quick intro: Cinemax will be showing all six Star Wars movies in high definition starting in November. Being that this is the first time all six movies have been shown in HD, they’re making a big deal about it, and have a page setup with various promotional videos. The video in question is entitled, “Original Trilogy.” For lower quality, but faster viewing, watch it on YouTube. The video is also embedded in this page. As will become significant later in this review, the song in the video is Fix You by Coldplay. Note: the audio level is very, very low in this file, so turn your speakers up.
9 Bulleted Reasons Why This is Probably the Best Star Wars Promo Video Ever (and one reason why I say ‘probably’)
- Slow-motion makes everyone a good actor. Star Wars movies (old and new) were never known for their quality of their acting, but in slow motion, these are all Oscar-worthy performances. Notice at 0:41 when Natalie Portman’s character is about to cry: when I saw this in the theatre, there was laughing. And this was the buy-tickets-in-advance very first in the zip code midnight showing of the movie – in other words, people that drink the George Lucas Kool-Aid. But in slow motion… it gets ya.
- It doesn’t use the all-too familiar Star Wars music for once. We know the “Star Wars opening crawl song”, Darth Vader’s music, and those that truly believe can pick out Yoda’s and Leia’s themes as well as the sort of singles from the prequels. As long as I can remember, Star Wars promos have used this music – it’s common brand recognition, people. But these Cinemax folks, they did something blatantly obvious, yet something that no one had thought of. Just choose the most-overused trailer and commercial band ever, Coldplay!
- Surprisingly, Coldplay is not a bad choice. I’ve long held that Coldplay is more about the “sound” than the “song.” Of their random recordings and three major albums, they have about five really good songs among an unremarkable but perfectly solid collection of songs. The Cinemax people picked a good one, maybe the best one. Sure, picking this particular song isn’t exactly cutting edge for setting to video, but when was the last time Coldplay was set to non-contemporary images? We see new movie trailers, commercials, wrestling hype videos, and sports highlight packages out the wazoo (it doesn’t seem like people archive these type of videos, so no links), but already familiar images set to the music? — it works because as familiar as Coldplay is, this is a new way to present their style.
- The video takes advantage of the fact that everyone already knows what happens in the movies to focus on some of the smaller moments. For example: they show the targeting computer footage from the original movie (in slow motion, of course), then Luke is shown reacting immediately after he shoots the torpedoes into the Death Star (using the force as guidance instead of the computer). We all know what he did, what it looked like, and instead of focusing on the destruction, we see the moment of relief when he realized he just really did it. A quick, quiet moment in a movie seemingly lacking nuance like that. Then we see the real big explosion, but we don’t hear the sound effects.
- Finally, a Star Wars commercial that doesn’t focus on fight scenes and “THEN IT GOES BOOM” moments. It’s nice to see other aspects and moments of the movies highlighted…even if it takes slow motion to make them resonate. (disclaimer: I think I remember some love-ish related commercials to try to get women-folk interested in episodes 2 and 3, but those were as subtle in their appeals for women’s attention as the explosion-heavy commercials went after guys)
- Again, the scene selection is top quality. The fact that they show Luke coming across the dead bodies of his adoptive parents says a lot about the shot selection. Considering that their death is probably the second most forgotten plot point in all six movies (the first being all of episode 1), and it’s the reason that Luke left his home planet to inadvertently join the Rebellion, it’s nice to see it given proper treatment. And the slow motion certainly helps. Also, instead of showing Luke fighting Vader, or the more famous scene where Vader’s mask is removed, they’ve selected the shot of Luke struggling to drag a dying Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker at this point, I guess) to his shuttle to save him. This isn’t exactly what a beginner would pick from that sequence.
- Attention to detail: To movie enthusiasts, the Star Wars movies are known for their attention to detail in sets, sound design, and art direction . The video showcases one of the finer details that’s wholly unnecessary in The Empire Strikes Back, but adds something to the “cold, hard, computers” motif seen on the Imperial warships. At 1:28, we see Darth Vader kneel down as he is about to begin his long-distance conversation with the Emperor (who, I’ll point out, is not seen at all in this video, prequels or original movies). It’s a significant moment in the original movies because, after seeing Darth Vader as the ultimate bad guy in the first movie, he’s shown bowing down to someone who really must be bad (as you can imagine, there’s more significance there if you’ve never seen the prequels). This plot point actually isn’t the detail in question though; it’s the fact that the set designer chose to progressively illuminate a four-segment ring of light on Vader’s platform after he knelt down. All of this a considerable amount of work for the carpenters what with the fact that the lit platform was shown in all of two shots. Now, whether the people that worked on this video read that much into it, I don’t know, but at the minimum, it’s an interesting shot from one of the less prominent sequences in any of the movies.
- It makes the prequels look like movies that mesh with the originals. The fact that the old and new movies have almost completely different “looks” has been beaten to death, but the video merges the two styles into one organic universe (as it’s supposed to be between the trilogies). The Millenium Falcon taking off from the original movie followed by a ship from the prequels doing the same provides a connection to the big picture similarities between the movies. (Yes, I know the Millenium Falcon shot was from the Special Edition, but I’ve never heard of anyone complaining about that replacement.) Shots from the prequels are sparse, but well selected; there’s nothing there to remind you of the bad parts.
- The music of the song really matches the video well [note: I’m talking about the music, not the lyrics (see below)]. To be honest, this isn’t a challenging song to mesh with images; it starts slow and simply with vocals and an organ, then builds as layers are added to the soundscape with guitars, bass, drums, echo, reverb and other studio magic. The key is that the song has energy, even with a slow vocal part. Simply, good trailer music is too slow to regular dance to, and too fast to slow dance to. Like many Coldplay songs, this sits at that neither-here-nor-there perfect-for-trailers tempo.
- The lyrics are matched to shot selection too well. Someone at Cinemax said, “wouldn’t it be cute if when the lyrics say ‘I will fix you’, we show Chewbacca fixing C-3PO?” Unfortunately, no one said, “it would be, but that’s a stupid idea.” Though not exactly a metaphorical song, the lyrics can safely be called “evocative,” especially the “lights will guide you home” part. Pairing “when you try your best, but you don’t succeed” with Luke failing to lift his ship out of the swamp, again, is cute, but is ultimately an annoying choice. I’m not believer in the “power of lyrics,” but matching a video of someone trying and failing so literally with that phrase implies that the song is about a specific time when someone tried and failed, and without any sense of generality, that little phrase loses any poetic meaning. It would be like if a greeting card company began printing cards that said, “You’ll be my best friend until the end of time” because a gigantic meteor was on its way towards Earth in one week with a 100% chance of total destruction. The phrase loses any rhetorical weight it might have had because it’s addressing a very literal situation [I’ll pause here to let that one sink in…]. This also goes for “stuck in reverse” while showing R2-D2 rolling away with his back to the camera. BUT, the shot of Obi-Wan smiling (in slow motion) when he’s decided to sacrifice himself to Vader to allow Luke to escape during the first “lights will guide you home” line (1:07) works perfectly, as does the focus on the targeting computer as the song reaches that point a second time (2:09). *Special gross comment: Being that the song does include the “and ignite your bones” lyric, I’ll say that with the movies offering
threefour different instances of burned bones (the Owen and Beru Lars invitation-only BBQ of the original movie, Anakin totally forgetting that Obi-Wan had the high ground in Episode 3, and Luke getting his hand ginsu’d off in The Empire Strikes Back and Vader Flambee at the end of Return of the Jedi)), I’m surprised they didn’t have thrown a few frames of those shots in the video at the (overly) appropriate times.
Too literal video to lyrics issues aside, this is the video which shows why people like these movies. Coincidentally, there’s no dialog, but there’s also very little action; it’s the characters and how they deal with their sneakers-too-large-for-their-feet problems and come out on top that pulls the people in, it’s the effortless attention to detail, it’s the entirely unreal yet very real world and characters created in the movies. Enough of my soapbox. It’s also really cool when the video shows the starfighter from the prequels (2:04) breaking off to blow stuff up, then immediately follows it with the point-of-view shot of the Luke entering the trench of the first Death Star with that same organic, rolling motion. Highest recommendation.