Director: Jon Spira
Starring: David Prowse, Jeremy Bulloch & Pam Rose
Synopsis: A heartfelt documentary that puts centre stage a group of people who were intimately involved with a pop culture phenomenon.
Rating: 12 Duration: 97 minutes Release date: 14 November (UK)
In 1976 a film studio in North London was home to a little known film called Star Wars. Here, scenes would be shot for the Millennium Falcon and the Mos Eisley Cantina and a multitude of actors varying in levels of fame would come and go. At the time no one knew how big Star Wars would become; some thought it was a TV show while others thought it was an independent film, so it must have come as quite the shock when it became one the biggest films of all time. Elstree 1976 focuses not on the likes of Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill and instead focuses on the bit-part players who now live everyday lives while living with the fact they are a part of cinema history.
Elstree 1976 takes a behind the scenes look at Star Wars, but is not a film that chronicles the making of the film and instead aims its focus at the people who worked in the background; the extras who no one would recognise on the street and who sign autographs at fan conventions and then go home to their very normal lives. It’s a film that is honest about their lives and what it means to have been an extra in Star Wars and it is also bitter-sweet when you think about how their lives have been affected ever since. While they gain attention and praise when signing autographs and relaying stories to avid fans, it difficult to then see them admitting to suffering from depression or earning a living as a busker.
Director Jon Spira handles things with a subtle tone and showcases the highs and lows of being a Star Wars extra. It’s interesting to account for the people who we all take for granted and who fill in the background while receiving none of the credit. David Prowse is one such case. Prowse was the man inside the Darth Vader suit throughout the entirety of filming and spoke of every line of the characters dialogue only for it to be dubbed over in Los Angeles by the legendary James Earl Jones. Prowse seems to have taken this with a hint of bitterness, saying he did all the work, but was replaced by one of the greatest voices of all time. Despite that, there is also a gratefulness for being given the chance to embody the iconic villain. He even recounts his falling out with Lucas Film and Disney and is now barred from attending official Star Wars events because of how he chose to sign his autographs; David IS Darth Vader while Lucas Film wanted it so say David Prowse AS Darth Vader.
Likewise Jeremy Bulloch suffered a similar fate; playing Boba Fett and spending the entire film behind a mask. Now he fronts questions from fans regarding a turn of the head and what it meant for the character, only for Bulloch to reveal he was hungry and wanted his lunch. It’s these type of anecdotes that bring humour to the film and highlight the fact that sometimes a certain look or movement is nothing more than an actors belly rumbling.
There are times when Elstree 1976 is not as interesting as it would like to think it is and the sense of curiosity wanes in some sections, but for fans of Star Wars this is an intriguing look at an aspect of the film that has been documented far too little. And if nothing else, finally gives a face to those who helped to create one of the biggest franchises in cinema.
- Director’s commentary
- Extended interviews
- Elstree 2016: Return to Elstree Studios
- High Flight