had AOL 14.4k dial-up internet—with the phone noises and everything—and a twenty-megabyte video was an odyssey not unlike Mount Everest. QuickTime, having scored a major coup in being allowed to distribute the teasers, would stream the video right from the program (hence the progress bar in the images below), but unlike YouTube nowadays, it could be a good couple hours before my dial-up connection would load the whole thing—and being an impatient teenager, I probably watched the first ten seconds (y’know, those Gungans emerging from the fog) fifty times for every full viewing.

And if we got a phone call during those couple hours? Well, time to start all over then—QuickTime didn’t let you resume the download; and I didn’t know how to save the actual video file, just the link, so rewatching the next day was the same process. You see that link in the last paragraph? I literally stopped writing in the middle of the sentence, googled “phantom menace teaser”, went straight to the YouTube page, and started watching it in like seven seconds. Learn from my pain, internet people.

Anyway, I did end up getting a few entries from the staff, and I was lucky enough to get two from our guest roster, so I’ll turn this over to them—I need to go chase those damn punks off my lawn again.

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Ben C: Earliest memory of a SW trailer? Well that leads to the TPM trailer. 16-17 years is a long time ago. That said, there is one thing that always stood out in the TPM trailers more than anything else. It’s the simplest of things: A double-bladed red lightsaber.

Of course, lightsabers in SW have always been cool – the colours the sounds, that they cut through anything, well almost, but the double blade took it to the next level. It looked damn good, but there was another reason for me to really like it. That reason was the Tales of the Jedi comics.

It’s fair to say those comics have not aged well as the medium progressed, but what they lack in narrative finesse they make up for with gonzo attitude. One particular Dark Lord of the Sith stood out in the series – Exar Kun. Like most fallen Jedi, he walks the road of good intent all the way to hell! He also ends up wielding a double-bladed lightsaber.

That’s why it was so cool to see that in the trailer, to see something that had been done elsewhere and see it be woven into something a whole lot bigger. Not to mention it looked so much better too. As it happened, that lightsaber duel remains one of the few things just about everyone agrees was damn cool about TPM. For me it also embodies the nature of the two sides of the Force perfectly, I wonder if Episode 7 will have anything to match it?

Jay: The first SW trailer I recall seeing was the trailer for the Special Editions, back in ’96. There’s not much to say about it other than it produced excitement, though. Similarly, the “Every Saga Has A Beginning” teaser for TPM is memorable in itself but there’s also not that much to say about it. The double-bladed lightsaber it introduced excited people, but as an EU fan I’d already seen that with Exar Kun. But the first full TPM trailer was different, in that it was substantial enough to spawn the sort of wild speculation that we’re seeing for the current Episode VII teaser.

I wasn’t hooked into the internet in those days, so speculation was mostly local. But the trailer gave away just enough plot to be misleading — the Trade Federation ships landed on Naboo to the tune of the Imperial March, letting one wonder if the Empire had already begun to form. We saw Palpatine recommending giving in to Federation control, without knowing what that was — followed by a hooded figure saying “wipe them out.” Based on what little we knew at the time, it was pretty easy to say that the Jedi Purge had already started. It fit, and it made sense.

There was so much we didn’t know, though. Perhaps people hooked into spoilers knew what Naboo was, or knew what Amidala was supposed to be doing (friends speculated what the role of “the kabuki lady” was supposed to be in the film). I had assumed the planet in question would be Alderaan, since it just made sense.

The film ended up going in a very different direction, and everything I thought the film would be about ended up happening in ROTS instead. The PT was nowhere near as interesting or exciting as I thought it might be. Let’s hope the Sequel Trilogy ends up being different.

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Nick: “For an entire generation, people have experienced Star Wars the only way possible – on TV.”

These words still echo in my mind.

I still remember with vivid detail the trailer for the release of the Special Edition Trilogy back in 1997. I was 14 years old at the time and was at a movie theatre in central California with exactly ZERO idea that the movies were going to be re-released. I grew up watching the Original Trilogy dozens of times on VHS, I was up to date on the current EU of the time, and in general I was a happy Star Wars fan. My family decided to go to a movie one afternoon (the name of which I can’t even recall) and as the theatre darkened and the trailer commenced, something strange appeared. On the massive movie screen, only a small TV screen was visible. On it, played the classic scenes of A New Hope. The narrators talks, building to the ultimate moment:

“But if you’ve only seen it this way, you haven’t seen it at all.”

Suddenly, the Star Wars fanfare bursts into full flare, as Wedge’s X-wing flies out of the TV and into the larger screen, directly at the viewer. It is one of those moments that still gives me chills and still brings a hearty smile to my face. I remember the sheer excitement that I felt. It was almost like it was literally coursing through my veins. We were treated to our first glimpses of the tweaks that George Lucas had made, from CGI X-wings and Y-wings flying past Yavin toward the Death Star to the Millennium Falcon flying through the stars. When Coop asked me to write down my first memory of a Star Wars trailer, it prompted me to watch the trailer on YouTube for the first time in ages. Yes, it is a bit dated, and yes, the CGI is starting to show its age.

But you know what?

It still fills me with an excitement I haven’t felt in ages. Or, at least since November 28th, 2014…

Rocky: I grew up under a rock as a child, so the first time I ever got to see a trailer or teaser was for The Force Awakens. But the hype for that alone! For all of us who didn’t think we’d ever get to see a Sequel Trilogy, here we are now, dissecting every last frame of that teaser. We’re really going to be obsessed when we get an actual trailer at some point, and I’m really not sure how we’re going to survive the year of speculation ahead of us.

Speaking of years of speculation, I do recall well the lead-up to Revenge of the Sith. I spent my entire sophomore year of high school desperate for it to be May so I could finally get to see this movie, hearing all of the rumors filtered through friends who had better internet access than I, desperate to see how this saga finally was completed. And the excitement! Even for those who weren’t sure they liked TPM and AOTC, many a dedicated Star Wars fan was still excited for ROTS. We knew just enough that we kind of knew which direction the movie was going in, but not enough that we had anything but guesses and theories about the plot. And we had more of a framework for what had to happen than we do now. The feeling of uncharted territory, new stories in the same galaxy, a sense of magic coming to life- it all made it worth the wait. It’s so much fun to feel that kind of excitement and curiosity again, from fans who’ve done this before and those new to the buildup to a new movie.

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KJ: What was the first Star Wars trailer I saw? It’s a tricky question. The first one I remember seeing is the one for The Phantom Menace, which broke the internet when it was released on QuickTime in 1998. I still have the file saved somewhere (DRM wasn’t as efficient in those heady days). That was one I watched, re-watched, shared with friends, and re-watched again, until it was all jumbled up with all the other trailers for TPM and AotC in my head….

But there’s some stuff I remember very clearly.

The opening shot of the mysterious alien cavalry riding forward through the mist, overlaid with the theme-music leitmotiv that used to be called “Tales of a Jedi Knight”, perfectly communicating the idea of going back to the lightsaber-bright days “before the dark times” (and, I later realised, there are nice echoes of Lawrence of Arabia in the framing of the shot).

I remember the first sound of Ewan McGregor’s dialogue, or rather, the way a friend hailed it in sudden, unexpected delight as a pitch-perfect emulation of Sir Alec Guinness. Of course, I remember the change of tempo as the doors opened to reveal Darth Maul. I remember being one of the fans who defended Episode I, and I still regard it as the best and most faithful of the Prequels, for all that its “A” plot is a lightweight story about a nine-year-old; and I remember the belated re-watching of my QuickTime copy, reflecting that if we’d watched it more analytically before the movie, we’d have realized that the film around which all those brilliant images and Star Wars references were assembled really wasn’t terribly well-advertised in the trailer.

But what was the first Star Wars trailer I saw? I must have seen the trailers for the Special Editions released in 1997 – I saw all of them in the cinema, and I vaguely recall a trailer forReturn of the Jedi, though that memory is bound up with the actual watching of the movie, and with the superb poster campaign which accompanied the re-releases, the iconic Drew Struzan one-sheets which caught the attention at once, and stayed up in the cinemas for long enough to become unforgettable.

Did I actually see the trailer for Return of the Jedi the first time it came out? It’s possible. I was already a huge Star Wars fan, even if the Tusken Raiders made me hide behind the sofa the first time Star Wars was on TV, and even if I insisted on holding off on watching Empire until I was old enough to appreciate it (I was about nine, I think, when I was persuaded).

I saw a preview for DROIDS in the Christmas edition of the Radio Times in what must have been 1985, but that isn’t really a trailer. It’s funny the things that you do remember. It was on a page near the back, with a picture of Artoo and Threepio from the series, and began by explaining that this was Star Wars without Han, Luke, Leia and Chewie.

Oddly, the earliest approximations of “Star Wars trailers” that I remember aren’t actually Star Wars trailers at all. Back in the 1980s, in Glasgow, there were a group of local, independent white goods retailers, who collaborated to buy TV advertising, and on those rare occasions when Star Wars was on TV, they ran boldly themed adverts displaying their high-tech, stormtrooper-smart washing machines and microwaves against a background of starlines and dramatic music.

It was just generic enough to avoid blatant copyright infringement, and well enough thought-out to be unmistakeably perfect. And of course, in my memory, they’re overlayered by the nostalgic static of repeat, repeat viewings on old, old VHS tapes. Anyone who watched those adverts can’t fail to remember them. If anyone knows where I can find a copy on the internet, I’d be grateful.

“Glens. Hutchison. Robertson. And Stepek. You can’t buy better. Guaranteed.”

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