|"Something out of a dream", made real! SECRET CINEMA: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. All images: SECRET CINEMA.|
The four-month long immersion into the worlds of Classic STAR WARS may now be over, but Scott Weller recalls just what a good time over 100,000 fans (including a few disguised cast and crew from The Force Awakens) had during this highly ambitious, very special, and surely to be fondly remembered, recreation of George Lucas’ universe.
Opening night: June 4th, 2015
Arriving at the picturesque cuboid waterside of Canada Water at London’s Docklands around 5pm-ish, with only the local duck pond and other inhabitants oblivious to what was soon going on, my party of Rebel X initiates (where I was now officially in my new identity as “Galactic Explorer” Silas Krell!) were quickly herded by efficient stewards, our scarves up and in as incognito a fashion as possible into the main entry point through large tented sections, where we entered a hangar area and found ourselves taking part as maintenance workers shifting all manner of equipment around until boarding our Star Tours-esque simulator outbound Rebel Transport (but without the floor bouncing around beneath us!). The massive one side to the other screen graphic showed our departing Earth and swiftly jumping to Hyperspace for arrival on the desert world of Tatooine- where we had been pre-warned to prepare for possible sandstorms!
The location chosen for SECRET CINEMA would be a converted former printing newspaper printing plant that had been so prevalent in that part of London back in the day, before pioneer Eddie Shah came along to transform everything- its length and size converted, its orienting middle section removed - perfect to house the worlds of STAR WARS.
Once out of the pod, where Imperial officers and Stormtroopers would do a flash inspection and take people away, we proceeded through the imperial checkpoint, where we had to show our credentials to an actress wearing a large domed alien head certainly giving lots of strict rudeness to all and sundry (especially children), and then we entered our first vista- a recreation of Tatooine and Mos Eisley, in front of a splendid twin suns painted backdrop, enthused attendees got to Luke’s igloo home and later his enormous landspeeder, Ben Kenobi’s pad, Aunt Beru’s dining area (with added blue milk!), a look at an decaying Imperial jail (bars perfect for crumbling!) with Stormtroopers patrolling on the lookout for potential rebels and troublemakers to arrest (Actor/singer Goldie was the secret prisoner of the day to watch out for-his face posted around various areas).
That esteemed and feared bounty hunter Boba Fett coolly walked the sandy and packed streets, filled with additional Bedouins atmospherically set dressed (to doe Roger Christian proud) with exotic props, set decorations and exotic aromas- a giant plane wing in the middle of the set representing a spaceship crash. Plus a small used droid lot featuring the domed droid and the spider droid seen in and outside the Jawa Sandcrawler (sadly no sign of it that expansive vehicle here, though).
Two Jawas became swiftly obsessed with stealing or rifling through the contents of my man bag, and whom I had to swiftly move away and shout “utini” at. There was also petulant Luke being told off for childish behaviour by his stern Uncle Owen. A well-costumed Aunt Beru could also be seen navigating her way on all the floors. Sadly, no Biggs, Camie, or the Fixer.
People around me with equal cosplay enthusiasm, though some didn’t have the chance-literally coming straight from work. Additionally, some of the ladies were dressed in costumes that weren’t anything like Princess Leia’s but they were nonetheless very pleasing to this guy’s eyes! Though things would change later, this day wasn’t anything like the cosplaying you’d get at an official CELEBRATION event- you could see that there was more a collection of film fans mixed with the STAR WARS enthusiasts, just as happy to relax, booze up and take it all in whilst watching things all unfold.
The Cantina Bar interior recreation was excellent and much needed after thirty minutes in the smoke and incensed fuelled atmosphere, of which my throat was parched. I never saw the price of a single drink, paid via my Connectcard, but I know it was probably one of the priciest Cokes I’ve ever had. A Moroccan type band also played nearby. If only someone could have dressed up as Wuher. “No blasters, no blasters!”
Back into the main square, more shady characters were starting to emerge, though a few more villains would have been nice-perhaps an unsuspecting Sandpeople attack would have added some happy shocks. Then Han and Chewie made their first appearance, literally bursting out of the Imperial jail, of which the soon assembled crowd around them smiled and cheered.
More Imperial Stormtroopers and sneery officers walked around, with dealers talking with accents not unlike Wattoo. Plus selected Rebel infiltrators with secret messages, on the lookout for particular scarf-wearing in-character guests to interact with, giving them assignments and practical tasks to carry out.
Having visited and seen all I could of Tatooine, I discovered a shuttle was ready to go elsewhere, of which I climbed the metal clanging stairs to it, ready for what was to come, but not before I had to manoeuvre past the attendant, offering her some special seeds (pinched from my garden shed!) as a payment method to get onboard.
Back into space, our shuttle- a more tense atmosphere than before, was soon intercepted by TIE fighters and the tractor beam of the fierce Death Star whose grip and nearby docking bay we were soon taken into, amongst red alert blares and klaxons.
Being an early arrival on the Death Star, captured by a Rebel posing as an Imperial Stormtrooper who had no choice but to take prisoners, I and a small party were escorted through the cell bay, which, at that time being quite empty, I have to say had a strong aura and atmosphere about it, effectively repressive, what with Stormtroopers roaming around separately or in pairs, Imperial commanders both male and female on alert for intruders or escapees. Having seen the captured Princess Leia, I immediately shouted out a promise to rescue her and found myself separated from my small party for doing this, locked up in an opposite cell with a cloaked Jedi. We soon broke out thanks to his latent abilities in the mysterious hocus-pocus that is the Force. On the way back to the docking level, we bumped into the ominous figure of Darth Vader, of which I go the Goosebumps in this darkened environment. Having vowed to rescue Princess Leia, my trip back to the upper levels saw rooms full of weird objects, security camera areas and other props well positioned, plus some weird and effective sound design emanating from the all-around speakers– a nice homage to Ben Burtt’s work. Soon after, on the main overhead walkways, some classic scenes from A New Hope would be enacted: Leia’s meeting with Vader on the Blockade Runner, and her being forced to watch the destruction of Alderaan in front of the Dark Lord and the ruthless Tarkin, plus the duel between Obi-Wan and Vader that was very well done and incorporated some new lightsaber clashing moves, including several Force pushes from both opponents, and ending with Obi-Wan disappearing into smoke filled nothingness.
As Grand Moff Tarkin proudly and mindfully walked along the floor levels, proudly checking the grim militaristic might of his Empire, I proceeded to the end corridor bar, which was very militaristic- packed with patrons being happily taken away and arrested at varying points if the bartenders thought you were being rude. Imperial security was also monitoring from a glass covered cubicle station, too. A wall side huge monitor screen on the far left end of the environment showed Death Star computer graphics and schematics instrumentation readings, and the destruction of Alderaan as seen in the film.
My feet ready for more wandering, I saw Leia once more, the lovely actress playing her surely thinking I was quite mad when I enthusiastically shouted out at her, “Long live Alderaan!”
Around the huge floor level and two upper levels of grating plated walkways, other role playing scenarios were going on- the many selected actors clearly having a blast, with some detainees even becoming initiated as Stormtroopers- notably two small children in little outfits far too big for them- a true sight to see! - who soon became a part of one of the patrolling units. Great fun!
As the room finally filled to a weighty capacity, after about twenty minutes, the reenactments continued with the ceiling showing a recreated Millennium Falcon engine blasting away from the Death Star. Its a shame they couldn’t recreate the Death Star escape (more on this with visit two)- I would have like to have seen Luke and Leia preparing to swing across a chasm, then they could have cut to the footage from the film of the actual event. If that got added to any of the other days of this immersive event, please let me know.
Then, in the middle of the second floor, everyone gathered as Rebel X’s leader showed the technical schematics of the Death Star and ordered all pilots to their ships, emerging from side alcoves and determinedly rushing past to unseen destinations, as the sounds of fighters taking off carried across the venue.
Then came the excellent sight from the left of the ceiling of an immense X-wing fighter prop moving, then suddenly dropping slightly, supported by strong wire, as it began its movement to the torpedo bay graphic on the far right side, as the sound effects of fighter squadrons, weapons fire and screeching power motors filled the air, alongside the voices of Red Flight, of which battles with TIE fighters played all around, with some fun use of special spotlights simulating proton torpedo launches as Luke’s X-wing delivered its payload. We celebrated with joy the destruction of the Death Star, of which the now fully packed area burst into applause. Then, at the far right end’s highest ceiling gantry we saw the Rebel pilot’s emerging victorious, the last to climb down one of the ladders being the congratulated Luke Skywalker!
As the majestic and beautiful throne room music of John Williams played, sounding better than ever, we all stayed in the middle of the floor so as to celebrate our heroes gathering. Walking amongst us, coming to the far end stairs to collect their medals from the smiling and radiant Princess and her aides. By this point, the crowd was really stoked, their hearts certainly roused and enjoying their participation be it large or small into this galaxy far, far away, giving a huge round of applause as our heroes all turned round, the final scene made gloriously real!
On that note, the second level walkway doors opened to a previously unrevealed section containing three immense segregated screening areas, where we brought in by Rebel Snow soldier geared extras, and given free seating reign to watch and enjoy The Empire Strikes Back with a great digital picture projector presentation and crisp sound as people walked back up and down each left aisle offering a wide variety of sweets and drinks. A genuine good time had by all.
Recreations playing alongside the film were great fun, brought to life on the ground and gantry above by three sets of actors in each cinema area, so no one missed out on anything. At certain points during lightsaber actions or battle scenes the lights would flare to add to the overall viewing effects-sometimes working better than others, the odd moment proving distracting. Leia walked up and down the room with Rebel pilots giving evacuation orders, whilst Luke said goodbye to Han and Chewie (who gave his warm hug to the youngster) on a right of us upper gantry. The arrival of Darth Vader and Stormtroopers came with the Imperial March intro and our first view of the Star Destroyer fleet.
As the Battle of Hoth reached a climax, Han, Leia and Threepio raced with the evacuation order to the Falcon.Unfortunately, poor "Golden Rod" almost fell over when he tripped up on unlevel carpeting that could have been quite truly dangerous. Imagine what Anthony Daniels went through every day on set!
Later, at Bespin, an excellent Lando look-a-like gave a tour with his newly arrived friends whilst the later carbon freezing “I know” scene played out directly beneath the screen, with Han disappearing into the smoke via a trap door.
Then, beneath the cinema screen, Luke fought Vader in the opening section of their lightsaber duel recreation (though Vader’s red blade light sadly went out half-way through), then the fight continued at the top far left gantry, where Luke lost his hand and hung, what looked to me quite precariously, over the edge before disappearing behind the projector screen, once hearing Vader’s revelation and deciding to commit suicide. Kudos to the SECRET CINEMA team for this great recreation that was much enjoyed by the fans, especially the younger ones in the audience.
As the film ended, everybody descended the lower levels and walked one last time through the Tatooine ground floor (where I was accosted once again by another of those pesky Jawas), taking in their last evocative gulps of George Lucas’s supreme universe before being person-signposted back to the underground station. The fairytale had come to an end and I was happy for the fans that we would all be discovering the adventure anew at Xmas!
Some incorrect spellings of Tatooine here and there not withstanding, there was only one minor niggle: despite there being there a shop in Shoreditch and what proved to be, for me anyway, a lousy online service, the event could have had an area where clothes/equipment could be purchased on the day beyond their selling of REBEL X shirts.
July 24th, 2015
The second coming…
With thanks to the generosity of THE SECRET CINEMA, AFICIONADO was given a special invite to the event second time around. Whereas the first time I’d attended was in glorious sunshine and sticky heat, the reverse was true here as I prepared for my new identity as yet another Galactic Explorer, Olas Lendix. Amongst the hundred or so early-arrived fans, we were all well and truly soaked to the skin by the rain- the tents herding us to our secret destination at the point being thoroughly waterlogged. But trying as hard as it might, such foul weather, the stuff of British legend, did nothing to dampen the spirits, within an event that now felt much more streamlined and faster paced. It was also a far more packed with people affair than the first week. AFICIONADO contributor Ian Trussler and myself got to play a mind-bending game of sabaac cards with Lando Calrissian on Tatooine- the young actor playing him doing a very creditable job and a firm hit with the ladies- Billy Dee, watch out you’ve got competition; saw young Luke hassled by Stormtroopers then chased after giving one of them a force push of resistance; Uncle Owen stopped to chat to tell us to tell Luke to stop hanging around at Tosche Station, and we even got to see Luke, Ben and the droids travel in the landspeeder across a section of town.
Arriving on the Death Star, and this time not captured and taken away by Stormtroopers for interrogation, there were some more noticeable changes. The far end right section near the bar and an imperial observation point had been partitioned off and bore some of John Barry’s classic and familiar Imperial production design, I don’t know if the Alderaan destruction scene was still being done, but the crowded lower area looking up to the gantry observed and booed a speech from Governor Tarkin, flanked by Vader, talking about the full power of their new battle station, and what it will achieve- backed up with lots of new CGI created computer graphics alongside some of the classics. Then came the classic Vader/Kenobi duel seen previously, plus a recreation of the classic Han and Chewie chasing Stormtoopers sequences before the Falcon flew off at the top of the ceiling. With so much of the lower area packed with people, though, it was impossible for pilots to rush to their ships again, but the ending and the ceiling bearing down fighter had everyone impressed anew firing its flame torpedo at the exhaust port, surrounded by classic movie dialogue coming out from the surrounding speakers.
As the film began, some of the previous interactions were sadly gone- like Han and Chewie saying goodbye to Luke, but there were some new ones added, in a side gantry glass window control room, Han and Leia argued as their onscreen counterparts did, whilst our Darth Vader imparted threats to Admiral Ozzel. Sadly, Lando’s tour of Bespin was no longer present, nor our heroes Hoth escape dash to the Falcon- I presume it was too dangerous for Threepio to do anymore, especially after the last time!
Once again, fans of all ages were spellbound throughout. The true, undisputed magic of the STAR WARS SAGA continues…
AFICIONADO RATING (both days): 8.5 out of 10