Elstree 1976 Examines Life as an Extra on Star Wars


We already know that there’s no escaping fame if you’re in any way associated with the biggest movie franchise of all time. But if you’re an actor or actress in Star Wars, there’s a big difference in your celebrity experience if you’re Harrison Ford compared to, say, the stormtrooper who bumped his head on the Death Star door. And while plenty of material over the years has been devoted to examining the big names in the series, there’s precious little work focusing on some of the bit players in the saga.

Elstree 1976, a new documentary from Jon Spira, seeks to pull back the curtain on the original 1977 film and show us the characters behind the masks and costumes who played roles both iconic and invisible. It features in-depth interviews with 10 thespians who were part of the filming on the first film, and how the resulting fame has affected their lives since.

Some of the names will instantly ring a bell for fans familiar with the franchise, such as Jeremy Bulloch (who played Boba Fett) and David Prowse (who performed as Darth Vader on set while James Earl Jones provided the voice). Others may only be recognizable to the most diehard acolytes of the series, like Paul Blake (Greedo) and Angus MacInnes (an X-Wing pilot).

Based off of the trailer above, the film, named after the studio where George Lucas shot A New Hope, looks to explore some interesting angles that most examinations of Star Wars rarely touch on. How did actors deal with being in the biggest film of all time, knowing that nothing would ever equal the experience again? What was it like being a part of a huge cultural phenomenon while at the same time being engulfed in its shadow?

If you’ve ever been to a Star Wars convention, or any nerd gathering in general that featured celebrities, you’ve likely already seen the idea of degrees of fame manifested in reality. At Star Wars Celebration in April, which I attended, the line to obtain Bulloch’s autograph consisted of dozens of people; but if you wanted to meet Nien Nunb, you could just walk right up and shakes hands with John Ciarlone, the actor who played him.

Spira previously examined the Oxford music scene in his only feature, the documentary Anyone Can Play Guitar, but for this entry, it looks like he’ll be tackling the trappings of nostalgia and how even the faintest whiff of fame can play tricks with your mind.

Next: New Force Awakens Character Posters Revealed

The film is still looking for funding, so if you have a few extra credits, feel free to visit its Kickstarter page here. It’s already screened in Australia, but hopefully it will be finished before the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December. Which begs the question if we’ll ever get a documentary about the extras in that film someday.