Every person has a story, and everyone is the protagonist of their own life. And never has that been truer in a movie than with Star Wars—in the years since the film came out, literally every background character has been given a name, species, backstory, and sometimes much more. In that spirit, Elstree 1976 seeks out the real backstories and lives of some of the performers who played these denizens of the galaxy far, far away, almost all of whom have scene-specific action figures based on their performances.
Oddly, though, this documentary throws in Dave Prowse (Darth Vader) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) as well, who played two of Star Wars‘ most iconic villains. And technically, Bulloch was not a part of the ’76 production at all, as Boba Fett initially entered the series in The Empire Strikes Back. Even now that he’s been digitally retconned in to Episode IV, it isn’t Bulloch playing him there.
The movie’s major take-away? Dave Prowse deserves his own documentary. The rest of them seem a little arbitrary, in the end. Were the focus entirely on non-actors who were extras, that would be one thing. But here, some are career actors like Garrick Hagon (Biggs) and Paul Blake (one of three performers who played Greedo), while you also have That Guy Who Was One of the Pilots in the Briefing Room, who seems totally bemused that fans ask for his autograph. The latter draws the wrath of Angus McInnes (Gold Leader) who insists that non-billed extras should not take credit for being “actors” of any sort, and the fact that this discussion remains oblique rather than becoming an actual conflict is a real missed opportunity, dramatically (especially when you have production stills like the one below which proves there were opportunities to show cast members interacting). It is nonetheless as close as the movie gets to a climax.
Prowse’s interviews consistently leave you wanting to know more: about his hospitalization for a year as a child, his bodybuilding career stymied by ugly feet, his work with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange, and his lifetime ban from official Star Wars conventions and Disney park events. At the time of production, he had plans on starting a fitness program to become the world’s healthiest eighty year-old; why, you may wonder, did director Jon Spira not chronicle that journey instead?
But it’s only fair to review the movie that exists, rather than the one I might have wanted to see. As such, I can say that I learned some trivia tidbits I didn’t know before, realized that the sculpts of Star Wars figures look more haphazard in super close-up, and found the decision to shoot new footage of fake extras hanging out on a simulated Star Wars set odd and unnecessary. I also question the need to make a documentary like this if you aren’t looking to get anything that official Disney/Lucasfilm sources wouldn’t approve of; with the exception of Prowse, whose reason for estrangement isn’t even made clear in this film, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done better on official Star Wars DVD extras. Maybe not with the exact same people, but that scarcely matters much except, yet again, for…say it with me…Prowse. To quote a slightly unrelated bit of pop culture, “It’s time! It’s Vader time!”
Star Wars completists will want to see Elstree 1976 regardless, and my only admonition is that they will likely regret paying full theater price to do so. Nonetheless, for adding slightly to my vast databanks of Lucas-universe trivia, I will say, in my best Unkar Plutt voice, “What you have brought me today is worth two portions of burrito.”
Would you support a full Dave Prowse movie? Are you interested in Elstree 1976? Let me know below.
Images: MVD Entertainment Group