British Film Festival Review: Elstree 1976

An engaging documentary that tells the story of about a dozen minor Star Wars cast members who had no idea that it would change their lives forever.

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Star Wars is one of the biggest grossing movie franchises of all time and the original movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. Most people have heard of it and a quarter of the planet has seen it, so it’s incredible to believe that the actors playing small roles and extras thought they were taking part in a low budget telemovie when they first got their role in Star Wars.

Before Star Wars, films in the science fiction genre mostly included B-grade offerings such as The Blob and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Few film producers took the genre seriously and few would have realised the money to be made in merchandising action figures, lunch boxes and t-shirts. George Lucas knew exactly what he wanted to achieve and it wasn’t long before the cast realised they were involved in something that was quite extraordinary.

Elstree 1976 is not about Star Wars; it is an engaging documentary that tells the story of about a dozen cast members who had no idea that they were participating in a movie that would change their lives forever. Their interesting and yet ordinary stories tell of the impact of their involvement and the memories they share of filming in Elstree Studios in London in 1976.

The most well know of these actors is David Prowse who performed the physical role of Darth Vader. The role was later voiced by James Earl Jones. Prowse talks openly about being banned from several Star Wars conventions and the famous tensions between himself and Star Wars director George Lucas. Prowse has always claimed that he was engaged to also voice the character of Darth Vader, while some have accused him of leaking vital plot information to the press. Whatever the truth, the disputes have provided plenty of fodder for fans and definitely has not damaged Prowse’s popularity.

The documentary also touches on some politics between the smaller roles and some of the extras. Many actors are still, nearly forty years later, making an income from their association with this movie through conventions and live appearances.

For many, being an extra on Star Wars was the pinnacle of their career. They may have had dreams of being famous actors but their uncredited role is sadly as far as they got.

For others their small part in a film that is so famous has eclipsed everything else they have achieved. Paul Blake – who has performed in Hamlet, featured in various major films and starred in a long running TV series – jokes that when he dies his headstone will read ‘Here lies Greedo’. His short appearance as an alien in Star Wars, where you couldn’t see his face, will be remembered over everything else.

If you are the kind of fan who loves to go to conventions and watch the live panels then you will probably really enjoy the conversational style of Elstree 1976. With some interesting photos and some short scenes from the filming, this documentary has plenty to offer fans of the original Star Wars film.

Reviewed by Ceri Horner
Twitter: @CeriHorner

Rating out of 10:  8

Elstree 1976 screened as part of the BBC First British Film Festival, which runs 28 October – 18 November 2015 exclusively at the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.

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