Let’s Talk About The Perfect Star Wars Marketing

Star Wars: The Force Awakens will continue the legendary saga started by George Lucas. The film will see the return of Han, Luke and Leia along with newcomers as they seek to fight for good and…

Hold on…

Excuse me for one moment…

Okay, I’m back. I just had to go watch the new Force Awakens trailer. HAVE YOU GUYS SEEN THIS THING??? It is amazing, go watch it. If you are reading this, then I’m guessing you have seen the trailer. So I say to you… GO WATCH IT AGAIN. Guys, do you realize how lucky we are that we get to see the release of a proper Star Wars sequel? It is a privilege to be a movie fan today.

It’s ok.

I can wait…

Go watch the trailer.

If Disney/Lucasfilm is to be believed, this will be the final Force Awakens trailer we receive before the December 18th release. Now that we have all three trailers (as well as a killer poster), I thought this would be an appropriate time to talk about how perfect the marketing has been for The Force Awakens.

I remember when Episode VII was announced, before Abrams came aboard, before we found out The Force would be awakening via the film’s subtitle, I would talk amongst my friends about this new “Disney Star Wars” film that was going to be released. After the initial “Disney was going to ruin Star Wars” discussion, we would move on to other topics.

I always had this idea that they wouldn’t even need to market Episode VII. I mean, this is Star Wars we are talking about here — one of the most successful film franchises in history. Do they really need to have trailers and TV spots to “sell” the film? Do you really need to “sell” Star Wars to people? They should just do this:

Black Screen.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

“December 18, 2015”


That’s it. You do that, people would still come out in droves and you would make $100 million in the opening weekend.

But it turns out that wasn’t enough. Disney decided to go ahead and market a film that needed no marketing. And I think it is going to pay off big. So what strategy has Disney taken in advertising for this behemoth of a movie?

J.J.-Abrams-Star-Wars-Force-AwakensThere are two aspects I’d like to look at, the first being the mystery box. I don’t know if there is an official definition for the mystery box out there, but if there was, J.J. Abrams’ picture would be next to it. Whether it be his work on the TV show Lost or pretty much his entire filmography, Abrams lives and dies by the mystery box principle. In short, the idea is that the marketing of the film (whether it be trailers, posters, interviews with Jimmy Kimmel, anything released before the film comes out) should not reveal anything that gives away the movie. This may seem like common sense, why would Abrams be special in believing that movies shouldn’t be spoiled before they come out?

Well, if you look at the current landscape of marketing, you will see the problem. The Amazing Spider-Man released 25 minutes of footage from the film before its release, leading a conscience observer to edit all the footage together, giving us the skeleton of the movie before it’s release. The people behind Terminator Genisys felt the movie was not generating enough buzz, so they revealed the central twist of the movie in the 2nd trailer. Though those two movies weren’t too well received, let’s look at a fan favorite: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Take a look at the final trailer, though there aren’t obvious reveals, anyone who took a close look could see that Robert Redford wasn’t a friend, Nick Fury ends up in critical condition, and something sinister has happened to S.H.I.E.L.D.. In addition to that, there are some great money shots (action involving the Falcon) that maybe should have been left unseen before the film.

I believe the mystery box is needed. In today’s age, marketing should have a two-fold purpose. One, display the concept of the movie and convince viewers to go see the movie. Two, for those of us who are already going to see it (i.e. the majority of Star Wars fans), hype us up for the film without giving away the story. I’m a firm believer in the mystery box because I cherish the first viewing of the film. That first viewing is sacred, and needs to be upheld. Abrams agrees with this sentiment almost to a fault.

With the build up to 2009’s Star Trek, the marketing was very similar to The Force Awakens, it was mainly images and iconography that reminded viewers of the old Star Trek, while also being an action packed trailer to bring in the new audience. Sometimes the mystery box mentality hurts Abrams’ films though. For example, there was the “John Harrison” debacle that was the Star Trek Into Darkness marketing

Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan - Star Trek Into DarknessAbrams and company (under the leadership of Abrams) were more than just deceptive in order to keep the Benedict Cumberbatch-is-Khan secret, they straight up lied to everyone. There were multiple interviews where Abrams and Cumberbatch were asked, “is he playing Khan?” and they, serious as ever, said “No.” Was it worth it?

As someone who was following movie news up until its release, Star Trek Into Darkness had a strange meta-narrative. When John Harrison was revealed to be Khan, that was just as much a “reveal” to the movie-blog audience as it was to the characters in the film. “I knew it! He was Khan!” was a pretty fun feeling to have while watching Star Trek Into Darkness. Unfortunately, that reveal makes just about zero sense within the narrative of the film. He says “I. Am. Khan!” and we as an audience (maybe) go “coooool!” But to Kirk and Spock, the only reaction would have been “……..who?”

With Into Darkness, Abrams devotion to the Mystery Box ended up backfiring on him. The majority of the press leading up to the movie dealt with the myster of Cumberbatch’s character. This was to the film’s detriment. Instead of accepting the film on its own terms, we were forced into the meta-mystery of Harrison’s identity. The thing is, everyone knew the mystery. Before Cumberbatch was cast, Benicio Del Toro was up for the role. Hmm? A prominent latino actor up for a Star Trek villain? I wonder who that villain could be?

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the mystery box has been in full effect and it has been a MAJOR success. Look at it this way. If you weren’t someone who reads Word of the Nerd, if you were just the average joe, the normal movie fan, and the only things you knew about The Force Awakens came from the trailer, what would you know?

What are the characters names?

What is the plot of the movie?

Is Luke Skywalker in the movie?

I said to put yourself in the shoes as a “normal” movie fan, but honestly, there are tons of details that we don’t know about The Force Awakens and we are nerds! The marketing is very similar to Abrams first Star Trek film. There is some obvious iconography we all remember (the Millennium Falcon, Darth Vader’s helmet), a handful of faces we recognize, and (most importantly) the music. Oh, the music.

Han and Chewie - The Force AwakensThe big difference between Star Trek and The Force Awakens is the emotional response the marketing is getting. When you play some John Williams fanfare and package it with a shot of Han and Chewie coming home, get the tissues out because EVERYONE is going to cry (just look to twitter for proof). Not only is the music and action amazing, but there is this hope that is bringing the emotional connection to The Force Awakens. With the prequel trilogy, we were duped. We got our hopes up and our hearts were crushed. With The Force Awakens (and the following sequels), we get a second chance, a real chance at a Star Wars sequel post-Return of the Jedi. It is that hope that is causing Matthew Mcconaughey to cry.

So if Abrams has successfully used the mystery box to sell The Force Awakens, how exactly is Disney marketing this film? In a way, they are selling the film exactly how I pitched it to my friends all those years ago. They are saying, “This is Star Wars, the Star Wars you remember, now show up to the theater.” Let’s give a quick recap of each trailer and show how it is using the nostalgia of Star Wars to its advantage. In short, the idea of a new Star Wars is what they are advertising.

Trailer #1: Seven unrelated shots connected together with John Williams’ music. We see the iconography of Stormtroopers, a technologically advanced little droid (that is made up with practical effects), and hear sound effects that scream Star Wars. The trailer ends with the return of the Millennium Falcon and the classic Star Wars theme.

Trailer #2: Again, more iconography. Apart from the Luke Skywalker voiceover, there is zero dialogue. Again, it is just (extremely powerful) John Williams score along with more images that scream Star Wars. We see more Stormtroopers, heroes running on desert planets, a bad guy’s red lightsaber, and…you guessed it, the Millennium Falcon in action. This trailer is really just an expansion of the first trailer, with the addition of Han and Chewie at the end.

Trailer #3: Won’t be too thorough on this one (please read Bryan’s take on the trailer here). But as you guessed, this isn’t so much a trailer as it is a celebration of all things Star Wars. We have a line of dialogue for our main heroine (Daisy Ridley). We have another line of dialogue establishing John Boyega as a Stormtrooper without a purpose. We have a line of dialogue establishing Kylo Ren (woops, I mean “bad guy,” remember, the trailer gives nothing away with regard to details) as the bad guy following in Darth Vader’s footsteps. Then we get more amazing (I can’t understate this…AMAZING) John Williams score and various shots of action and iconography.

Han Solo - The Force Awakens“It’s true,” Han Solo says, “all of it…the dark side…the Jedi…they’re real.” Solo is answering a question regarding the “stories” these younger characters had heard of. It has been over 50 years since the Jedi were common place, and the Skywalker’s have been the only people familiar with the force for the past 30 years. The idea of the force has become a legend, people don’t believe the old stories. Not only is Solo telling these new characters that the old stories are true, but he is telling the audience that yes, Star Wars used to be great and it is going to be great again. 

All of these trailers have one singular idea that helped create them, the idea that the audience is familiar with Star Wars. They are familiar enough to where we don’t need expository dialogue where characters give major motives. There isn’t a series of events that would lead fans to be able to mentally put the story together before the film is released. I challenge you, only using the trailers, try and piece together what the plot of The Force Awakens is. You can’t, it isn’t there, it isn’t there on purpose. The only thing we know about The Force Awakens is that…well..The Force awakens.

After the destruction of the Empire, it appears as though those evil forces have lived on. In addition to that, there are other Jedi (two, at least) besides the Skywalkers (thus the force awakening title). We know that Han and Chewie have partnered with some young-ins and there will be some really cool battles. There you have it folks, the plot of The Force Awakens!

BB-8 - The Force AwakensOf course I’m being sarcastic here, we have ZERO idea what the plot of this movie will be about. And that is amazing. I know you can go on the internet right now and find out tons of details that have leaked, but I would recommend against that. Cherish that first viewing of The Force Awakens. I know this may sound basic, but take it to heart, you will only be able to see The Force Awakens for the first time once. Upon 2nd and 3rd viewings, yes you will try to go back in and not anticipate the next plot point or big reveal, but you won’t be able to. The only time you will be 100% surprised by the film will be during that first viewing, so don’t ruin it.

I encourage everybody to enjoy the mystery box. Yes, you are free to do a frame by frame breakdown of the trailer, or indulge in a 40 minute conversation about a three minute trailer. This is America, you are free to do whatever you would like (hell yeah!). But I would encourage you to go along for the ride. Though I know you want to live and breathe inside this revitalized Star Wars universe, just try and hold off until the film is released and enjoy it in its fullness.

I truly believe we have a great film being released on December 18th. Is the hype of a new Star Wars movie blinding my judgement? Maybe. Do I think this level of hype is similar to what fans experienced back in 1999 before The Phantom Menace? Yes, it is very similar. Do I think that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be an actual, honest to God, good movie? Yes, yes I do. And I think the marketing has been perfect. December 17th (ain’t nobody got time to wait till Friday!) can’t get here soon enough.


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About the author

Josh Tarpley

is a film critic and all around movie enthusiast. Along with being a Marvel fanboy, he is also a husband, college graduate and proud Beagle owner. Josh loves to celebrate art and tries to incorporate his faith into every aspect of life. You can follow Josh on twitter @JoshTarpley7