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Film review: "Elstree 1976"


Director Jon Spira deserves credit for finding a fresh angle on a well-worn topic. Focusing on the making of the original "Star Wars," Spira's wistful documentary "Elstree 1976" (the title refers to the studio just outside of London where the film was shot) uses interviews with 10 supporting actors, bit players, and extras as they reminisce about what it was like making what everyone at the time thought was going to be just a silly, low-budget science fiction movie for kids.

Among the more notable performers interviewed are David Prowse, the man who was inside the Darth Vader suit; Paul Blake, who played Greedo; and Jeremy Bulloch, who came into the franchise later as Boba Fett. Most however, portrayed briefly-glimpsed X-Wing pilots, anonymous Stormtroopers, or denizens of the cantina on MosEisley. It's a testament to either George Lucas' attention to detail or eye for merchandising potential that every character -- no matter how insignificant -- received not only a name, but an action figure representation. As more than one performer points out, it's not every unknown actor who gets to be immortalized in plastic. It's a strange space to occupy: None of the interviewees went on to particularly illustrious careers -- and few would call them famous -- yet many regularly make the rounds of promotional events and conventions where fans still stand in line to get their autographs.

"Elstree 1976" may not satisfy diehard fans looking for juicy tidbits on the making of the film (though at this point, there's not much material that hasn't been covered), but it's compelling as a modest human interest story. As the various performers reflect on where their lives and careers went after their time a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, most agree that they're grateful for their minor place in film history. As they're well aware, it's more than most ever get.