ELSTREE 1976 brings you to a time before A Long Time Ago

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Whether it be countless interviews, numerous books, or through documentaries, the making of the first STAR WARS film has been told in exhaustive detail.  It's really difficult to frame the film’s making in a novel way.  We've heard the details from George Lucas, the principal cast, most of the supporting players, as well as many of the folks that worked behind the cameras.  Unless you've been to conventions, a less frequently told tale is from the point of view of the tertiary cast and bit players.  ELSTREE 1976 attempts to remedy that omission with the story of ten cast members mostly from the first film.  

The film’s title comes from Elstree Studios were the stage work was completed for STAR WARS in, you guessed it, 1976.  There’re numerous details about the actual filming but that’s really just the first part of the film.   A larger part of the film centers upon the convention circuit where many of these men and women have a chance to commune with their fans.  The most amusing parts center around the divide between bit players and credited actors.  Apparently, there’s a great deal of animosity between the groups, since the folks with credits don’t deem the extras as worthy of signing autographs.  Mainly, this is because the credited actors think the extras are taking money out of their pockets.  Oh, and the other funny bit is the anger felt because the actors that wear “pots on their heads”, you know the helmeted cast, have way longer lines than the non-masked actors.  It’s pretty interesting stuff to listen to.  Hard to believe that petty bitterness can blossom when you’re an actor signing an autograph for a part you had close to forty years ago.

That said, most of the people in the picture don’t come off as petty or down with this type of behavior.  Those ideas are more through anecdotes by the cast.  I can only wonder who the douche bags are that behave this way at a convention.  I certainly wouldn’t want to give them my hard earned money.

You probably want to know just who the film centers around.  Well, even a huge STAR WARS fan may not know a good portion of these men and women very well.  The people that had the most screentime would be David Prowse (Darth Vader), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Garrick Hagon (Biggs), Angus Macinnes (Gold Leader), and Paul Blake (Greedo).  Then you have background players like Anthony Forrest (Fixer and “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.” Stormtrooper), Laurie Goode (Stormtrooper and Rebel Pilot), Pam Rose (Cantina Girl), John Chapman (Rebel Pilot), and Derek Lyons (Temple Guard).

I was born in 1973, so STAR WARS has pretty much been with me since my earliest memories.  In fact, I didn’t actually see the movie until the summer of 1978 when I was four years old, yet I was already in love.  Before seeing it, I had some of the figures, Darth Vader and R2-D2 being my first ones.  More importantly, I owned the children’s Storybook long before I actually saw the film.  So, I was well versed in the story, the look, and even the deleted scenes featuring Luke’s friend Biggs Darklighter.  From that day forward, I latched onto the character of Biggs and have considered him one of my favorites in the entire series.  

Why might you ask?  Well, it’s not just the deleted scenes, but it’s the novelization and the radio play as well.  When you see all those ancillary projects, it's obvious Biggs was a key character in Luke’s development at least from my point of view.  Hey, we all know how important point of view is in the STAR WARS films.  Am I right?  Just ask Obi-Wan Kenobi if you don’t believe me.  Anyway, I digress.  So, I’ve cosplayed as Biggs before and even had the chance to meet actor Garrick Hagon close to twenty years ago.  In the film, it was pretty cool to see the actor talk candidly about his time playing the part, and more importantly, the rage he felt upon learning most of his scenes were cut.  I don’t want to over-focus on Garrick Hagon and Biggs, because there’s a lot more going on in this film.  

Angus Macinnes comes off as the most bitter of the group.  He definitely seems to side with the credited cast against the extras.  He also hated the working conditions and had trouble doing his lines.  Essentially, George wouldn't cue him, so he’s literally reading the lines off his lap.  It’s so obvious after he mentions it!  Mind blowing that I'm still learning about a movie I’ve seen countless times!

The strangest inclusion has to be Jeremy Bulloch.  Oh, I totally get that Boba Fett is ridiculously popular and all that.  Plus Mr. Bulloch is a true gentleman.  That’s not the reason at all.  Mainly, I find it odd because Boba Fett isn't in the original film, so it kind of deviates from the titular men and women at Elstree in ‘76.  That’s a minor quibble because Mr. Bulloch’s reminiscences are all interesting and enjoyable.

ELSTREE 1976 was the brainchild of Jon Spira.  As writer/director, he asks many interesting questions of the performers and coaxes some fresh dirt about a production that we seemingly already knew everything about.  My only quibble with the direction is the usage of footage from the STAR WARS series and other films the players were involved in.  Don’t get me wrong, the actual footage usage is amazing.  A film like this would come off as totally unauthorized without the actual material.  No, it’s the strange idea to play out the shot for a few moments and then freeze and wiggle it back and forth.  I don’t know if it was to just stretch the seconds of footage on screen, but I would have prefered a simple freeze frame.  Other than that, I felt like the film was well put together and kept me interested the entire way.

ELSTREE 1976 was made possible through crowdfunding.  I’m always happy to see such a great success story produced through the kindness of everyday folks.  I wish that I had known about the movie back when it was on Kickstarter.  I would definitely have helped fund the project.  If the original trilogy is in your wheelhouse then you should think about picking it up, because everyone involved deserves your support.

Grade: 
4.5 / 5.0