Ranking All of the Star Wars Movie Trailers (So Far)


So apparently there’s a new Star Wars trailer dropping this week. Even though I’m not necessarily sold on the new direction of the series, it’s hard not to marvel at the event. We haven’t had a new Star Wars trailer — or movie — in almost ten years (surely that Clone Wars theatrical release doesn’t count).

To whet our appetites for our first real glimpse at what Abrams & Co. have in store for us next year, I’ve assembled a completely subjective, but nonetheless entirely accurate, ranking of trailers for all the existing Star Wars movies (at least, the ones that count).

As Mr. Tetrault would say… let’s do this.


I guess it’s only fitting that the weakest of the Star Wars movies should suffer when it comes to its advertising. This may be the subject of a future article, but Return of the Jedi is one of those movies that’s simultaneously the best and the worst of what the series has to offer. This trailer highlights more of the former; it even has a similar sense of narrative inertia.

Still, though, there’s that seemingly endless “heart of a hero” voiceover in here, though. That’s so eighties to me, in a charming way. It feels a bit like the trailer for… oh, I don’t know. Some Star Wars knockoff, probably. Which is what parts of Return of the Jedi feel like, come to think of it.

I know, I’m being too hard on the thing. I do ultimately love what that movie has to offer, for the record. Let’s move on to one of the Saga’s true masterpieces.


Is that Harrison Ford narrating this thing? It sure sounds like him. If it is, that’s probably the happiest he’s ever been to talk about this series. Which would make sense, of course, since that period between movies is arguably its apex. Arguably.

Anyway, the trailer is fun, and totally goes for the whole “Adventure! Serial!” tone that the movies usually leave humming in the background. I do sort of get wistful for trailers that were genuinely fun and excitable; everything now is just some shade of epic. Including, as it happens, Star Wars stuff. And while there’s definitely a way in which this Empire trailer almost completely misses the dreamlike tone of the movie, the way it’s selling Star Wars is ultimately the way most people remember it.


The Force Theme is probably my favorite musical cue from all of Star Wars, so I might just be a sucker for a trailer that reintroduces the Saga with that piece instead of the main theme. Which, the main theme definitely makes an appearance, but that Force motif is the core of the Saga and this trailer proves it.

Visually (and thematically?) speaking, The Phantom Menace is a movie with tons of texture. It’s perfect trailer material, and this trailer more than takes advantage of it. This is a wild, colorful, varied two minutes. The underlying narrative is a bit cheesy on its own, of course. The whole “Every generation has a legend…” thing. But it’s also kind of true — Star Wars is an institution unlike any other in cinema history, and this was the movie that aimed to take us back to its inception.

Plus, as Yoda reminds us, it won’t be a ride with a happy ending.


Speak of the Devil.

So, this trailer is technically cheating, since it draws on material from pretty much the whole rest of the Saga — of course it’s going to feel awesome. So it gets knocked back a place or two. Doesn’t mean the thing isn’t effective, though. The thrill of seeing Vader rise into frame was the real deal.

It’s a testament to John Williams just how effective it can be to throw the strains of, for instance, The Imperial March over the end of your trailer. With all credit to James Earl Jones and Lucas and the various directors/screenwriters/designers/actors who helped cement Vader as a screen icon, that music doesn’t need any help.

Even so, and even admitting the history in the first forty seconds, it has a suitably apocalyptic array of images to choose from. Revenge of the Sith is the movie where the whole galaxy comes crashing down on itself, and it sure looks like that’s happening here.


To be honest, it’s a little hard to argue that most any trailer for a movie that came out almost forty years ago can compare to the movie ads we put out these days. Particularly a trailer that could be construed as just flat-out awkward if you don’t get on its wavelength. For today, me and this trailer totally get each other.

I particularly like the space-age mysteriousness this trailer taps into. It seems like nobody really knew what they had on their hands with Star Wars when they first saw it, so they tried to sell it as some sort of bizarre, epic message from another galaxy. Which, of course, it is. I always like it when something reminds me just how strange this series is.

Man, those people had no idea what they were in for.


It was always going to be this one. “Breathing” is an all-time favorite for me, and not just in the “Star Wars” category. It’s tense and moody in a way that very few trailers ever attempt. Almost it’s own little experimental short film — look at, for instance, the way it juxtaposes an army of clone troopers with a stolen kiss. I dig stuff like that. I would take the opportunity to defend Attack of the Clones right here, but that’s outside the scope of the article, and this was going so well.

Anyway, as impressive an impact as John Williams’s music has made, surely it’s even more astonishing how iconic Ben Burtt’s sound design remains. This trailer features two sound effects: Vader’s breathing and a lightsaber. And at this point Vader hadn’t been in a new movie since 1983. Crazy.

Most movies want to convince you they’re going to be the biggest thing you’ve ever seen, but I much prefer trailers like this that walk with enough confidence to try something else. More people should recognize how powerful silence can be when they want your attention.

Which one’s your favorite?

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  1. Call me crazy but if they had kept the dialogue out of the Phantom menace trailer it would be the best one by far – for me. I love all the opening shots (especially the fog right at the beginning) and the other sequences that play out in that trailer. Then the music change when the podracing starts up is just brilliant.

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