Speculation: When and Where Will Major Information on Star Wars: The Force Awakens be Revealed?
With a little over six-and-a-half months to go until Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens comes out, one question is on everybody’s mind: “When will we learn more?” Join me as I take a look at the calendar to guesstimate the ideal times for Disney to reveal information about the new movie. Plus, get my thoughts on how the Mystery Box ad campaign will affect the movie beforehand.
Before we begin, I’d like to talk about one concept that’s becoming a pet peeve of mine in regards to Star Wars discussions: the dreaded Mystery Box. That one phrase I keep hearing in regards to this film that would drive me to drink if Corellian Ale actually existed. The key idea behind the Mystery Box theory – one that was popularized by director J. J. Abrams – is one that edicts that the marketers are going to tell audiences as little about the product as possible while still managing to pique their interests – don’t spoil any surprise, but give them a taste of what they’re in for, and the crowds will line up by themselves. But I feel as though it’s often misused as a way of saying “It’s how the studio deliberately misleads you.” This was not Abrams’s intention with the concept – and I strongly suspect the ads going forward won’t be about deceiving the audience about the final product, locked down for a release on December 18, 2015.
The most effective use of this Mystery Box approach for any movie that Abrams was involved with would have to be Cloverfield. The initial teaser trailer didn’t tell you a title or even give you a fraction of a glimpse that there’d be a giant monster in it. The first third of the teaser made it seem like it was a standard party movie about a couple of close friends in New York. Then the characters hear an odd noise, the building shakes, and they go outside. Suddenly, there’s a huge explosion, and the burning remnants of several buildings, cars, and other objects come crashing down around the party attendees as they rush to the streets – the most notable object, of course, being the striking visual of the head of the Statue of Liberty in the middle of the road. Absolutely nobody who saw this teaser back in July 2007 knew what in the HELL was going on, but many who saw it were intrigued and wanted to know more. Subsequent trailers that came out showed off more of the disaster going on in the streets of Manhattan, but they didn’t show the monster. People lined up to find out what the creature looked like, and the final product ended up making nearly eight times its budget internationally – and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Mystery Box hard at work.
Of course, Abrams is perhaps best known for utilizing the Mystery Box method in a way that may have harmed the product – specifically, the last movie he directed, Star Trek Into Darkness. I certainly thought it was a good movie, as did many critics and general audiences – but amongst Trekkies, the film’s quality is one that’s placed under substantial debate. Many point to the understated and outright deceptive marketing campaign for the movie as a source of discontent from the fans – most infamously, Abrams repeatedly denied that Benedict Cumberbatch’s character in the film – John Harrison – was not a code name for his true identity in the movie, Khan. Cumberbatch even delivered the “My name… Is… Khaaaaan.” line like it was meant to be a huge shock to the audience – when, in actuality, those who were familiar with Star Trek suspected this development from the start, and those who didn’t know who Khan Noonien Singh was or why he mattered were left bewildered at this “revelation”. A number of fans were angered that they were lied to in the name of protecting the Mystery Box (which wasn’t necessary at all for Khan), and while Star Trek Into Darkness was a success, the returns fell a bit short of Paramount’s predictions. Abrams has expressed regret for taking that approach to such an extensive level. It could be argued if they had just said “Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan.” from the get-go, then the movie would have been much less divisive and that it could have garnered a better response (and more money) from Star Trek fans. From this perspective, I think that it may be fair to come to the conclusion that the Mystery Box approach seems to work better for smaller, unknown properties than huge established franchises. And it’s really hard to get any bigger than Star Wars.
The key problem with the extensiveness of the Mystery Box song-and-dance in regards to The Force Awakens can be found in how much more open Abrams and company have been about The Force Awakens. Whereas if they were taking the Star Trek Into Darkness approach of marketing about the desert planet, they would have strongly implied that the desert world was Tatooine throughout the marketing campaign before pulling a rug out beneath our feet and telling us it was another planet all along. Instead, they casually clarified the misconception at Celebration Anaheim, revealing it to be a new planet called Jakku. (Unfortunately, there are people still burned out about the “Khan” thing, and are theorizing that this is part of an absurd plot to go for a Planet Of The Apes-style reveal. One, mind you, which would have no dramatic impact whatsoever on the audience at large.) That being said, there’s still some mystery – we know quite a bit about the characters from the press releases, but for the most part, we don’t have too much of an idea of what the Star Wars universe is like after Return Of The Jedi. The Mystery Box effect still exists, but it’s nowhere near as extensive as people think it is. The approach now appears to be one that would imply that Daisy Ridley’s character (Rey) is Han Solo’s daughter, without completely stating it one way or the other. This iteration of the Mystery Box approach isn’t one that leaves audiences completely blind going in, but instead lets them know a decent portion of what they’re in for without spoiling the movie’s story.
So the bottom line I’m getting at is that from here on out, we’re going to get a fairly straightforward, minimal-spoiler marketing campaign for The Force Awakens, and that ads for the film aren’t going to create a similar controversy to the John Harrison incident. It’s certainly not in Disney’s best interest to do that for one of the two franchises that they paid more than $4 billion to acquire. In any case, I’ve done enough talking about the Mystery Box; now is the time to get into the long and winding marketing campaign for the movie.
What’s past is prologue, and it might be worth talking a bit about what’s come out so far before guesstimating what could be coming in the next couple of months.
October 2012-May 2015
The first year-and-a-half of news on Star Wars Episode VII was pretty bare-bones in hindsight. Other than occasional reveals of information – such as the confirmation that Lawrence Kasdan was writing, John Williams was composing, and J. J. Abrams was directing – we knew pretty much nothing about the movie in terms of story. It wasn’t until April 2014, just before production on the movie officially began, that we had an idea of what was going on when we got our first look at the main cast of the film. We got looks at the movie’s many settings from people who snuck their phones into the sets, along with fan rumors about who was playing who, but aside from a few glimpses offered by the “Force For Change” initiative, official details from Disney and Lucasfilm were few and far between from May to November 2014.
That changed when Teaser 1 for the movie hit on Black Friday – showing us, among other things, the next generation of Stormtrooper armor, the new X-wings and TIE fighters, the crossguard lightsaber, BB-8, and of course, the Millennium Falcon back in business. More details about the production made their way out between November 2014 and April 2015, and we were effectively taking our first steps into a much larger world. Then came Teaser 2 in time for Star Wars Celebration Anaheim (and later at screenings of Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Tomorrowland), which gave us a much more extensive look into the next major era of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Shortly thereafter, Vanity Fair included a Feature Story for the movie (following a tradition set forth by the Prequel Trilogy) explaining the roles of most of the major cast. In addition to those tidbits, we’ve had a lot of vague hints from the cast members as to what the movie is going to be about. As it stands, we’ve seen roughly three minutes of footage from the film, which is probably going to have a running time between two and two and a half hours.
Anyway, on to the hypothetical schedule of major releases of information.
This is where the fun begins. Inside Out, set to be released on June 19, has been seen as the next possible outlet for new footage… But with all things considered, I’m not sure if this movie is the place for Trailer 1, because this movie comes out just two months after Teaser 2. (Disney’s next tentpole film seems like it might be a more likely candidate for reasons that I’ll discuss below.) I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that we could see a Teaser 3 here, but I’m not holding my breath, either. What I personally see as more likely to happen is that there could be an Extended Teaser Trailer based on Teaser 2 – with a couple of new shots replacing others. Given that Pixar was the brainchild of George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic, and that Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles respectively hosted early looks at Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll at least see the original Teaser 2 attached to the movie.
What seems to be the more reliable opportunity to plug The Force Awakens during this month would have to be the season premiere of Star Wars Rebels, the double-length episode The Siege Of Lothal. I believe that what would most likely happen is that Disney may include a Featurette about the making of the movie, given that they did the same thing for The Avengers around the time that the first half of the first season of Rebels aired. More Featurettes may pop up as the show continues to air.
The reason why I have my reservations about us seeing Trailer 1 or an Extended Teaser Trailer in June is because of a much bigger event occurring in July: the San Diego Comic Con. The event is notable insofar as Marvel Studios has said they will not be holding a large panel, even though they’ll still attend the event – which makes sense, considering that they revealed their entire line-up of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in October of last year (adding the Spider-Man co-production with Sony Pictures to the lineup last February). Obviously, Disney isn’t going to just sit the event out, considering the sheer amount of coverage the show gets, so it is likely that they will use this opportunity to unveil Trailer 1 here, along with a press conference (if we’re lucky, they might even talk a little bit about Rogue One, since they can apparently do that at huge events like SDCC). It’s easy to infer that Trailer 1 will also be attached to Ant-Man, as that movie is set to be released a week later. Hasbro has also teased that they might unveil some of the toys for The Force Awakens here.
On an unrelated note, I think that the second season of Star Wars Rebels will start up early on in this month, without any major hiatuses, in order to get the hype train for The Force Awakens running in the eyes of younger fans. Spark Of Rebellion aired a little over a week before the actual show started.
Disney D23 is another definite event where we’ll see something happen – they’ve already confirmed that Marvel and Star Wars are both going to have a presence there. Since they explicitly mention that they’re going to show footage of their live-action movies during the Saturday morning event, and that Lucasfilm will attend said event… Well, you can probably put two and two together. The way the write-up is worded strongly implies that they’ll be showing Clips for the movies being shown – my guess is that The Force Awakens is going to have two, plus some new details about the movie.
At this point, Mission – Impossible: Rogue Nation will be released, removing the embargo that’s been placed on Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One. The movie will probably be in the midst of principle photography by this point, and while it’s too early to show anything off, they could say something about who they’ve cast. A few nuggets of details about Episode VIII might also pop up, considering that the next D23 event won’t happen until 2017 – and after the movie is released at that. I think this should be about the time when we’ll be seeing what the entire first wave of action figures for The Force Awakens look like, provided a few aren’t revealed during SDCC. Which leads right into the next point…
September 4/5 is going to be the date that the proverbial floodgates open – the Force Friday event when stores start selling loads of merchandise that ties into The Force Awakens. By this point, we’ll have a clear look at much of the content introduced in the movie via the action figures, playsets, toy vehicles, LEGO models, board games, books, comics, and more. Among these tie-ins are Star Wars: Aftermath and the first issue of Star Wars: Shattered Empire will be released.
The day before the Force Friday event occurs is the date of the NFL Kickoff. Trailer 2 will most likely be shown during the game. Another Feature Story is likely to occur at this time. Of course, the next month is where the media blitz really begins.
October’s big event is the MLB Postseason, so it’s likely that Disney is going to take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself. An Extended TV Spot (one about a minute or so in length) is bound to be shown here. While Bridge Of Spies is being distributed by Disney and it could conceivably be the movie that is released with Trailer 3, I think it’s too early to have Trailer 3 for this film two months from its release. But make no mistake, mid-October is going to be the time of year when the media campaign for the film is going to crank up exponentially. The first Television Interviews with the cast and crew should occur at the middle of the month and end around the release of the movie. A Long TV Spot (which would be about 30 seconds) should also pop up at some point, and this should be when we see more Featurettes for the movie pop up.
The movie I think that Trailer 3 is going to be attached to will be The Good Dinosaur; it’s the last major movie that Disney will release before The Force Awakens, and it would work as a way of keeping up the Lucasfilm/Pixar tradition of showing new Star Wars footage with the feature presentation. Three weeks might be cutting it a little close in most occasions, but the reason I think they might wait until then to talk about it is because of the major holiday of Thanksgiving, which happens the day after The Good Dinosaur is released. They could even show another Long TV Spot made of existing footage from the Teasers and the Trailers during the commercial break of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (a widely-watched event).
Expect Entertainment Weekly to focus on the movie in a Feature Story in the middle of the month or at the very beginning of the next month. All of the Short TV Spots (10-15 seconds in length) and any remaining Featurettes will roll out around this time and during the next month, presumably with two Long TV Spots airing alongside the others. Oh, and let’s not forget about Star Wars Battlefront – that’s kind of a big deal in terms of promotion, what with the free Battle Of Jakku DLC package tying into the movie and all.
And it all comes down to the release of The Force Awakens. As stated before, a lot of the remaining promotional materials will come out just before the movie has its worldwide release date on December 18, 2015 (some areas get the movie a day or two earlier, and some areas unfortunately get the movie a week or weeks later). Obviously, a few “Critics are raving!” Short TV Spots will pop up afterward, but the ad campaign will pretty much end at that point until it’s time to sell DVDs/Blu-Ray discs. The second season of Star Wars Rebels will most likely wrap up shortly before the release of the film in order to capitalize on the movie – perhaps with the finale providing an all-new Long TV Spot as a viewership-boosting tactic.
As an added bonus, The Force Awakens will most likely have Teaser 1 for Rogue One attached to it… And so, the Star Wars hype machine begins anew!
So to recap, this hypothetical list of content that I’ve come up with (including what’s come before May 2015) includes:
- 2 Teasers
- 1 Extended Teaser
- 3 Trailers
- 10 Clips
- 12 Featurettes
- 1 Extended TV Spot
- 4 Long TV Spots
- 10 Short TV Spots
- 3 Feature Stories
- Numerous Television Interviews
- Force Friday (Merchandise Overload)
While this hypothetical layout might sound like it’s reaching a bit, bear in mind that the ad campaign for Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Disney’s other big tentpole movie, featured 4 trailers, 16 clips, and 42 television spots in total, in addition to the magazine features and the numerous television appearances from the cast. Given the aggressive marketing applied to that movie (which clearly paid off), it’s even possible that I might actually be underestimating Disney’s approach in how they’re going to sell the grand cinematic return of the Star Wars franchise. That being said, I am certain that they’ll be very careful about the loads of information that they’ll release before the movie hits the screen – because the Mystery Box, even when used in moderation, can be a very profitable endeavor. In any case, I’m really thinking that we could be in for the most commercialized Star Wars movie ever made.
Special thanks to Reddit user 00—–00, whose post served as a template for my speculation.
Grant has been a fan of Star Wars for as long as he can remember, having seen every movie on the big screen. When he’s not hard at work with his college studies, he keeps himself busy by reporting on all kinds of Star Wars news for SWNN and general movie news on the sister site, Movie News Net. He served as a frequent commentator on SWNN’s The Resistance Broadcast.