By: Rob Perez –
Ever wondered who the faces behind the masks of those many Stormtroopers, Ewoks, bounty hunters and crazy looking aliens from the original Star Wars trilogy were? No? Neither have I, and I’m a Star Wars fan from day one. But the serious Star Wars geek might, and in this very original documentary, Elstree 1976, director Jon Spira interviews the actors who were behind those masks and costumes in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Some, like the actors who played Greedo, Boba Fett, Wedge Antilles, and Darth Vader, to be totally honest, are the ones we really want to hear from, and there’s ample soundbites from them. Others, for example, an X-Wing pilot who was just sitting in the briefing room before the Death Star attack, we find also have interesting and surprising back stories that are Star Wars-related. Also, an awful lot of them speak with a British accent, so now you know that aliens, humanoids, and humans did speak the King’s English a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
What I expected to be a fun, light-hearted documentary surprisingly has some dark moments as some of the actors don’t feel much connection to the film. Of course opinions differ among them, especially the actors who had bigger roles such as Boba Fett guy or Biggs, since they had some screen time, have their own fans, and of course, are popular and well-paid draws at conventions. Money does have the power to make people happy in case you haven’t heard.
While we may not recognize these actors, the documentary does explore their personal and acting backgrounds pre- and post-Star Wars and you hear about struggles some of them had growing up, such as David Prowse being bedridden for over a year and growing six inches in that time. We also find out many of these background players had blue-collar backgrounds and find out how they ended up auditioning for very bit parts and extras work for a movie almost all thought was just another B-science fiction movie. And all never foresaw how big the movie would become and that they would become part of the most popular movie franchise ever.
The meat of the documentary comes when they discuss their post Star Wars career on the convention circuit and speak about the hierarchy, the envy, and jealousy among some of the extras regarding who should be paid more, and who should not be claiming they were in the movie and cashing in on the convention circuit even though, despite just being an extra, they were actually in the movie. Of course David Prowse and Jeremy Bulloch—Darth Vader and Boba Fett, respectively—make a good living off of their characters at conventions while others we see sitting by themselves waiting for acknowledgement.
By the end they discuss how their careers went. Some are still acting while others are not. Others wish their careers had gone a different way. But while the bulk of these Star Wars extra enjoyed their time on set, none say being in the film define who they are today. They can truthfully say they were part of the biggest film in history but still able to go on without being strongly identified with it, and that’s just OK with them. It was just another job and they don’t mind that a few times a year, cos-players will pay a sick amount of money to have their picture taken with them. Oh, boy.
Not a lot of Star Wars footage or even photos from set appear. Often-times in the beginning a new actor would show up, their name and a photo of the role they played appear so fast you have no idea who the person’s name is or what they were in the movie. That’s why there’s this thing called captions, fellas. Granted, the documentary interviews extras with roles that had no names; they were just there in the background, but still, can someone mention that? A pretty serious flaw if you ask us. I’d like to know while someone is talking that this is the person who played Greedo, or X-Wing pilot number 4. A little identification folks, is that too much to ask for?
Unless you’re a serious Star Wars geek, 90 minutes of mostly interviews (did we mention very little Star Wars footage or anything else) with the guy who was a Stormtrooper in Mos Eisley, or an extra on the Death Star, can only go so far. With no disrespect intended, had the bulk of the documentary been about Prowse and Bulloch and their connection with Star Wars, with bits and pieces from the other extras, it would have made this documentary move much faster. It’s a bit long in the tooth even for this Star Wars fan (and I’m talking actually seeing Star Wars in the theater back in 1977).
Elstree 1976 is far from flawless, but you know what, even in Star Wars not everything ran smoothly either. Maybe that was the director’s intent. Either way, as someone who understands the magic of Star Wars and the characters, and how it’s been a part of my life and many others, I would recommend this one for sure, if even if it’s made for the die-hard fans, and the occasionally tad biased film critic.
Elstree 1976 (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: the first time you say to yourself, “Who’s that guy?”
Take a Drink: the first time you say to yourself, “He was who again?”
Take a Double Shot: when you realize you’re not going to see much Star Wars stuff.
Take a Triple Shot: when you realize the whole documentary is about a bunch of people you haven’t heard of and still won’t be hearing about.