J.J. Abrams is a master of movie marketing and as director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens he continues to enthral audiences, particularly long-term fans, thanks to the enigmatic omission of Luke Skywalker from advertising campaigns.
The internet has been awash with conspiracy theories surrounding the omission of Luke Skywalker from the recent Star Wars poster and full-length trailer. Has he turned to the dark side? Is he dead? Is his part in Episode 7 only small? All the questions will be answered come December 18 when the film is released in the UK. And that’s the great beauty of J.J. Abrams’ marketing genius. He lays down the seeds which flourish into organic marketing buzz.
It’s typical of Abrams, whose specialty is movie advertising. As producer of Cloverfield he concocted a brilliant poster campaign long before the film’s release which began with a simple date displayed next to a beheaded Statue of Liberty. There was very little known about the film at the time, encouraging the online community to bicker amongst itself over the reason behind the New York monument’s destruction, the direction of water ripples heading towards or from the city’s pier, the formation of the clouds, and indeed, the significance, or lack of, behind the release date.
In fact, when an equally enigmatic follow-up trailer recorded in the found footage style arrived, we still didn’t know what we were dealing with. The film wasn’t necessarily any more appealing than the latest Judd Apatow comedy but there was a secret we weren’t privy to. The film therefore became the “answer” we were, by then, desperate to know. It’s a similar thing happening now with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Unlike anyone else it seems, Abrams understands how viral marketing campaigns can enhance the movie they are ultimately promoting. Any reservations you have of him as a filmmaker become almost mute as the product – the movie itself – becomes an extension to the “buzz”; the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
It’s not just a movie anymore – it’s a journey beginning with viral chatter. Cloverfield ended up being a horrid movie – it was rubbish – but we got to know the secret and were somewhat satisfied because of it.
We were also part of the narrative. Following teaser trailers attached to Transformers, Abrams unleashed working titles that, while being entirely fictional, related to the film’s back-story. For example, one title “Slusho” was the brand name of a drink, developed by a company called Tagruato which boasted that one of its ingredients makes its consumers “big and strong”. The company was also involved in offshore drilling and audiences, through fictional websites, began to put things together.
“No one else in Hollywood has displayed such a complete understanding of the idea that marketing is a narrative endeavor, an act of storytelling unto itself,” said David Ehrlich in a Rolling Stone article. “[Star Wars: The Force Awakens] could be as flawed as the design of the original Death Star, but this trailer is so good that, for better or worse, you forget that it’s only selling a movie.”
Abrams, who mastered his technique with TV show Lost, has concocted another great campaign for Star Wars, the cornerstone of which is Luke Skywalker’s absence. While the mystery behind the Jedi Knight’s omission from posters and advertising may hint at his involvement, or lack of, in The Force Awakens, it has become another J.J. Abrams secret that can only be revealed – legally – by the purchase of a cinema ticket.
The director, who is currently finalising last minute special effects on the film, told the Associated Press that Skywalker’s enigmatic absence is “no accident”. He said: “These are good questions to be asking. I can’t wait for you to find out the answers.”