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

secretcinema_sw.jpg http://www.secretcinema.org/

Now that the event is over I can actually tell you about it. Secret Cinema is an organization that stages massive and immersive recreations of popular films. Last year it was Back to the Future (see YouTube Video) and a few years ago it was Blade Runner (see YouTube Video). These are huge events for large numbers of people that seek to recreate the environment and story of the films. Part of the fun of the event is that it is secretive - You sign a disclaimer on entering saying that you will not tell anyone about what you are going to see (up until the event is finished) so that it does not spoil it for those who have not yet attended. Well, the show is over now with more than 100,000 people having attended…

This year Secret Cinema set their focus on “The Empire Strikes Back”. There was a lot of criticism this year because of a marked increase in the ticket prices with this year's show costing £75. Given the lengths that the organizers went to I can say it was worth the money. An extraordinary experience.

Preparation

After purchasing our tickets earlier in the year we received emails leading up to the event. They discussed the organization of rebels against the evil empire called “RebelX”. We were given a name and profession that, in order to more fully experience the event, we were to dress up as. We were both assigned the role of “Galactic Explorer”:

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My name was “Tenel Teebo”. This posed a bit of a problem for us as the costume required things we do not have around the host so we were relieved to be told of a supply depot we could visit where we could purchase some of the items. This was an adventure itself. The depot was a small store near Brick Lane. When we arrived, there was a bit of a queue waiting to enter the shops. Several costumed figures told us to keep a low profile by crouching down and keeping an eye out for empire spies. While waiting we were also taught the secret handshake and greeting to determine if someone was a fellow rebel or not. Eventually we entered the crowded shop with boxes on the floor and exhibits of the different equipment/costumes on the walls. We made a few purchases and spent a bit of money…but given that we had already spent so much on the show we felt this would add to the experience…

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The Show

Now equipped for the show a few days before the date we received an email telling us where the departure was to occur in Eastern London. It was good to see as we left the tube station that many people had also dressed up for the performance though some did not. As we made our way towards the entrance our tickets were scanned then we were directed towards a large warehouse complex. After passing through security gates we were told to sign our disclaimers then were asked to pass through a long corridor of plastic sheeting. It was warm waiting for the queue to move forward but eventually we reached the front - “Get down and run!” We crossed over into a shipping container where we were told we had to keep a low profile and keep our scarves over our face (and reminded of the secret greeting). The doors finally opened and we made our way along a winding walkway in a warehouse to eventually come to an area where we were told to hand over our mobile phones (we knew about the requirement of no cameras or phones so had left ours behind - this actually was really good as it allowed us to simply enjoy the experience with none of the bother of taking photos) then allowed to enter. This area was stacked with more shipping containers and into one we were directed where we received further information by one of the rebels. After listening to some inspiring speeches we entered a shuttle with large video screens at the front that showed our departure from earth.

After landing we entered “customs” where our show ID was checked. It was amusing to see some of the security guards were taking some people to the side for “interrogation” but we passed through unmolested into…Tatooine.

Tatooine was the largest of the sets we would visit and it consisted of a very large, bright and warm warehouse covered in sand with tents pitched throughout. There were small stalls where you could purchase food and drink as well as places like Luke's home and the market. We quickly made our way to a tent on the far side where we had some very tasty wraps of lamb. Not entirely knowing what we were to do next we wandered around to experience things. The detail was astonishing. A landspeeder here, believable characters dressed as Jawas, a rebel run in with stormtroopers in the centre of town, a cantina selling drinks, R2-D2 and C-3PO, Luke, his aunt and uncle…All of this we were free to interact with. It was as close to being in the movie that I feel I would ever be. We had a few drinks then figured we should probably see about getting out of here as it was clear by this time we were supposed to enter the spaceport for our passage onwards - But they were demanding computer parts and other things that we simply did not have. Our purchase at the stores had included some seeds so a Jawa directed us to Luke's house (which, if you will recall, was a farm) where, due to the later hour, Luke's uncle told us to go to the spaceport immediately where they had forgotten about their requirements for passage and we joined the crush to leave the planet.

Climbing some stairs we were shown into a long rectangular room with seats on either side of the central aisle. We were directed to buckle up then the shuttle left showing us events on the main screen in front of the pilots at the front of the ship. We were headed to Alderaan but, as soon as we arrived, we witnessed it's destruction by the Death Star. We redirected to a rebel base where we entered an enormous hanger with multiple levels. Wandering around for a few minutes the experience resumed with the lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi on a walkway high up in the middle of the room. Eventually this part of the show climaxed in a full-sized x-wing fighter coming down from the ceiling and destroying the death star.

At this point, the showing of the movie actually begins. There were three large seating areas just off the hanger where three screens were set up. We were shown the entirety of the Empire Strikes Back with live action taking place in the walkways above us - Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, etc. The acting was very believable with the actors mouthing the words in sync with the action on the screen…quite effective.

Conclusion

Wow. The people that did this show obviously love the films. The meticulous level of detail and the efforts they went though were truly staggering. It took us a while to get into what we were meant to be doing but once we did it made things a lot more interesting.

To be honest, I did worry a bit about how much we should actually prepare for this: How much was expected of us in advance of the show. As it turns out, this was nothing to worry about as everyone had a great time no matter what. Sure, some REALLY went to town with the costumes and such but we did not feel out of place at all with our small efforts. I realize now that it was more a matter of simply making the effort to live the experience which made it so interesting.

An incredible experience. Once in a life time? Yeah…

Update: December 22nd, 2015

Secret Cinema presents Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

This Summer, in a secret location in London, 100,000 adventurous rebels lived in the world of Star Wars. Here is the film of their journey. Secret Cinema is changing the way you experience Cinema. Tell No One.We return with a new secret world in 2016. Apply now to become a part of it: www.secretcinema.org/tickets

Posted by Secret Cinema on Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Rating:

Review Date: 2015-06-07



Secret Location

Location: London (England)

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