Sunday, 31 May 2015

Secret Cinema: Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back...

A friend of mine, Claire, invited me to a 'Secret Cinema' screening of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Which when it is hosted by someone who's 'secret' is always intriguing.

I looked it up. They'd done a similar thing the year before with the Back to the Future series of films and some of the videos from it looked really fun. Its a mixture of live action scenes mixed in with the movie. So I said yes and Claire gave me a brief that I was to be a 'Galactic Explorer' and needed to dress like one. 

I fashioned together an outfit I thought looked fairly Star Wars-y and got the train up to London with a few strange looks from the other passengers. When we neared Canada Water tube station it became clear we weren't the only ones dressed up, and the number of Jedi's, Galactic explorers and rebel pilots got thicker as we were directed down an alley way to the RebelX venue.

We were ushered towards a check in area to a big gated area of London by people swearing the crafts were leaving soon and we needed to be quick! Our bags were searched for contraband and anyone who was an Imperial who may be infiltrating the RebelX facility.... This is it. Straight away you're part of the action. You can't tell who's an actor and who's a participant as everyone is dressed up. I had my phone sealed in a super sticky foil bag and was instructed that I was not able to use it. (later realising it was to prevent undercover photo taking, it added to the experience)

A group of around a hundred of us were briefed that we were leaving on the next available ship and that we needed to be quick. Inside a huge warehouse we were shouted at by commanders and others in authority, putting us to task loading various spacecraft freight on to different platforms before being lining up in 4 lines. We were on our way to Alderaan but couldn't make it that far so had to stop off in Tattooine.

We boarded the space craft which was in a little cinema type room and 'flew' to the dock on Tattooine. Half way through the flight, as the screen showed us shooting in to warp speed, we were stopped and the ship boarded by some Imperial guard and Stormtroopers. They were looking out for rebel fighters and we were warned not to make eye contact. One guy obviously slipped up and was dragged out of his seat and removed from the ship... his fate unknown.

Finally the Imperial guards were satisfied we were just a trade ship and we were allowed to dock at Mos Eisley on the baron dusty planes of Tattooine. It was really amazing here.

The whole warehouse sized area was covered in sand with mud and straw huts everywhere. The Bith Band played some pretty funky tunes on weird african looking instruments. We took a leisurely stroll around for an hour, taking in the atmosphere, sinking some beers in the Canteena which was a really good representation from what I can remember from the films. We even saw Han solo and Chewy throwing some dice with a group of strange looking folk.

Mos Eisley (photo from the films)
We enjoyed a little light dinner in the way of a lamb Tagine sold by a black guy who had 3 tiny Jawas running around his hut, eyes glowing through their hood. I tried paying with cash but the slightly sinister looking bloke insisted on me using my 'loading card'... Mine's sponsored by Nationwide. He wouldn't trade for my pack of Death Sticks ;)

That's what's so cool. The whole thing is around you...No it is you. You participate as much or as little as you want. Every now and then there would be a little scuffle in the bar between a trader and a vendor who felt he'd been hard done by. A full sized X-34 Landspeeder casually rolled through town just as Han Solo and Luke skywalker bolted from the bar, pursued by some lazer toting guards. A little battle broke out and we all dived to the floor. The heroes managed to get away up some metal stairs and we heard them make a swift exit in the Millenium Falcon.

Jedis practiced their meditative tantras looking out to the double suns projected in the sky as Kenobi watched them pensively.

A flashing beacon and siren indicated that the next craft was due to leave from bay 93. On board I was given a few shiny polished gems and a whisper in my ear that I'd need to help our comrade once we got to our destination. I tried to ask the hooded guy who I was meant to help but he vanished in to the crowd.

After a bumpy ride in a smaller simulated craft we got off in to a huge 3 story space akin to a typical prison with balconies stretching up and a large space in the middle. We had docked on the Death Star Everyone of the 1500 participants had made their way here and wandering round through the crowds was an adventure as storm troopers marched past in formation.

On one of the balconies the legendary fight between Obi-wan and Darth Vadar and the whole crowd got really riled up, until the goodie was inevitably defeated. Then a roaring noise started and the already dim lights all but extinguished. 1500 eager Star Wars fans then started whooping and cheering as a full sized X Wing emerged at roof level 4 stories up, swaying, its burners firing jets out the back and firing Proton Topedos that shot along the length of the giant hall to a projected effect of them entering the Death Star and finally blowing it up.

It really made my hairs stand up on end. The whole place had erupted as people on the ground and the balconies all gasped, looking skyward at the spectacle.
Fantasy art of an X-Wing

We'd been in this world for around 3 hours and it was now time to watch the movie. 2 Large cinema screens awaited us in the next part of the warehouse and we all sat down, getting drinks and settling in to the film. Again whoops and cheers from the enthusiatic fans roared through the space as the distinctive Star Wars tune fired up.

At pivotal points in the film a section of the warehouse around us would get brightly lit up and actors would replicate the action on screen in real life. It was a really good effect and there were whistles and cheers as Luke got his kiss from Princess Leia. The lightsaber scenes were very well presented, with sparks flying as they missed and caught the gantry.

Claire and I had seen the film before so we snuck out and headed back to Tattooine to enjoy a few more beers and the band. Others milled about and it had a really cool bar/club feel to it.

All in all it was an amazing experience. I'm not a Secret Cinema fan.... I'm not a Star Wars fan.... but to be fully immersed in such an amazing world was really exciting and I couldn't help but get excited and involved in all of the different sections. I'm looking forward to what next years Secret Cinema experience is!

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