Skip directly to content

The Secret Star Wars Cantina of London

on Sun, 10/04/2015 - 00:00

Secret Cinema The Empire Strikes Back
When the original Star Wars premiered in 1977, no one could have foreseen the popularity and influence the film franchise would achieve in the subsequent years and decades that followed, nor the devotion and passion it would incite in millions of fans worldwide. Those fans have embraced the Star Wars Universe by donning the costumes of various characters and reciting their dialogue, waiting in line for hours before each subsequent film’s premiere, and afterwards debating the narrative and its place within the overall mythology—making Star Wars more than a mere movie but literal way of life in the process.

Because Star Wars takes place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” fans have always had to rely on their imagination in order to visit the Star Wars Universe. That briefly changed over the summer of 2015, however, when Secret Cinema recreated key elements of that Universe as part of its screening of The Empire Strikes Back. Rather than utilize a traditional movie theater, Secret Cinema built the Mos Eisley Cantina and Death Star from A New Hope in an abandoned warehouse in London, England, allowing fans to interact with the Star Wars Universe and witness key events from the initial film firsthand.

The Empire Strikes Back was not Secret Cinema’s first foray into the world of interactive entertainment. In July 2014, for instance, Secret Cinema recreated a 1950s version of Hill Valley—the fictional town that serves as the setting of the Back to the Future trilogy—for special screenings of the original film of that series. The summer-long event was an instant success, paving the way for an even greater undertaking the following year.

For The Empire Strikes Back, Secret Cinema moved the proceedings indoors to a “secret” abandoned warehouse located near the Canada Water district of southeast London. Attendees were encouraged to dress in costume—or at the very least don a scarf identifying them as members of the Rebel Alliance—and were given secret identities upon enlistment into Rebel X, a subdivision of the Alliance. The evening was thus more than a mere screening of The Empire Strikes Back or even an intricately created “theme park,” but an actual immersion into the world of Star Wars instead.

After a quick briefing, for instance, the newly recruited Rebel X members were transported to Tatooine, the home of Luke Skywalker, to begin their journey. The first task was to make their way through customs under the interrogation of bug-eyed aliens and the watchful eyes of Imperial Stormtroopers.

From there it was on to Mos Eisley itself, filled with an assortment of vendors and food carts that had a mixture of fellow travelers, aliens, droids and actual characters from Star Wars: A New Hope as well. A landspeeder containing Luke Skywalker and Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi made its way through the sand-lined streets at one point, while Luke’s Uncle Owen—as well as Imperial Officers and additional Stormtroopers—interacted with the visiting Earthlings.

“I recognize you,” Uncle Owen would say upon finding a random fan in attendance. “You’re a friend of Luke’s.” He would then express his concerns about the young Skywalker and how his duties at the family farm had taken a back seat as of late. “His Aunt Beru thinks he has a girlfriend,” he added in order to underscore his remarks.

The famed Mos Eisley Cantina was also recreated by Secret Cinema, replete with a bar area that served both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as booths similar to the one used by Han Solo and Chewbacca when they first met Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. An inside stage, meanwhile, featured musical performers that added further authenticity to the proceedings.

While attendees could wander Mos Eisley at their leisure, they were later encouraged to make the journey from Tatooine to Alderaan, the home planet of Princess Leia. The new Rebel X contingent took seats in the cargo bay of a transport ship, only to quickly discover—just like in the original Star Wars—that Alderaan no longer existed, having been destroyed by the Empire. Visitors thus found themselves on the Death Star instead of a more sympathetic locale, corralled by Imperial Stormtroopers and marched into the detention center.

Their imprisonment was short-lived, however, as a Rebel spy eventually rescued the group, giving instructions on how they could remain safe as well as urging them to contact an onboard physician who was likewise aligned with the rebellion. Various missions were then assigned, each filled with an assortment of obstacles as Stormtroopers confronted attendees while other fans were “recruited” to assist in ending the rebellion against the Empire. Darth Vader himself could even be spotted walking the metal planks and scaffolding of the Death Star.

Numerous scenes from A New Hope were recreated by Secret Cinema actors and actresses on the Death Star as well, including the lightsaber battle between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Shortly afterwards, attendees gathered in the main section of the warehouse where a full-size X-Wing emerged from the ceiling. Piloted by Luke Skywalker, fans were able to witness the destruction of the Death Star firsthand, as well as the Royal Awards Ceremony where Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca were presented with Medals of Bravery from Princess Leia.

With the conclusion of the reenacted events from A New Hope, the actual screening of The Empire Strikes Back officially commenced, with actors once again recreating scenes in conjunction with the actual film presentation. Attendees were able to mingle afterwards at a “nightclub” specially designed for the after-party before concluding their adventure within the Star Wars Universe.

And a truly amazing adventure it was at that. Secret Cinema pulled out all the stops for its Empire Strikes Back screenings in an attempt to give the most authentic experience possible of a galaxy that is “far, far away” from planet Earth. The warehouse utilized to reconstruct Mos Eisley and the Death Star, for instance, contained eighteen acres of space, with over 400 designers pitching in to complete the transformation. Add 180 artists and musical acts, 300 costumes and hundreds of actors and actresses to bring the characters of Star Wars to life, and the overall experience was a “most impressive” one indeed.

“I’ve done concert tours, the West End and some very large scale festivals,” Secret Cinema technical director Piers Shepperd told the Daily Telegraph in June 2015. “This is more exciting. In the West End you sit down, pay for your program, queue at the bar for your interval drinks, then you watch a show. You know pretty much what you’re going to get. Every now and again you see something which is different. But nothing compared to what we’re trying to do here in terms of either technical or creative ambition. The audience just don’t know what to expect.”

Since 1977, fans of Star Wars have wondered what it would be like to visit the fabled landmarks of the Star Wars Universe. Over the summer of 2015, Secret Cinema not only offered the opportunity to visit such mythical locales as the Mos Eisley Cantina and Death Star but become part of the Star Wars mythology in the process—an experience that none of the 100,000 Star Wars faithful who attended will ever forget.

Anthony Letizia

Follow Geek Pittsburgh: Facebook - Twitter - RSS Feed