Elstree 1976 (2015) – Review


A review of the 2015 documentary Elstree 1976 about the actors who played bit parts in Star Wars and how that association has affected their lives

A long time ago in the summer of 1976 a bunch of working actors landed a job on a movie filming at Elstree Studios in London.

It was some kind of sci-fi movie directed by a guy named George Lucas. They would be asked to play a variety of roles. They slipped on their alien masks, their space uniforms. got their makeup done, played their parts, finished up and went about looking for their next job.

But their few days working on that set would become a special moment in their lives that would reverberate for decades. The movie they all worked on was called Star Wars. It would become one of the biggest, most popular, most beloved movies in cinema history.

Very soon anyone associated with it – no matter how small – would gain a fanbase and be remembered forever. This is the story of some of those working class actors who arrived at Elstree Studios to earn a paycheck and inadvertently became a part of movie history.

Elstree 1976 introduces us to some of the actors as they recount their experiences as working actors leading up to their destined casting. I thought their individual background stories were compelling by themselves before even getting to Star Wars.

Elstree 1976 Star Wars documentary 2015I always find it interesting to hear the circumstances that drive people to become struggling actors, what drove them to do it, what they hoped for, how they landed jobs through luck, chance and through acquaintances. It’s stories like these that remind me how life can be such a series of chance events leading to such unexpected destinations.

The destination for all these individuals is of course landing small parts in Star Wars. Fans of the movie who have heard all the tales from the production will surely be interested and the film offers their unique perspectives and anecdotes that should be brand new for many.

The final part of the film details the enduring popularity that they find themselves attached to, hence the Star Wars convention circuit. Each actor has their own view and feelings about having crowds of Star Wars fans wanting to meet them and willing to pay for their signatures. At times it is described as such a surreal existence for these people to find themselves in. The strangest thing that I learned is that there is a pecking order and some resentment between the masked actors and simple background extras from Star Wars who have ventured into the signature circuit. Star Wars certainly created some strange things.

The two biggest names that are featured are David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Jeremy Bullock (Boba Fett). Prowse is especially forthcoming explaining signing his Star Wars autographs is his main source of income in his retirement years. It’s also fun to hear about his background in bodybuilding and working on A Clockwork Orange.

The film isn’t fancy at all. It’s mainly talking head interviews, archival photos and freeze frames from Star Wars that pinpoint their appearances in it. It might not be the best or most comprehensive documentary about the world of Star Wars, but it does offer a unique angle towards it, it kept me interested and there were enough engaging stories shared that made it worth watching.


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