SWNN Review: Elstree 1976 Digital Release
The 2015 documentary film gets an official digital release today. Thanks to WeAreColony we’ve received a digital copy of Elstree 1976, and we wanted to share our thoughts about it.
All Star Wars fans and large number of people around the world are familiar with the heroes of the galaxy far, far away, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and Carrie Fisher’s Leia Organa. But not as many people are as familiar with some of the background characters. In fact, not even all the true Star Wars diehards know the full story behind such background characters as The Medal Bearer or Red 2. Elstree 1976 is the brilliant new documentary that tells the stories of some of the more obscure characters that may not have had their face on full display, like the Stormtrooper who hit his head on the Death Star or the man beneath the Greedo mask.
We are introduced to ten actors that all had roles of varying sizes in one of the greatest films ever made, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, known then of course as The Star Wars. The most prominent of the actors featured is someone with a rather large amount of infamy in the Star Wars universe, David Prowse who of course was the man you saw as Darth Vader, but not the man you heard. David Prowse seems to have fallen out of with either one or many of the Lucasfilm higher-ups as he has been banned from attending both the Disney Star Wars weekends and the biggest Star Wars event of them all, Celebration. This relationship is briefly explored in Elstree 1976 – although in truth it could probably be a documentary in that of itself, so we only get a glimpse of what happened. Prowse seemed to have many stories that I would love to explore more.
Another actor we’re speaking with is Paul Blake, an actor who talks about his time on stage in his career playing Hamlet and Macbeth and many other important roles who took a job on a little unknown film called The Star Wars after his friend and colleague at the time, Anthony Daniels, had put his name forward when George Lucas wanted more character actors. Blake went on to become a character with as much controversy around him as Prowse and that of course is Greedo who in our heart of hearts didn’t shoot at all, but, according to canon, shot first.
Many Star Wars fans will know of Luke’s friend from Tatooine who he was later reunited with in the rebellion, Biggs Darklighter. You may or may not know that he had some extra scenes earlier in the film that were cut (but can be found online). Well the man behind the moustache, Garrick Hagon gives some insight into this and his initial reaction to seeing the film for the first time at the Cast and Crew screening.
Angus MacInnes, who is also recognizable from Judge Dredd (1995) and the History Channel show Vikings talks about his time as Gold Leader (not Lando, the first Gold Leader from the Battle of Yavin, Jon Vander) and shares many interesting stories, including one (that I won’t spoil here) that changes the way I will watch his scenes forever!
I mentioned the scenes from Tatooine that were cut. If you have seen them you’ll know they weren’t just with Luke and Biggs, there was also their other friends, Fixer and his girlfriend Camie who were cut from the movie entirely. Well, in the case of Anthony Forrest, the actor who played Fixer, he wasn’t completely left out. In fact, he was called upon by George Lucas to play another character who, in truth, probably turned out to be more famous than Fixer ever would have been, and that was the weak-minded Sandtrooper in Mos Eisley who didn’t find the droids he was looking for on Luke’s Landspeeder. “Move along, move along”.
That’s about it for actors with large roles or speaking roles but that isn’t where the intrigue dies, there are three other cast members with equally interesting perspectives of the Star Wars production. They are Laurie Goode, Derek Lyons, John Chapman and Pam Rose who played ‘the Stormtrooper who banged his head on the Death Star’, Medal Bearer/Temple Guard, Red 2 and Leesub Sirln respectively.
With (most of) the actors out of the way I can talk a little more about the structure of this documentary. It essentially plays out as a series of ‘talking head’ interviews with the cast members and takes us on a journey of their lives and careers from how they got into acting, to how they got involved with The Star Wars, to their lives immediately after the film came out and became the biggest hit of all time and right up to how it still affects their lives now.
A lot of what you hear from the days on the set is what you’d expect or what you may have heard from other sources. Of course, no one knew that the film would be successful in any form, let alone the mega-hit it was. Several people thought it was a TV Movie or a small D-List Sci-Fi movie that no one would take seriously. Each cast member seemed to have their own anecdote or two from their experiences which was fun and the nostalgia they all shared when talking about one of the most monumental times of their lives inspired my own nostalgia to my own experiences with the film. I would have liked a little more depth in this area as this was what I would say I was most interested in going into this film but the what surprised me the most was towards the end when they discussed the Comic-Con circuits of signing autographs, something many of them do to this day to make money.
It was such a great look at a world I’m kind of part of but not fully. I mean I attend these conventions and I’ve met some great people, but I’ve never been a big autograph collector and the autograph of the guy who hit his head on the Death Star isn’t one I thought people would queue up to get but there is a huge market for it and clearly people love this stuff, so it’s amazing that the opportunity is there to both the former cast members and the fans. A key thing I took away from this was the respect and admiration that the cast members had for Star Wars fans and it’s clear it’s a two-way street. It seems anyone who had even the smallest connection to the production in 1976 is immediately someone of great significance.
An interesting sub-plot appeared while the talk about the conventions was taking place. These interviews were conducted individually, so no one is with anyone else, but it seems there’s a sort of hierarchy among the featured extras and bit-parts or whatever you want to call the smaller roles. Some of those with lines in the film didn’t like those without lines appearing at these conventions and taking away potential revenue even though they didn’t appear in the film to the same degree as them. It seemed to be a point of serious contention, particularly between Angus MacInnes, Derek Lyons and John Chapman. But the one thing everyone seems to agree on is how lucky the final cast member I haven’t spoken about yet was. This final cast member was left out until much later in the film when the convention talk arises as this actor wasn’t at Elstree in 1976, or in A New Hope. He didn’t make his first appearance until The Empire Strikes Back.
I’m talking, of course, about Jeremy Bulloch who played the fan favourite, Boba Fett. A role that didn’t require much beyond looking cool, and we all know he succeeded in that regard. Boba Fett is often cited as being the most popular action figure and his role was expanded beyond the Original Trilogy into the Prequels with Attack of the Clones – we even learn the clones of ‘The Clone Wars’ mentioned in A New Hope are one and the same as Boba Fett (genetically speaking of course, no rapid growth or fighting for The Republic for Boba). Bulloch was one of the most welcomed parts of this documentary, he’s funny, very insightful and quite possibly my favourite part of this film, which if you can’t already tell, I thoroughly enjoyed.
If you’re a fan of Star Wars (which I’ll go ahead and assume you are) then I’d recommend you seek this film out. Elstree 1976 is a film clearly put together with as much love, respect and admiration for the Star Wars bubble as those represented in the film and us, the fans have. Drama, humour and love can all be found in this film and it had me hooked from beginning to end. I also now want to be an extra on a Star Wars film and spend the rest of my life signing autographs, it seems like a great gig!