What a Star Wars Trailer Can Teach Us About Good Design

If you haven't already seen the Theatrical Trailer for Star Wars: Episode 7, please take a quick look HERE and then return for the discussion!

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015 Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015
Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

'There are stories about what happened....It's true. All of it.'

Learning from other interests

I believe that we only become better designers by allowing our other personal interests to inform how we hone our craft. The world isn't the way it is today because each profession was developed in vacuum. It's from the blending of our culture that we can move forward together to create something more.

One of things people quickly realize about me is that I go crazy over movies. I do sincerely love Architecture, but if there was something else I would have gone into as a career, it would have been filmmaking.

It will then likely come as no surprise to you that the theatrical trailer for Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens affected me deeply. I think my generation benefited from the excitement our parents had when the original Star Wars films were released. That enthusiasm spilled over to us and inevitably, I will pass it on some day as well. If you haven't taken a look at the new trailer, you can find it here.

Trailer Overview // Screen Captures

See below for a quick cross-section of the major moments in the trailer.

 

The Trailer

As the trailer begins, we're confronted with a mysterious figure in an unusual, abandoned ship. From there, we discover that the ship is on a desert planet and that the figure is young girl who seems to be yearning for more from her life. Enter a variable - a young man presented as another youthful character looking for more. Then the trailer goes whoop and begins to pull you around. The audience is now listening to a hooded figure reveal a dark plan.

At this point, the trailer goes a bit crazy! The music has begun to swell and the audience gets a glimpse of the fabled 'Millennium Falcon' - a fan-favorite spacecraft not displayed in feature length film for 30 years. There's some narration, Harrison Ford, and then full on Star Wars Magic! The trailer doesn't stop there - it continues to deliver punch after punch with stronger orchestration, faster edits, and intense battles.

The entire trailer pushes until it can't go any further (without spoiling the movie) and cuts to black with a final, brief voice over.

End Scene.  Wow, that was fantastic!

Alright, I'm back.

a master class in good design

If you're like me, and you tend watch documentaries on film or the extra features on DVD/Blu-Ray, you'll begin to see a common thread - many of the best directors working today started because of Star Wars or something like it.

For me, the Star Wars series isn't necessarily the only reason why I love films, but it's definitely one of the catalysts that made me appreciate them more. There is so much that can be found in film to understand other aspects of life and design. The trailer released on Monday October 19, 2015 is no exception. Here are some of the concepts I took from the experience itself.

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015 Via Lucasfilm

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015
Via Lucasfilm

 

Good Design is Holistic.

I can appreciate that the majority of this trailer in particular is about tone, feeling, and intent. Many trailers will hit you over the head with exposition and plot before you've even stepped foot inside the theater! The reason this trailer can be dissected and used as precedent is because it is a master class in presentation.

Why does this matter? As architects, we are storytellers. You may not consider yourself one in the typical sense of the word, like a writer might. The architect is responsible for conveying a message to the users and to the public who experience their projects directly.

When you design a building, What does it say? How does it say it? Obviously a building won't chat you up about the weather or how your favorite sports team is tanking (aside: remember that I live in Buffalo, NY). Instead, a building will speak through materiality, light, and wayfinding. All of these ideas come together and tell a story.

Okay, back to Star Wars. This trailer uses the texture, light, and rhythm within its framing to create an overarching view for the audience. It is easy to follow because the individual pieces harmonize to the point that you no longer experience them individually, but rather as a singular event that pulls you through a fantastic voyage.


Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015 Via Lucasfilm

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015
Via Lucasfilm

 

Good Design is Nuanced.

Now, not to immediately back up on the point I just made, but I'd like to mention that one of the reasons everything appears to seamlessly merge together into a singular experience is because of the variety of images and sounds on screen. That's not to say that they outdo each other, far from it. Instead, I'd argue that one of the primary reasons that the trailer is so damn effective is that there is a larger theme broken down into discernible, unique set pieces that can also be understood on their own.

From the opening frames, the trailer begins in one type of setting and mood and progressively builds upon those first images with subtle and then striking variations in context, color, and action. For instance, it's not as though the trailer just shows you a bunch of juxtaposed scenes from the film and hopes you can put together some idea of the story in your own mind. It instead does you the service of creating a microcosm for the film that alludes both the eventual full film's structure and likely pacing.

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015 Via Lucasfilm

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015
Via Lucasfilm

 

Good Design is Everywhere in Star Wars.

Star Wars is full to the brim with designs that can directly be borrowed from. Over its expansive reign, Star Wars has built a universe that is fully realized on screen. Thousands of designers and fabricators have worked on the films alone in order to bring these ideas into being.

Simply look at the expansive environments that are visited, the slick vehicles that transport characters to other worlds, or the vast ocean of props from weapons to clothing that make each character unique and believable. You could take almost anything from the trailer and transform it into a new concept for your own design work from a purely aesthetic point of view. Should you choose to, one could also study the forms more in depth and garner even more ideas about how to synchronize a similar set of design rules over multiple design series.

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015 Via Lucasfilm

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015
Via Lucasfilm

 

Good Design has Appropriate Pacing.

There is effectively a beginning, middle, and end to the trailer. each of these pieces builds upon the last from a simple, quiet mood to the final, epic battles. The trailer builds structure to the story being depicted, but does so in such a way that it is implicitly, rather than explicitly understood.

In architecture, similar values can be applied. You can't just go around and tack whatever building component you want onto the next and expect and owner to buy it (well, maybe, but that's not what you SHOULD be doing). Instead, consider a building you're designing like an orchestration of materials that form a delicately balanced ensemble. Working towards a final form in which every item has its place in the overall should be your goal. When a building is in harmony with itself, it doesn't require lofty explanation, it just is.


Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015 Via Lucasfilm

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015
Via Lucasfilm

 

Good Design Speaks to Our Nostalgia.

When it comes to Star Wars, the worlds have been fleshed out and expanded upon in six previous films, several television series, cartoons, graphic novels, fan fiction, etc. The major benefit here is that the authors of the new film have an expansive universe to pull from.

In relation to design, you must find that which speaks your audience because of their cultural and life experiences. This trailer specifically plays on the expectation that the majority of its viewers have seen, if not loved, the previous films. It uses the images to illicit a specific, positive response.

When you consider that the end user of your design work will always be a real person, you can begin to design for someone rather than something.

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015 Via Lucasfilm

Star Wars: Episode 7 Theatrical Trailer // Oct 2015
Via Lucasfilm

In the end, I don't necessarily recommend you go and see this film in particular (though I sure as hell am), but rather that you consider other media and pieces of our lives as inspiration for how to develop your own way of storytelling through design and architecture.

P.S.

Do you ever consider films like 'Star Wars' as inspiration for your own design work? What kinds of other things inspire you? Do you ever let them inform how you design? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Michael LaValley

Buffalo, NY