How was it, to work in Star Wars before it was The Star Wars? As episode 7 was shooting, director Jon Spira managed to get enough Kickstarter funds to do Elstree 1976, which interviews a series of extras from the loved fantasy film, from the guy who was inside the Darth Vader costume (infamous bodybuilder David Prowse) to one of the X-wing pilots.
We start by having a quick presentation of the interviewees (as well as their first thoughts on being offered a part in the film, which were basically “We thought it was going to be on TV”), and then Jon Spira uses the first 40 minutes of his documentary to shows us who were the people behind the costumes, from the ones that wanted a foot in the entertainment industry, to the ones that just fell into it by accident. The anecdotes about the filming of Star Wars are good and brief – we soon are introduced to the comic con economy, and as some of these minor characters managed to make a living of sorts from signing autographs and posters with silver pens.
Elstree 1976 has a great premise, and as we see the likes of For the Love of Spock and, more recently, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, there is no denial that there is a real hunger to consume more information about people involved in famous franchises. Extras and secondary characters are so often ignored that it was about time they got their spotlight. But the thing is, not everyone is as charismatic as Leonard Nimoy. Or as funny as Carrie Fisher. The men and woman presented here are, for the lack of better words, a bit on the boring side, and though we’re not sure if that is due to themselves or the way the documentary is built, the result is the same: we quickly lose interest in the stream of consciousness presented in the screen, only to be casually entertained by some okay filming anecdotes.
Our interest is not helped by the fact that Elstree 1976 has some of the worse documentary editing we have ever seen (from “I’m sure nobody will notice” ugly jump cuts as people speak, to strange cutaways and artistic choices), or by the fact that, as it ends, we’re not sure what was the point of it all. Was it to show how minor actors can be used by big corporations, as David Prowse claims (though for that we have Toni Bestard and Marcos Cabotá’s I am Your Father, centred only around Prowse’s career)? To shine some light into the comic con industry? Or just to try to get some extra cash from gullible Star Wars fans? We’ll never know.
As it stands, Elstree 1976 may appeal to the hardcore worshipper of the Force that ran out of all the other stuff to watch and read, but for the general public, it’s too devoid of watchable pleasures to justify a viewing.
Elstree 1976 is available to watch at We Are Colony. For more information, please check https://www.wearecolony.com