Review by C.J. Bunce
Written and directed by Jon Spira and funded via Kickstarter, a documentary about the making of the original Star Wars is now available in the U.S. via Netflix after a release last year in the UK and limited-city U.S. theatrical release this summer. Elstree 1976 is a time travel trip to visit some of the more obscure actors who portrayed characters and, except for Darth Vader actor Dave Prowse, would not make either the poster credits or, for some, even the movie’s end credits.
Yet each of the characters they portrayed became known by diehard Star Wars fans because of its historic success. Spira’s documentary asserts 2 billion people on Earth have seen Star Wars–something like 25% of the planet’s population. Perhaps even a fleeting image of an actor in such a universally acknowledged work justifies our fascination with even the most obscure bit player (see George Lucas’s Frames, reviewed here and here at borg.com, for instance). Remember the Stormtrooper who uttered the line “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for… move along”? What about Luke’s friends from the deleted Tatooine scenes? Or one of the actors who claims to be the Stormtrooper who cracked his head on the door aboard the Death Star?
Spira selected ten actors to be featured in his film. Hundreds more could be seen in a similar documentary or documentaries made tomorrow. But what fascinates is that just as Star Trek actors will tell you about how you never leave Star Trek once you play any part in the franchise, the same holds true for Star Wars. The convention circuit has breathed new life into careers and new opportunities to make money. Unlike many films about fans of big franchises, this documentary is quite respectful of the fans, not showing them as oddities. Most of the actors interviewed are respectful and grateful to the fanbase, too. The only downside is the uncomfortable politics of the convention circuit among these actors–a few see themselves as a higher status of guest and believe others should not be going to conventions, which sort of misses the point of conventions altogether.
The documentary includes interviews with actors who filmed scenes at Elstree Studios in England in 1976. The most well-known are David Prowse (Darth Vader), Jeremy Bulloch (The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi’s Boba Fett), and Garrick Hagon (Biggs Darklighter), whose scenes were cut by director George Lucas, only to be re-inserted into the Special Edition in the 1990s. Other actors included are Paul Blake (Greedo), Anthony Forrest (Luke’s friend Fixer and the Jedi mind-tricked Sandtrooper), Laurie Goode (Stormtrooper and cantina patron Saurin), Derek Lyons (temple guard/medal bearer), Angus MacInnes (Gold Leader), Pam Rose (cantina patron Leesub Sirln) and John Chapman (X-Wing pilot Red 12).
Hagon, Lyons, and MacInnes went on to appear in countless movies as background actors or appearing with small speaking parts. Hagon appeared recently in a large role in RED 2. Lyons was in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. MacInnes went on to appear in Hellboy, Vikings, and Captain Phillips. Bulloch has been a working actor for most of the past 40 years, appearing in James Bond movies and television series. Prowse, who lives in the U.K., recently announced he was no longer attending events abroad, presumably for health/travel reasons. He is 81. Lucasfilm has never shared why Prowse was not asked to return for the prequels or later films like Rogue One– he was the key cast member who did not return for even a cameo.
Here’s the trailer for the documentary Elstree 1976:
A must for Star Wars diehard fans and fans of documentaries like the 7-Up Series, Elstree 1976 is available now on Netflix.