Secret Cinema Presents: The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)

The Secret Cinema Presents: Empire Strikes Back event was easily the most immersive cinema experiences I have ever been involved with, and it will probably never be beaten. Having spent £70 on each of the two tickets, my wife and I understandably had a bit of trepidation. I can honestly say that it was worth every penny.

The event actually kicked off way before the day with a steady trickle of emails about the rebellion, the empire and things like that. We had to fill out a personality test, which resulted in me being a Galactic Explorer. This drove the costume recommendations, which consisted mainly of a white-to-cream loose shirt, beige trousers, a utility belt, boots, goggle and, most importantly, a tan and black shemagh scarf.

We were provided with precise co-ordinates to go to, near Canada Water Tube Station in London. We arrived early and were amazed to see that most cafes were shutting long before the 5:30pm entry time. This was clearly a ridiculous move as hundreds of people descended on the site every day hoping to get something to eat or drink. Never mind. Just a few thousand galactic credits lost there over the summer.

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

Once there, we were lined up by reasonably aggressive security guards, moved into a holding area and quickly briefed about what the situation was. We were told we were under surveillance by The Empire and they’d released a toxic gas into the atmosphere. We therefore had to cover our faces up with our scarves and keep low as we ran through a couple of corridors into a large hangar, where our phones were heat-sealed [1].

Once in the hangar we received rudimentary training and had a quick physical fitness test before being put into a spaceship (a simulator ride) and transported to the next area. This is where the real fun began as we all realised we were at the space port Mos Eisley on the planet Tatooine.

The moment of realising we were now IN the film at this point was overwhelming. Basically, the plan was to live in A New Hope before we watched The Empire Strikes Back on the big screen. It was impossible to take in at first. My wife is a ridiculous addict to Star Wars and was giddy with excitement for a good twenty minutes. The attention to detail was superb.

We went straight into interacting with actors in character. We chatted with Obi-Wan Kenobi, who informed us where we needed to go to trade spice to board the ship to leave Mos Eisley. We traded our seeds with Luke’s Uncle Ben for a circuit board, which we then traded with a Jawa, who we annoyed by stealing our original circuit board back and re-trading for a second pack of spice. We got cheated out of a game of Sabacc by Lando, before he was busted by a security guard and put in prison. We nipped into the Cantina to see the band playing away and grabbed a glass of some space-themed odd cocktail, before witnessing the famous Han v Greedo scene. We chatted with Han and Chewbacca for a while. I even got taken aside by a guard at one point and had to sing Moon River to get out of trouble. Very bizarre!

It was just great fun to be in there and the fact that everyone was in character and stuck to it just added to the occasion. Very quickly all the general punters were fully in character too.

The reason the scarf was important was that it sort of overruled the exact costume choices – we were given a goal once in there to trade some spice to get onto a spaceship and the trading material was dependent on the colour of your scarf. It was quite a simple means for the actors to identify the faction each person belonged to, especially since some people had made no effort with their clothing.

When the time came, we departed to the Death Star as we neared the end of A New Hope. Apparently the time at which we left drove what we saw when we arrived at Alderaan – we were in the middle so flew straight into an asteroid field (just like the film), though some saw the explosion happen and others arrived to find nothing there. Once on the Death Star, we were put in prison briefly before breaking out and witnessing the end of the film, lightsaber battles and all [2].

When the film began, everyone quickly settled in. Throughout the film actors and actresses appeared on the stage to act out key scenes and segments for us all to enjoy. This was a nice touch. It was a pleasure to be able to watch the film (if you’re interested, it was the 2004 version with Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor) with such a large group of avid Star Wars fans, all cheering and booing at the same time. It created a unique atmosphere that won’t be forgotten for a long time.

The best thing about the event was rejuvenating our love for Star Wars. As soon as we got home, Return of the Jedi was straight on the television (the original theatrical cut, if you’re interested). This Secret Cinema event has done wonders for the interest in The Force Awakens.

There hasn’t been an announcement about the next Secret Cinema event but regardless of the film choice it will be something to look out for next summer.

[1] This was probably the smartest move of all. Sitting there in the Cantina in a completely different world only to look over to see someone uploading a selfie to Facebook would have completely ruined the immersion. Well played Secret Cinema. You pre-empted the douchebag idiots.

[2] A special mention has to be said for the choreography and abilities of the actors during the battles. Perfectly in sync, excellently executed.

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2 Comments

  1. […] Reviews THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971) The Star Wars Holiday Special (Steve Binder, 1978) Secret Cinema Presents: The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kirschner, 1980) Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (John Korty, 1984) Star Wars: Episodes I-III (George Lucas, […]

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