In the decades since the first film's release, the Star Wars franchise has earned such a prominent place in popular culture that it's hard to find someone who doesn't know the series' various twists and turns. It's easy to take Star Wars' most iconic moments for granted — but can you imagine being the person who had just one minute to explain the entire concept behind the film's sprawling universe to audiences who knew nothing about it?
The official YouTube channel for the Star Wars franchise recently released the original teaser trailers for all three films in the original Star Wars trilogy — and watching them provides a fascinating glimpse into the early days of one of cinema's most enduring franchises:
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The trailer for Star Wars begins, bizarrely enough, with the last shot of the movie, as Luke and Han Solo accept their medals from the Rebel Alliance after working to destroy the Death Star. "Luke Skywalker was just a farmboy until he received a mysterious message from a princess," says the trailer's voiceover. The trailer also calls Star Wars "the most extraordinary motion picture of all time," and says that "no legendary adventure of the past could be as exciting as this romance from the future." Setting a high bar, guys.
There are a few things to note here. Younger fans might be surprised to see that the film is just called Star Wars, and not Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope — a designation that was retroactively appended during a re-release in 1981 to coincidence with Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
It also seems fairly clear that George Lucas hadn't yet decided — very, very old spoiler alert — that Luke and Leia would eventually turn out to be brother and sister. In fact, this brief trailer features two scenes that point the other way; one in which Luke calls Leia beautiful, and one in which Leia gives Luke a kiss for luck.
But some of the staples are already here: The trailer closes with the now-immortal phrase, "May the Force be with you."
The Empire Strikes Back
The trailer for The Empire Strikes Back picks up right where Star Wars left off. "The Empire has been repulsed… But this one defeat will increase its determination to defeat the rebellion once and for all!" It's obvious that this trailer was rushed out to capitalize on the unexpected craze for anything and everything Star Wars; there's no actual footage from the movie, just a smattering of concept art.
And inaccuracies abound. Princess Leia's name is pronounced "Lee-uh," and the voiceover references multiple Wookiees, conjuring up unwelcome memories of the Star Wars Holiday Special. And like the original Star Wars, the film's title seems to be in flux — the words Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back both appear, but never together, and "Episode V" is nowhere to be seen.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi
No, that's not a typo — the earliest trailer for the third film in the original trilogy still bore the title Revenge of the Jedi, before creator George Lucas decided to switch to the more benign Return of the Jedi. But despite the wrong title, this trailer of the three easily hews closest to the actual film, a testament to the franchise's already-entrenched place in popular culture. "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," says the voiceover, before John Williams' legendary title song kicks in.
But there are a few interesting peculiarities worth noting. Though Darth Vader was barely referenced in the trailers for the first two films, he's front and center here, reflecting the villain's unexpected popularity with fans. Obi-Wan Kenobi shows up briefly in the flesh, despite his death in the original Star Wars. And the squid-like Admiral Ackbar pops up to deliver his most famous line — "It's a trap!" — several decades before it would become an internet meme.
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