For most film franchises, the reveal of a sequel subtitle is barely even cause for a mild shrug – Disney is releasing Pirates of the Caribbean 5 under two different titles (Dead Men Tell No Tales is Salazar’s Revenge in the UK) to no fanfare or outrage. But Star Wars is no regular series. The announcement that Episode VIII is officially called Star Wars: The Last Jedi has sparked a torrent of speculation and, now the initial reaction has died down, questions of where the trailer is.
Now, technically a trailer has already been released – over a year ago, to announce the start of filming, Lucasfilm shared a tease showing Rian Johnson directing Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley in what is presumably the film’s opening scene, picking up right where The Force Awakens left off. Of course, it’s a behind-the-scenes peek, so hardly concrete and certainly not enough to stand in for a teaser a year later. So, why hasn’t there been a new look at the film?
Before diving into details and prior examples, it’s worth establishing that there not being a trailer yet is hardly surprising. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is set for release on December 15th, 2017. That’s almost eleven months away. Most films don’t get trailers until around six months in advance, and those that do come earlier are usually the result of major events (like Comic-Con) or massive tentpoles (Batman V Superman‘s first teaser was released almost a year ahead of time). Showing footage too early for most films risks killing excitement long before it arrives.
Star Wars is definitely one of those massive tentpoles. Not only is the fan-built hype machine around it stronger than even comic book titans DC and Marvel, there’s genuine precedent for this. Indeed, the main drive in a trailer request is that by this point in its build-up Star Wars: The Force Awakens had already released its teaser. That first look with the crossguard lightsaber controversy and awesome Millennium Falcon swoop came out on 28th November 2014, well over a year before its debut. Surely it would only make sense for the next episode in the main Skywalker Saga to follow suit?
Perhaps not. The Force Awakens wasn’t just a “next episode,” but the return of Star Wars to the big screen after a decade-long hiatus (discounting the underwhelming and underseen The Clone Wars in 2008), and had to combat franchise apathy in the wake of the poorly received prequels. Disney had to win people over, and events like the cast announcement confirming the return of the core trio and a long-lead teaser demonstrating the signature Star Wars style (that few of the trailer shots made it into the finished film is beside the point) were essential in doing it. Disney wasn’t just selling a movie – they were selling a franchise. Now that everybody’s back on the bandwagon – The Force Awakens and Rogue One are unequivocal critical and commercial successes – that same level of hype building isn’t required. People have bought into the sequel trilogy to the tune of $2 billion, so it’s safe to say are already on board for The Last Jedi.
A better barometer for Episode VIII‘s marketing approach (and likely all movies moving forward) is Rogue One. Information was light on the first standalone beyond production whispers for a long time, pretty much up until its teaser was released in April 2016. That film was blocked from advertising until early 2016 due to a deal made with Paramount over the use of the word “Rogue” clashing with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, so Disney couldn’t have released anything much earlier, but all things considered that wasn’t as restrictive as it seemed.
That’s because the other big difference between The Force Awakens and all later Star Wars films is that future releases will come hot on the heels of another film from the previous December. Unveiling a trailer, or even a title, for the next film during the release of the current one risks killing anticipation for the movie at hand. This pretty much rules out any major information coming out about future films from around a couple of months before the current release all the way through until it’s wrapped up its cinema run, and no proper marketing push until it’s come out on home video. The Last Jedi is, so far, following this trend; the title announcement came after Rogue One had already netted the coveted billion dollar gross, and a trailer isn’t likely until it’s been out in Blu-Ray for a few weeks.
Fitting with comments made by Kathleen Kennedy that the trailer will be in “spring,” the most likely trailer release will be at Star Wars Celebration on 13th-16th April. The 2015 convention was where The Force Awakens debuted its second teaser and the same time of year Rogue One unveiled its first look, so if you discount Episode VII‘s once-in-a-generation early tease, then things are currently going according to plan.
That said, there is another strong reason why Lucasfilm might want to err on the side of caution when it comes to marketing: spoilers. The Force Awakens was widely praised for its spoiler-free marketing; even though most of its plot could be construed pre-release from TV-spots, the slow feed of information about basic things like characters kept many details vague. The Last Jedi has more of an issue with this. People know who Rey, Finn and Kylo are now, and will have been speculating on where they’ll go next for two solid years by the time Episode VIII finally arrives, making it highly probable many of the film’s secrets could be cracked when it’s actually released.
There’s also the issue of leaks. As tight a show as J.J. Abrams ran (loose lips sink starships), many of The Force Awakens‘ story details did leak ahead of time; a pretty solid estimation of the plot was put together in May 2015. These leaks are typically handled well by understanding fans who keep it in their own areas of the internet (and hidden behind serious spoiler warnings on mainstream sites), but once trailers begin to reveal details the facts get mixed and major spoilers can become contextually known. A good example of this in action is Batman V Superman: Doomsday’s presence was suggested from as early as 2013 and all but confirmed by reading into later reports and trailer moments, which likely forced Warner Bros. into showing the monster in full ahead of time.
Not getting a Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer yet isn’t just fitting of what we’ve come to expect of Disney’s resurrected Star Wars, but also helps keep a tight lock on major spoilers. It can be frustrating not having frames of hidden details to pour over, but if it helps improve the experience on December 15th, who’s to complain?