What did we ever do when we were home sick before streaming services? Whatever it was I don’t remember and I don’t want to. Keeping myself sane and entertained this weekend, Netflix has delivered. I’ve made it almost all the way through The Fall with Gillian Anderson (reviewing coming for that) but in taking a break from dairies of a serial killer I put on Elstree 1976, a documentary about the character actors that made up the bulk of the people you see onscreen in Star Wars. Given the legendary status of Star Wars, literally every character that is visible on screen for even a few seconds has be given a name and a relevant background in some cases. Ironically enough while we know the names of such characters as Leesub Sirln or Bib Fortuna, but we generally can’t name the actor behind that character, and certainly can’t name any other role they’ve portrayed. Elstree 1976 gives you a peak into the lives of these uncredited film extras and their stories of being a part of one of the biggest film franchises in history.
The documentary certainly holds the promise of showing you some secrets and behind the scenes magic to one of the most enduring and well loved sci-fi films of all times. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite make good on that promise. At least 20 minutes sails by before there is even a clip of Star Wars shown, the most notable actor shown, David Prowse, isn’t on screen until at least half an hour into the documentary. I understand them trying to show you the human side to these unsung actors to give you a bit of background on the making of Star Wars, but the pace is just too slow and the stories relayed too uneventful to be really captivating. Not to be mean but most of these people literally stumbled into their parts on the film…there isn’t much of interest in hearing a British character actor talk about they bumped into a casting director in their local pub and then got the part because they shared a drunken cab ride home. At one point they had been showing some of the more obscure characters and their action figures or place in the film…I wish they had continued with that to give you more of a frame of reference for exactly who these people were.
Most of these people have joined the convention circuit and supplement their regular day jobs by selling autographs. Ironically there is competition even in anonymity. Since the majority of these roles are uncredited, there is some dispute as to exactly who is on screen as a given Stormtrooper in a particular scene (evidently several actors have come forward as “Stormtrooper Who Bumps His Head”. There is also apparently a percentage of fakes that have joined these actors on the autograph lines, promoting themselves as being part of the legend, while actually never having played any role at all. Perhaps the saddest story is from David Prowse who now famously has had his share of spats with Lucas Films to the point of being permanently banned from both Star Wars Celebration and Disney’s Star Wars conventions. He claims to have no real idea of why this is the case. I’ve read several theories, some dating back to the 80’s where Prowse supposedly let slip the huge spoiler of his relationship with Luke BEFORE the premiere of Empire Strikes Back. While that certainly must have been a big deal at the time if it is indeed true, you would think they could forgive the 80 year old actor and let him join his fellow actors in buttering their bread in the autograph lines.
The film was partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, and while I applaud the tenacity of John Spira to get his documentary made, he could have saved himself some money and the viewers a bit of time by making this about an hour shorter. There just isn’t enough relevant material to fill 90+ minutes of screen time. Some of the stories told were almost to the point of being embarrassing…just grabs at trying to milk some sort of importance out of a non-speaking role that was onscreen for less than a minute. While it was nice to see the people happy for their 15 minutes of fame, even the actors themselves had to admit they didn’t appreciate what was handed to them at the time and largely forgot about it till the smell of money brought them out of the woodwork to relive their time just outside of the spotlight.
Not everything we see is great, but I try to keep my reviews positive, the idea to give you something to watch that maybe you haven’t come across or considered watching before. In this instance, that just isn’t the case. As much of a Star Wars fan as I am, this just wasn’t entertaining at all…in fact its was quite depressing. Something about endless stories of lost opportunities or passive aggressive competition in these people was just too much for me. I wrote this review to give you a heads up in case you consider giving it a shot, keep the fast forward button handy on your remote 😉