Secret Cinema has been putting on cinematic events for many years. Let me explain. They take a well-known movie or cult film and literally transport you to the period in which the film took place. Last year, Secret Cinema brought the 1950’s town of Hill Valley from Back to the Future to life, and this year they’ve applied the same magic to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
How many of us have dreamt of being transported into that galaxy far, far away? Well after two years in the making, Secret Cinema literally transports you from a secret meeting place in London into the world of Star Wars. You need to dress appropriately (full instructions are given prior to attending), adopt your own given Star Wars name, and then open yourself up and let yourself go — the reward being an experience that I could only have dreamt of.
Most of the people that attended on Friday night got into the spirit of the adventure. From the moment we arrived at the venue at 5:30 p.m., we immediately felt part of the world as we were supposed to. This being Secret Cinema, we don’t want to give too much away; you really need to experience this for yourselves. On entry your mobiles phones are carefully stowed away so to ensure there are no leaks — it’s actually refreshing to experience something like this without people continually stopping to take a photo or looking down at their device to check their social media feeds. I’ll do my best to explain as much as I can without spoiling too much for those attending between now and September 27.
Your journey takes you through the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, and as such you’re transported to different locations along the way. The 18-acre environment is filled with a cast of actors that take on the role of Imperials, Rebels, aliens, and more, and it’s hard to distinguish between an actor and an attendee. This is why it’s so important to play along. At one point I was questioned by a female Imperial and thanked for my work during the Clone Wars, while at another point in the evening I was asked if I was carrying any illegal contraband. Stormtroopers walk around and monitor the premises; if you’re doing something wrong or answer in a confrontational way, then don’t be surprised if you’re punished!
In the first familiar location you’ll have an opportunity to wander around and explore, as well as eat from the wide variety of vendors that sell all manner of food. In addition to food there’s also a familiar bar serving some weird and wonderful drinks (soft drinks are also available for the children that are present). The bar is also where you’ll find various musical acts and DJs performing at different times. For people like me that like to buy odd pieces of memorabilia, there’s plenty of stalls selling a variety of items including the obligatory Secret Cinema Rebel X merchandise. My wife was with me on this journey, and since I intend to come back on July 7, I thought it prudent to hold off on any purchases until my return. At various times whilst in this location, we were treated to set pieces of activities that helped narrate the evening and ensure it progressed as it should.
As you follow the story of A New Hope, you need to move from location to location, and there’s tasks that need to be accomplished. But there’s plenty of people on hand to make sure you’re able to achieve what’s needed — just don’t get caught! As part of this, you’ll learn to trade and barter with the people around you, all in good fun. It’s on the second leg of the journey that you find yourself at the mercy of the Imperials, and where one of the pivotal moments of the first Star Wars films is played out in an amazing way. I don’t think my description could do it justice, which is probably just as well as I’m not allowed to share it with you. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I wasn’t disappointed.
With this part of the evening complete, it’s time to take your seat for The Empire Strikes Back. At times I forgot I was here to see a film! My only complaint of the evening was that the seats were somewhat hard and not staggered like a normal cinema, but the atmosphere and the immersive experience of watching one of your favorite films with over a thousand other fans somewhat made up for it. The audience joined in, delivering many pivotal lines, and the live additions to the film were expertly done. For those that didn’t want to watch the film (yes there were some), you could hang out at the “bar” or buy more food.
With the film complete, the event continues and one of the vast sets becomes a nightclub. Here we were treated to a disco overseen by DJ Yoda that went on till 11:30 p.m. The experience is definitely very much worth the cost of admission.
The evening lasts for six hours, and it’s an experience you won’t forget. I was very impressed at the attention to detail and the huge amount of thought that had been put into almost everything. People have questioned the future of cinema over recent years and maybe this is the solution — a fully immersive experience like this is something you can’t recreate at home. I’m very much looking forward to my return journey and tickets are still available as the run continues through to September 27, somewhere in London.
Photographs courtesy of Secret Cinema – Paul Cochrane, Mike Massaro and Olivia Weetch.
James Burns co-owns and runs Jedi News (with Mark Newbold) — the largest English-speaking Star Wars fan site in Europe — is the co-host of the UK-centric RADIO 1138 podcast, and is a regular contributor to Star Wars Insider and Build the Millennium Falcon magazines. You can also listen to James as part of the monthly Star Wars Collectors Cast, discussing all the latest Star Wars collecting news with Steve Sansweet, a fellow StarWars.com blogger, about the latest goings at Rancho Obi-Wan.