Elstree 1976 (FilmRise, NR)

The film would be more successful if it were trimmed down to 20 minutes.


There’s a certain class of documentaries that are attention-grabbing and look good on a Netflix queue but turn out to be only mildly interesting. This is one of them. Elstree refers to the location and studio that a large majority of Star Wars was shot on (1976 referring to the year of said production), and the film profiles more than a handful of the film’s many bit actors. I hesitate to say anything negative about the film. The good intentions shine through, and on the whole, it’s competently made and well shot. But there isn’t much to say other than that. Being only a mild Star Wars fan, I didn’t get much out of watching it, and I imagine even Star Wars fanatics will feel a little disappointed.

Among the many actors interviewed, David Prowse and Jeremy Bulloch are the most notable, playing Darth Vader (in the costume) and Boba Fett, respectively. Prowse gets a lot of interview time, whereas Bulloch shows up towards the second half of the film in a weird reveal that feels like it’s meant to be a surprise (for what reason I’m not sure). These two actors are the most interesting to listen to, having had eventful careers and a lot to say about the making of Star Wars and their place in its history. Many other talking heads are lesser-known working actors who played storm troopers or Rebel pilots are shown, but since they aren’t recognizable characters from Star Wars, they aren’t as interesting to watch. Nevertheless, we learn a lot about their lives and careers, from the early days to their current endeavors.

This hits on the central problem of Elstree 1976. There are too many long stretches of non-Star Wars related material. Getting to know the actors who played smaller parts in Star Wars like Greedo, one of the commanding Rebel pilots, and even a character named Fixer that got cut from the final film, is a promising concept. But the film loses its way by becoming a mish-mash of short biographies of former working actors instead of rumination on the film that made them famous. Star Wars fans looking to hear veteran actors talk shop about their favorite movie are going to be let down. The film would be more successful if it were trimmed down to 20 minutes and included as a special feature on an actual Star Wars release.

I feel a bit conflicted by criticizing it in this way, because the subjects in the film are unique and want their stories to be told. Many of these actors are unknown, unappreciated, and not well remembered. The filmmakers clearly felt they deserved some sort of recognition and appreciation. It’s a nice gesture that unfortunately doesn’t yield interesting cinema. If they were able to focus only on the actors that had significant roles such as Prowse and Bulloch, and stretched out the time spent talking about the actual production of Star Wars, we’d have a different movie on our hands, and a better one. | Nic Champion

Elstree 1976 is being distributed by FilmRise and will arrive June 28 on DVD. There are no extras.

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