Movie: Elstree 1976 (2015)

A lot of people are involved in the production of any movie and, in a movie like Star Wars, there’s an unusually great number of people who were extras, or played minor characters and were unrecognizable under helmets or in latex masks. 

Elstree 1976 is a documentary about some of those actors, people of various backgrounds who just happened to be in a movie that became a massive cultural phenomenon.  At the time, none of these people thought of the picture they were making as anything special.  At least one of the actors interviewed thought it was something being made for television.

We start with snippets of each interview subject while the action figure of their respective character is displayed.  The screen goes white for one actor, who laments there never was an action figure for their character.  That’s a nice touch.

And this is a movie of nice moments.  I am surprised by how harsh it has been regarded in some circles, with it frequently being dismissed with such terms as “scraping the bottom of the barrel”. 

For those who came into this documentary expecting interviews with the key players, you will be sorely disappointed.  The biggest star here is David Prowse, who played Darth Vader, albeit with James Earl Jones doing the actual voicework.  Prowse comes across as a gentle giant and is immediately likeable.  Probably my favorite moment in this film is when he is discussing his favorite role: a superhero in a PSA who teaches children the importance of crossing roads safely.

Here are people whose only connection is they were in Star Wars.  We learn about their lives before appearing in that film, what their experience was like during filming, and what their lives were like afterwards.  This is a celebration of lives, not the lives of legendary people or even people who were the most beloved characters—just relatively ordinary people who shared a transformative experience.

It has been said there are no small roles, only small actors.  Elstree 1976 is a beautiful study of some people who were in small roles, but who are fully human and whose lives are as rich as yours or mine.

Dir: Jon Spira

Watched on blu-ray