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Expert Comment: Star Wars trailer breaks records

Star Wars Friday 5 December 2014

As the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens breaks records online Dr Jacqui Miller, Principal Lecturer in Media and Communication, looks at franchise's enduring appeal.

The first Star Wars (1977) film has a lot to answer for. The third feature film of then ‘movie brat’ director, George Lucas, some film historians would say Star Wars (along with Jaws from two years earlier), with its melding of special effects and traditional values, signalled the death knell of the New Hollywood, the most creative and anti-establishment era in American filmmaking.

Speaking directly to an audience suffering from misery-fatigue in the wake of Vietnam, Watergate, and recession, Lucas deliberately set out to reverse the cultural upheavals of the 1960s and make Americans feel good about themselves again. However, the film itself was only the beginning.  Princess Leia and her Rebel Alliance’s escapades to thwart the Death Star and save the galaxy from the Galactic Empire were the catalyst for some of popular culture’s most iconographic sounds and images, from the salutation ‘May the Force be with you’ to light sabres, and its cult status is celebrated internationally at comic conventions, and even through the ‘religion’ of Jediism .

Star Wars changed the commercial landscape of the film industry. Lucas was the first director to secure soundtrack and merchandising rights, and sales of innumerable plastic toys has almost been matched by the original film trilogy being extended by a series of sequels and prequels.

The latest of these, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, will be released in December 2015, but its teaser trailer, revealed on November 28th 2014, already has more than forty-one million views on YouTube and is the most watched trailer in film history. It certainly is a teaser – its approximately one minute twenty seconds run time features seven frustrating black-outs of two seconds each (a long time in a brief, other-wise fast-paced trailer), and the final twenty seconds simply shows the title. Star Wars mixed futuristic science fiction – it was set in a galaxy far, far away with nostalgia in its loving homage to the Saturday morning cliff-hangers of classical Hollywood. The new trailer also mixes past and present.

Affectionate nostalgia is evoked through the original soundtrack, graphics, and of course a light sabre, but comparing this trailer with that for the first film tells us a lot about how society and its mood has changed over thirty seven years.  The first figure we see is a physically powerful, heroic-looking black man; racial and ethnic minority role-models were not in evidence in 1977. Although Star Wars’ Princess Leia was an attractive action heroine she was mainly seen goofing around, while the new female lead is more akin to a Charlie’s Angel, driving a military vehicle full-throttle.

The predominant difference is the lack of fun in the new film. There were weapons a-plenty in the original, but they just didn’t seem deadly; the new trailer is redolent of war, and the viewer can’t help but think of America’s current position in the Middle East from the opening shots of desert to the fleets of jets. In 1977, Ronald Reagan evoked Star Wars as a metaphor for his anti-Soviet technology; in 2014 ‘the light’ seems to be being used to defeat a thinly veiled new enemy.

Dr Jacqui Miller is Principal Lecturer in Film History at Liverpool Hope. For more information about studying Film and Visual Culture at Liverpool Hope, go to the course pages.


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