Hundreds of actors work on a film production but only a phenomenon as huge and unique as Star Wars really make fans interested in basically every single one of them, including the extras and the masked performers.
This real fascination towards the not-very-known actors behind the helmet of Darth Vader and Boba Fett, or the mask of Greedo, is the single reason why a documentary like Elstree 1976 exists; but it’s a fascination that, at least for director Jon Spira, goes beyond the geeky desire of getting an autograph from them. The documentary allow the actors that played minor roles in the original Star Wars to tell their own stories, many times not related at all with George Lucas’ world or cinema.
Elstree 1976 essentially answers three questions: 1) How these players ended in a London suburb working under the direction of a young American filmmaker named George Lucas?; 2) What are their biggest memories of the filming?; 3) How the unexpected success of Star Wars affected their lives?
That’s more or less the structure that the film follows, but there are several other themes that come along. The major one is definitely looking at one’s own life, which includes accepting those decisions made that eventually changed the path, celebrating the special moments, and also looking forward to new possibilities. The actors featured share one thing: none of them really “made it” in the show business as far as stardom goes. Some of them still get acting gigs, others have been doing different stuff for a long time, and even one of them lists Star Wars as his main source of income.
One of the extras, who also had minor roles in such films as The Shining and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, indicates most of the actors and creative people in general have faced depression, however he is now at a much better stage of his life. In a way, Elstree 1976 works as catharsis for some of its protagonists; they don't seem to be truly bitter about not being a star as big as Mark Hamill, but really satisfied and blessed with their Star Wars experience and so many other ventures they have had along the way. The entertainment business is not everything, clearly, and these former (or current) actors are, above all, humans with many experiences and great insight about life.
At the same time, Elstree 1976 works perfectly as a fun Star Wars behind-the-scenes. Who better than these people to revive Lucas’ production way back when nobody knew exactly what was all about? The general verdict is that the film felt like an independent project; however once everybody went to the sets, they all felt something special, out of this world.
The documentary presents fantastic anecdotes as well, that before were pretty much exclusive to those geeks that constantly attend Star Wars conventions to talk with the actors. Elstree 1976 proves that such apparently insignificant or just-for-the-hardcore-fans tales as the rebel pilot who had to read his lines, the Stormtropper that accidentally hit his head, or the actors that were cut from the final version; are not just worthy but essential stories for a better representation of the human aspect behind a space opera.
The film opens in the U.S. on Friday, May 6 at select theaters via FilmRise. Visit the official site for theaters and locations. It will also be available to watch via various Video On Demand platforms.