A brief history of every Star Wars trailer ever made

The wait is almost over.
The wait is almost over.
Image: Lucasfilm
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This post has been updated. 

Eight months to go, and there’s been no footage from the next Star Wars film. That feels feels like torture.

Fans are hoping to catch a glimpse of new footage from The Last Jedi today at Star Wars Celebration, the convention devoted to the Lucasfilm franchise, which turns 40 this year. But the release of new Star Wars teasers and trailers has always been spectacle, each and every time one comes out.

A New Hope

Before Star Wars became a culture force, 20th Century Fox and creator George Lucas had to sell audiences on the “sprawling space saga of rebellion and romance,” as it was described in the 1976 teaser. The movie was billed as ”spectacle light years ahead of its time.” And, in two minutes, the teaser managed to give away most of Star Wars’s iconic plot. Of course, this was before trailers could be recorded, leaked online, and dissected by super fans on Reddit.

The movie was also promoted extensively at comic-book and sci-fi conventions, and with a novel and Marvel comic that were released ahead of the film—all of which sold quite well.

The Empire Strikes Back

After the phenomenal success of A New Hope, fans eagerly awaited news of Episode V. To appease them—and sew their enthusiasm—the production slapped together shots of concept art by illustrator Ralph McQuarrie and released it in theaters in 1979.

The first real footage of The Empire Strikes Back was shown later in 1979 during the coming attractions for A New Hope, which was re-released for a second time on Aug. 15, 1979Some theaters held the trailer until the end of the movie to get fans even more riled up.


Return of the Jedi

What was supposed to be the last installment in the Star Wars trilogy. It was such a big deal that promotions for the movie started a year ahead of its release, before the production had finalized a name. The earliest marketing materials called the movie Revenge of the Jedi, which was the original title for Episode VI before Lucas changed it to Return of the Jedi. The darker, “revenge” title was shown in posters and early trailers, like this one from 1982:

The action-packed teaser was tacked onto another Star Wars re-release, and die-hard fans returned to theaters over and over to study it. An identical version was released later that same year with the new title.

UK theatergoers were also treated to a recently unearthed teaser from May 1982 that played during a double-bill of A New Hope and Empire in UK theaters. This one had a Christmas 1983 release date. There was talk of delaying the movie’s UK release until the holiday to encourage theatergoers to get of the house during the winter months, according to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. But, in the end, it got a summer release, like the US.

The Phantom Menace

With 15 years since the last Star Wars film, fans were more than ready for The Phantom Menace—the first of the prequelsThe teaser debuted in US cinemas six months before the movie on Nov. 18, 1998. It played in front of the big films of the day, like Meet Joe Black, Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, and Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy—and lifted all their ticket sales, according to

Fans erupted in applause in theaters after the trailer was screened. And some, like blogger Richard Woloski, left immediately after.

I cleared my morning and went down and bought a ticket for Adam Sandler’s, The Waterboy. I didn’t mind spending the money because I knew I was going to get it back with my devious scheme of “having to leave” and getting a refund after the trailer…

When the teaser ended I got up, but so did the rest of the audience. Uh-oh, did they have the same devious plan? I shot over to the lobby with my beeper (that’s how we used to get messages before cell phones, kids) in hand. “I just got an emergency call and I have to leave. I’d like to get a refund,” I told the manager. He knew what was up. He gave me the same thing he gave the other crowd of fans, a voucher for a free small Coke.

I didn’t want to sour the morning by arguing my false claim. I took the voucher, got my free small Coke and slowly walked to my car. I tried to process everything I just took in. It took me 2 hours to find my car.

The teaser was also offered as a free download online, but it was much easier to watch in cinemas than to download on a torturously slow dial-up connection.

Attack of the Clones

The second film in the prequel trilogy, Attack of the Clones, had three different teasers that were all tied to the Nov. 2, 2001 premiere of Monsters, Inc. They were advertised heavily online ahead of the release. One had no dialogue and played over a track of Darth Vader’s heavy breathing, which was meant to foreshadow Anakin’s inevitable fall to the Dark Side, and get fans pumped for the movie after the awful, awful…. awful disappointment of The Phantom Menace.

Another focused more on the political drama. And the third centered on the romance between Anakin and Padmé.

Revenge of the Sith

By the time the last film in the prequel trilogy came around, most fans couldn’t help but be gripped by nostalgia, even if the first two Lucas-run prequels weren’t the Star Wars films fans were looking for. After all, the movie was expected to be the last Star Wars title ever to play on the big screen. Oh, how wrong we were…

The teaser for Episode III landed on Nov. 4, 2004, this time on the exclusive Hyperspace section of the Star Wars website, so as to give subscribers a first look. It premiered in US cinemas the next day. The teaser is probably the greatest of all of the prequel marketing—overlaid with Alec Guiness’s voiceover about the Clone Wars from A New Hope and featuring the first new footage of Darth Vader in more than 20 years.

The full trailer ramped up the Dark Side even more, playing up the duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin that fans had been dying to see for a generation.

The Force Awakens

When Disney revived the Star Wars saga after acquiring Lucasfilm in 2012, it spared no expense in making and marketing the film. The Force Awakens, the highly anticipated seventh installment in the franchise, had one of the longest and most expensive marketing campaigns in movie history—due in no small part to the slow, cryptic rollout of trailers online and on TV.

Buzz-building began more than a year—the earliest preview ever for a Star Wars film—before The Force Awakens was released in December 2015. The very first footage fans saw from the film came on Nov. 28, 2014, when we first glimpsed Finn, BB-8, Rey, Poe Dameron, a menacing Kylo Ren—and the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. “There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it?”

The video racked up 58 million views in its first five days and was one of the most-watched trailers of 2014, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The first theatrical trailer, released about five months later, gave us—sob—the return of Han Solo.

Rogue One

Last year witnessed something new: The first Star Wars film that existed outside of the Skywalker saga.

Disney reportedly had to wait to promote Rogue One: A Star Wars Story until after rival studio Paramount Pictures released Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation in July 2015. The titles were just too similar. Director Gareth Edwards did give fans at Star Wars Celebration that year a sneak peek with some test footage, but the shaky camera-phone footage has since been scrubbed from the web. According to the LA Times, the same voiceover by Obi Wan narrated the preview:

“For more than a thousand generations, the Jedi knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic,” Kenobi says. “Before the dark times. Before the Empire.” The camera then pans up to reveal the Death Star looming above the planet’s surface, as the overlapping voices of soldiers shouting out battle commands is heard.

The first official teaser was released the following April.

However, almost none of that footage made it into the final version, which was heavily rewritten and shot. A war-themed trailer was released in August 2016, a few months before Rogue One came out to a huge reception from fans.

The Last Jedi

In the lead up to The Last Jedi trailer, fans have be piecing together what they can from toy boxesforeign title translations, promising comments from the cast and crew, and descriptions of unreleased footage that reportedly shows Rey displaying deft lightsaber skills, Finn with his eyes open, and Luke asking Rey the question we’re all dying to know the answer to: “Who are you?”

Thanks to a clip released online just after filming began, we know the movie picks up right where The Force Awakens left off—on Ahch-To, where Rey found Luke.

Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy is set to appear with director Rian Johnson and other undisclosed guests during the Orlando, Florida event this morning. They’re expected to have a trailer in tow that will be released online when the panel ends at 12:30pm ET.

Update (12pm ET): The first teaser trailer for The Last Jedi is here: