Review: Secret Cinema Presents Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

POSTER Secret Cinema Presents Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back 280x206 HiResPssst, don’t tell anyone, but Secret Cinema have followed up their wildly popular Back to the Future experience with screenings of The Empire Strikes Back somewhere far, far away in London. I’ll tell you what I can, but be aware that many Bothan spies died to bring us this information…

As safe bets go, screening the world’s favourite Star Wars film in the year that the new instalment is coming out is a pretty sound one. Star Wars fever is hotting up as the appetite for all things Jedi ratchets up another gear. But unlike the Star Wars at Madame Tussaud’s exhibition which positively encourages you to share, socialise and cover every square inch of content, Secret Cinema is by its very definition something not to be spoiled or shared, which makes it difficult to review.

In an age where little is secret (leaked set photos, leaked scripts, screener copies online) how refreshing that the rebel scum that turn up for the show know little more than the fact that they’re about to watch Episode V in a unique context and that they need to bring certain props and a head scarf to match their designated faction.

I’m sure that a bit of digging round the Dark Side of the Internet might reveal the highlights from those disinclined to honour the secrecy pledge that is at the heart if the experience. But don’t succumb. Instead, if you can stump up the money, it’s a great investment. Is it worth £75 to watch a film that you probably already previously watched multiple times on the big screen and owned on VHS, DVD and BluRay? The answer is a resounding yes, because it’s not just about the film, it’s everything that surrounds it.

Photo by Paul Cochrane

Photo by Paul Cochrane

Ahead of the event, ticket holders were invited to the Secret Nightclub in East London or to the pop-up RebelX Store where they could buy supplies and kit to match their pre-assigned rank and group. Cosplay taken to the nth degree or just more examples of how immersive the experience was? Departing the [redacted] tube station we soon found ourselves in the company of others following the pre-instruction to cover our faces and look out for Imperial forces. Admittedly, wearing a headscarf and goggles on a commuter train is probably NOT the best way to keep under the radar.

With mandatory Star Wars name and ID to hand (mandatory to get in – I was Myles Raas the mercenary) this was the only way you were entering the site. Once inside the environment it was very easy to forget that you were barely five minutes away from a TFL tube stop. With mobile phones sealed in silver bags and a strict ‘no photography’ rule enforced it was also easy to focus on what was going on around you rather than jockeying for the best angle to take a selfie from.

Photo by Mike Massaro

Photo by Mike Massaro

The activity takes place under cover in a [redacted], converted to represent a series of Star Wars locales – nope, not telling you which. As you’d hope, there are actors/performers dressed as recognisable characters from the saga. There’s also hardware, vehicles, a droid or two and a cool bounty hunter. Some of the paying punters have such good costumes that you don’t know if they are staff or viewer, and that’s all part of the charm; no-one breaks character at any stage, making the illusion complete.

Remember that party where you looked stupid in full Darth Vader regalia? Well this time those in regular civvies look the weirdos. This is a fully immersive world where Earth is the alternate reality. You can be a passive observer and watch the stories unfold or you can engage in character, trading objects and undergoing side missions and tasks.

And then after some very neat reveals the film comes on. Enhanced with synchronised light show, every laser bolt reverbs round the auditorium and there’s also stormtroopers doing various Empire business at the side.

Turn the soundtrack off and we could all collectively recite the dialogue (Harrison Ford might disagree – “You can type this shit, but you sure can’t say it”) or hum along to John Williams’ themes at all the right places. So, if it’s not about discovering the film for the first time, what is it about? Simply, it’s a sense of community. It’s about sharing a prized possession with a group of similarly committed devotees.

Photo by Olivia Weetch

Photo by Olivia Weetch

Verdict: It’s about being 10 years’ old again and remembering that for a first generation fan things don’t get much better than this. Me to Secret Cinema: “I love you.” Secret Cinema to me: “I know!” 10/10

Nick Joy

SECRET CINEMA Presents STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: runs now until 27th September 2015 http://www.secretcinema.org/tickets

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