Elstree 1976 DVD Review: Meet the People Behind the Star Wars Masks

I love documentaries. True stories are irresistible. Maybe it’s the story of an product or invention or behind the scenes of a movie or historical event. Often, it’s a biography of an important person or group of people. The stories work best when there is a little history between the film and the event. Even if it’s your favorite movie ever, I don’t want to hear a commentary or see a documentary on Transformers: Age of Extinction. There’s just not enough perspective on how important that film is historically yet. That’s part of what is wrong with putting all the extras on a new release DVD or Blu-ray when you need to wait for the 10th Anniversary release to really know what people want to know. That’s why all of the O.J. trial shows are working right now – there’s just enough memory of the event to be interesting but not enough memory of the details so that it’s nostalgia and it’s educational.

That behind-the-scenes story of something that I’m very familiar with is what attracted me to the new DVD release from MVD Visual, Elstree 1976. The movie documents the lives of the folks that played the Stormtroopers and alien characters in the original Star Wars (1977). The title comes from the North London suburb that served as one of the locations for filming. This isn’t necessarily the story behind the filming as much as the stories of the extras and how they’ve functioned since the film exploded into the world’s biggest franchise. These are folks that were bit players in a huge film that became so famous that even they have been caught up in the shadows of this fame.

It’s not a movie about Star Wars. It’s about the people behind the masks. The stories have a pattern. They are actors with varying levels of experience that take a role in a film that they know nothing about and don’t think will become much other than a footnote in science fiction films of the 1970s. And then later they find that people are just fanatical about the film and examine it frame by frame. I was really happy that actors like Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), David Prowse (Chewbacca), and Paul Blake (Greedo) haven’t let their fame go to their heads. They seem to have a good feel for their role in a much bigger picture. Their stories are the most interesting to me because they are much larger characters in the film. And I think it’s interesting how much screen time they are given compared to some of the more minor characters. It’s only slightly more and I appreciate that from the filmmakers.

The bottom line is that this is a “talking heads” film where the actors tell their stories. There isn’t an overreaching event or plot to bring these stories together. It’s just a way to document the lives of some of the bit players. Is that interesting? Enough to purchase and watch a movie that’s just about 105 minutes? I’d have to say it is only because the actors are charming. They don’t come across as pompous jerks. The stories aren’t all unique in that they start to blur together by the end, but they are interesting. I can’t imagine what other franchise could produce a movie like this.

Elstree 1976 profiles ten of the characters. It’s a low-budget effort with lots of shots of toys and very short appearances in the original film to pull from. There just isn’t a story here that adds to the overall understanding of the fandom or the film. It’s a collection of interesting stories of people’s lives you might hear on an airplane or Uber ride. But there’s nothing groundbreaking. I think the film finds a niche on the bookshelf of Star Wars fanatics or documentary collectors (Are you out there? Message me!). Next up – let’s interview the famous Star Wars cosplayers at Comic-Con.

Shawn Bourdo

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