Elstree 1976, 2015.
Directed by Jon Spiral.
Featuring David Prowse, Jeremy Bulloch, Paul Blake, Pam Rose, Derek Lyons, Anthony Forrest and Laurie Goode.
Documentary focusing on the bit-part actors and extras from the original 1977 Star Wars movie.
Elstree 1976 is not just a documentary about Star Wars; in fact, it’s not even really about Star Wars at all but a vindication that, in these enlightened times, the culture that has erected itself from George Lucas’ vision has become bigger than the source itself. Think about it – what other movie franchise could boast about or even justify inspiring a documentary focusing on the background players, some of whom didn’t even have a line or, in one case at least, his character didn’t even appear in the final cut of the movie? Bond? Harry Potter? The Lord of the Rings? Don’t think so.
But, as with all documentaries, you have to be invested or at least have a passing interest in the subject matter and the Star Wars universe, in one form or another, is now firmly ingrained in the consciousness of at least two generations, something that some of the actors featured in this documentary didn’t really have a grasp of until relatively recently, so on one level this film should appeal to a lot of people under a certain age. However, the documentary itself doesn’t really have an angle and is mainly a talking heads-style reminisce about the actors’ careers up until that point, a few stories about meeting George Lucas and Mark Hamill and then the inevitable look at the convention circuit and what they are up to now.
Of the actors featured there are two whom most casual fans will know and those are David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett). Bulloch doesn’t come into the documentary until quite a way in but he speaks very fondly – almost protectively – about playing the cult character and seems to have embraced the geek culture that has sprung up around Star Wars, seeming very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something that means so much to people. Prowse comes across a little differently; happy to play his part as the original man in the Darth Vader costume and cashing in on it very nicely but not quite grasping the fact that his voice was always going to be dubbed and not really understanding why George Lucas and now Disney won’t speak to him and have banned him from two official Star Wars conventions (perhaps it is because he revealed the twist to The Empire Strikes Back before the movie was released, but that’s just speculation).
Laurie Goode is a name you probably won’t recognise but chances are you’ve seen him in Star Wars as he claims to be the Stormtrooper who bangs his head on a rising blast door during one famous scene, although, as he rightly says, there are a lot of people who have claimed that one over the years but he does recall bumping into the door so who are we to argue? There is also Pam Rose, who appears very briefly in the cantina scene as an alien in the background, and she doesn’t really have a lot to say about it as to her it was just another job but she does have an action figure of her character and she is also very happy to turn up to conventions and sign fans’ memorabilia. The two actors who have the most to say are John Chapman and Angus MacInnes, with Chapman being very animated and quite charismatic despite only appearing in the briefing room scene before the final assault on the Death Star and not having any lines. Since then Chapman has overcome dyslexia and become a children’s author, and was totally oblivious to the fan appeal of Star Wars until the early ‘90s when, as he tells it, he was in a comic shop and saw an X-Wing pilot figure for sale and told the proprietor that he was in the film as a pilot, and from then on it was convention after convention for him. Angus MacInnes played Gold Leader in Star Wars and will be a familiar face to some as he has appeared in numerous films and TV shows over the years, most notably The Krays, Judge Dredd and Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and he actually gets quite emotional when he recalls his time at Elstree and is obviously very appreciative of being a part of the Star Wars legend, even if his career and other business ventures didn’t quite go according to plan. He also explains why he is continually looking down during his scenes in the X-Wing fighter, which puts into perspective the difference in method between the actors and the director.
So what can we take away from Elstree 1976? There isn’t much in the way of juicy gossip or tales of higher profile actors going off the rails; in fact, all we really learn is that Derek Lyons – who plays two characters in the same scene during the medal ceremony at the end of the film – shares a birthday with Mark Hamill and that they got on very well, and also that Greedo actor Paul Blake sent somebody to fetch him a coffee because he was gasping for a drink, unaware that it was George Lucas doing the fetching. Other than that, Elstree 1976 is a pleasant look at how being in the right place at the right time can put you on a certain path, and how you never really know what is around the corner. The recreated Star Wars scenes between interviews look suitably grubby and match the aesthetics of the original movie and the disc comes loaded with extended interviews, a director’s commentary and an Elstree Studios featurette but if you’re not a Star Wars fan then a documentary about actors who are mostly wearing masks and don’t have any lines will hold very little, if any, interest, and even if you are a hardcore nut then Elstree 1976 is really just something to fill in the gaps between the next box set release and the behind-the-scenes documentaries that will no doubt flesh it out. Now, how about a documentary covering some of the titbits that David Prowse mentioned with regards to his falling out with Lucas and Disney…?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★