Review: Elstree 1976
PLOT: The making of STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE is told from the perspective of bit players and extras from the film, who, while not major characters, have still managed to gain some notoriety in the years since.
REVIEW: What do you get the STAR WARS fan who knows everything there is to know about the films? ELSTREE 1976. Fans of STAR WARS will get an interesting peek behind the scenes of the sci-fi epic in this new documentary, which takes the welcome approach of analyzing the success and longevity of the franchise through the eyes of a handful of minor participants, most of them involved with the first movie. Ever wonder what making the film was like for the guy who played Greedo? How about the Stormtrooper who tells Luke and Obi-Wan to "move along" outside of the cantina? This is supremely geeky stuff, of course, but for a film that's been examined and scrutinized to death, it's perhaps necessary to consider it from a fresh angle.
The nice thing about ELSTREE 1976, however, is that you don't need to be a Star Wars nerd to appreciate the universal themes of people struggling to get by, experiencing the highs and lows that come with any profession, the importance of finding your voice. The subjects of ELSTREE 1976 are especially intriguing because they're famous for incredibly brief moments in time, but they're just people, of course. They just happen to sign autographs for a slew of movie geeks a couple times a year.
Director Jon Spira starts ELSTREE off in such a way that might confuse someone who didn't realize what they were ultimately in for. Ten different actors give us snapshots of their backgrounds, insights into their lives and burgeoning talents. None of them appear to be connected to one another. It's a bit disjointed at first, gathering so much information about these people we don't really know, but Spira's style is unhurried and relaxing, the film moves along at an easy, agreeable pace. Of course, all these people's destiny's will eventually collide; not literally (they didn't know each other during that summer of '76), but at the same place: Elstree Studios in England, where STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE was produced. The actors in question weren't aware of the significance of what they were participating in at the time, of course, but to hear them tell their stories now will bring a smile to any fanboy's face.
We've heard about STAR WARS from the major players before a hundred times, but this is getting the scoop from that one guy who played an X-Wing pilot, that one lady who rocked an alien costume in the cantina, the fellow who played Biggs Darklighter, who was mostly cut from the finished film. Perhaps the most significant of the subjects are David Prowse, who wore the Darth Vader costume, and Jeremy Bulloch, who played Boba Fett. All of their memories of the production are different, naturally, but all carry the same tenor of "what a great time it was to be there." Even more interesting is how these folks have lived in the shadow of STAR WARS in the years since; almost all of them do conventions and are still tickled by how popular they are. Some of them didn't even have lines in the film and they're signing autographs for rabid fans. One or two of the players are slightly bitter about sharing the spotlight with others (actor Angus MacInnes, who played Gold Leader in A NEW HOPE, can't believe that guys who wore "buckets" on their heads are more well-liked than he is), but any jealousy or animosity is muted in favor of genuine appreciation for this odd celebrity status they happen to enjoy once in a while.
The documentary isn't a must-see, but if you're a STAR WARS completist you'll find lots to appreciate. The interviewees are by and large a very pleasant bunch, and their recollections - Star Wars-related or not - are compelling and insightful. As a pretty big SW nerd myself, I was very happy to spend 100 minutes with this troupe.