Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Mystery of the Original Star Wars Trailer

This is a post about the mystery of the first or original Star Wars (1977) trailer. I saw this trailer about a year before the movie came out, then never saw it again. All the billions of people I knew who worked on the later films at ILM and Lucasarts never saw this trailer. I think I have found it on Youtube, but first I want to explain what it was.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, a low budget science fiction film with the odd name of "Star Wars" was being made. Its director had made a successful film in a completely different genre, but this was not the same, and very few people knew what to make of it. Generally the people who read the script and the people who were working on it did not think it would do very well.

But a number of things happened that changed that.

One of those things is something that was very unusual back in 1976 but is common today: the premarketing of the film at various fan conventions, such as science fiction conventions or ComicCon. A friend of George Lucas from Film School, whose name is Charlie Lippincott I believe, went to science fiction conventions around the country: Worldcon, Westercon, etc and gave a presentation and showed footage from the film on 16 mm.

Back then, people had never seen anything like this. We had been fed garbage from the studios like Logan's Run (1976) and otherwise treated with contempt.

I happened to be at the 1976 Westercon by LAX that year and I saw the presentation. We made him show the trailer twice and this is what I recall.

1. There was no John Williams music. The score for the film had not been composed yet, so they used a basic tone repeated to give some suspense, 2. There was a voice over saying things like "the story of a boy, a girl and a universe" and "coming to your galaxy this summer". 3. There was a shot of a little robot falling on its face (this was R2D2 and this shot was not in the final movie), 4. There was a shot of some strange older guy with a glowing sword in a bar, 5. There was a shot of a spaceship being attacked by smaller spaceships, the camera POV was moving as if it was in one of those smaller spaceships, 6. There was a shot of two people jumping over a chasm with a rope in classic swashbuckler style.

R2D2 is starting to fall.


We thought it was great and we all went to see the movie the day it opened. That plus the Time Magazine feature on the film generated enough business so that lines wrapped around the block at the 50 theaters in the 50 cities that the film opened in.   The publicity and word of mouth of that first weekend / week of business started the snowball rolling.

No big deal, nothing strange here, except that this hugely successful film, with all the paraphenalia and media and all my friends working at ILM and no one ever saw that trailer again. No one. None of my friends at ILM or anywhere else had ever seen this trailer. It was easy to tell. You would ask if the trailer had John Williams music and the answer was always yes. This trailer had completely disappeared.

Today, I came across a very bad quality dub of something that claims to be an original Star Wars trailer.

It might very well be. It has the elements that I recall, and it has things I do not recall. But this was a long time ago, so I am going to say that this might have been the trailer, or something very close to it. Now was it worth the wait? I am not sure, it is hard, very hard to put yourself back 30+ years and remember what you were like and what the world was like.

But if this is the trailer I remembered, then the mystery is explained.  It is filled with shots that never made it into the final film as well as what I think are early visual effects tests that also never made it into the film.

Here is the trailer

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