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.