Event Review: Secret Cinema Presents: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Yep, didn’t think you could resist the power of the dark side…

How do you write about an event when to do so could possibly spoil things for those yet to experience it? It’s a tricky, treading lightly on egg-shell proposition and clearly beyond the capabilities of some spoil-sports but we shall take the high ground and tell you all you need to know about Secret Cinema Presents Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back without actually telling you anything.

Secret Cinema pulled off a masterstroke last year - despite some well publicised teething problems - with an outstanding Back to the Future season throughout the summer and they’re back with an even more ambitious undertaking in 2015. Whilst the likes of Avatar may have overtaken Star Wars’ box office records of old, the original trilogy are still considered the biggest movies of all time and with interest in the Star Wars universe at a high in the advent of episode 7 in the series landing in December, Secret Cinema dipping a nerdy toe into the soothing waters of the Star Wars universe seems like a no-brainer.

As with past Secret Cinema events, the location is kept firmly under wraps and all that is released is that it’s somewhere in London. Ticket holders are asked to visit a website and answer questions that will generate a character for you to “play” on the night. Suggestions for costumes and items to bring with you are given but if you’re not into cosplay or play acting that’s fine too, no one judges, you aren’t refused entry and frankly no one bats an eyelid if you’re not into the full immersion ethos of Secret Cinema.

We arrive at our meeting point and are joined by a motley crew of fellow members of RebelX, or ticket holders if you like, where we’re directed to the vast location by some in-character volunteers a few minutes walk away. After a bag check and the sinking feeling upon discovering there’s nowhere to leave our heavy bags we’re ushered towards the next part of the experience where the cast members fill us in on our “mission”.

This portion of the evening is vaguely chaotic and somewhat confusing if you don’t listen but there’s no need to panic as following the crowds works a treat and leads us to our next location which induces many ooohs and ahhhs from ticket holders who can see just where their £75 entrance fee has been spent. The set is gorgeously decked out and there are a number of delicious smelling food stalls tempting us to part with even more money. Here you are free to wander and take in the sights, with a good 90 mins or so to spare. Actors mingle with the public and really this portion of the evening is as immersive as you want it to be, get into character and join in or simply hang back and observe the madness, the choice is yours and there’s really no pressure to join in. You can barter with Jawa’s and try to avoid any Imperial entanglements amongst the impressive area. We fanny about for bit before checking out the Cantina bar and ordering a cocktail from the cheeky barmen who tell us get our elbows off the bar and refuse to deal in cash only “credits” - in other words, if you want a drink don’t forget the plastic because your coins and paper are not accepted here.

The meat and potatoes of the evening is the screening itself and it’s our favourite part. Without wishing to reveal anything keep your eyes peeled on more than the screen and our advice is to arrive early and nab a seat at the front or at least half way back from the screen for maximum enjoyment. The audience are loud and enthusiastic, whooping and cheering at key moments, lightsabres are held aloft at various points throughout and it’s an immensely fun atmosphere. Be prepared however for audience members to forget their manners and go for a wander, the few rows in front of us were a particularly restless bunch and “Colin the canoodler” and his lady friend in the seats in front of us were more interested in chatting and snogging loudly than watching the film. It’s a carnival atmosphere and it’s best to put aside all ideas of normal cinema protocol and just enjoy the show which is brilliantly done by the Secret Cinema team.

So is this summer’s production worth the hefty price tag? Well that entirely depends on your expectations and willingness to let go and participate. We took the rather curmudgeonly route of prancing about in our civvies and repeatedly forgetting our character name but it’s no less enjoyable to observe others getting into the spirit of things. Whilst procedings are somewhat regimented it’s easy enough to just hang back and watch everyone else and when all’s said and done it’s an enormously impressive achievement that Secret Cinema and their excellent performers have pulled off.

In short, if you’re a Star Wars fan and fancy a night pretending you’re part of the universe you adore can you really see yourself missing the chance to catch a Jawa with his hand in your bag or having to show your papers to an Imperial Stormtrooper? Yep, didn’t think you could resist the power of the dark side…

SECRET CINEMA Presents STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is on now until 27th September.

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3 back issues for £7

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