The Art of the Sell — “Star Wars” trailer

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

A long time ago, a studio’s marketing team was charged with convincing the general public that an adventure story set in outer space was worthy of their time, attention, and spending money. According to Hollywood lore, Star Wars was a movie practically no one believed in, including the writer-director’s closest compatriots. (Steven Spielberg was a notable exception, declaring the inevitability of a huge box office haul for the film after screening an early cut.) The 20th Century Fox executives surely cringed at the realization that one of their strongest selling points, the central involvement of “George Lucas, the man who brought you American Graffiti,” was going to be undercut by a collection of images that bore no resemblance whatsoever to the nostalgic hit.

Well after the complicated particulars of the Star Wars saga have cemented themselves into the cultural firmament, with pending ninth feature film in the main series representing a remarkably small sliver of the fantastical creation’s sprawl, it’s difficult to properly contextualize how bizarre the visuals must have seemed when the trailer to the original film started appearing in theaters. How did audiences puzzle out the laser swords, the clanking robots, and the hulking, furry beast in the cockpit of a spaceship? No matter how widely Star Wars references would someday be applied, there was once a time when a promotional effort was so utterly detached from the mythos that an announcer would be called upon to portentously describe the first film as “The story of a boy, a girl, and a universe.”