Empire Strikes Back: Secret Cinema 2015

 ★★★★★ 

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We were on a tube train in Central London, minding our own business when curiosity got the better of the young kid of about five wearing a Storm Trooper t-shirt.

“Is that real?”, he inquired of the lightsaber hanging from my wife’s belt, only partially hidden by her Jedi robes. Of course it was real, she assured him, though a demonstration regrettably wasn’t possible. Nevertheless he excitedly ran to tell his even younger brother that she was going to “chop his arm off”! I decided to keep my laser blaster safely wrapped in it’s Co-Op bag. Surely the key to being a successful mercenary is picking your fights and brandishing heavy artillery (even the plastic stuff) at Londoners would be frowned upon. It’s alright for Jedi; their lightsabers are such elegant weapons.

In this moment we learned a couple of things. That the appeal of Star Wars is timeless and the healthy imagination of boys is still reassuringly violent, but also that there is no need to worry at all about being dressed like pillocks while travelling to Secret Cinema’s latest event. We were not the only ones. Well, we were on that particular carriage, but we had already seen a few X-Wing pilots and multiple Jedi striding around the Underground. Luckily, no Imperial troops though, considering we needed to keep a low profile…

Upon reaching the meeting point and led by desperate, shouty Rebel commanders onto our transports that promised escape for the Rebellion, two more points became clear; you’re only going to feel like a pillock if you don’t dress as the obscure communications suggested (the embarrassment was obvious for the three ‘normally’ dressed people I saw) and this incarnation of Secret Cinema is so huge, it defies comprehension.

I thought I’d seen it all before. A few years ago I attempted to “escape to the off-world colonies” (Blade Runner) and while it was great fun, it was a fraction of the size of this endeavour, which cleverly feels like several distinctly different and sizeable locations. Blade Runner was also only a fraction of the cost, a fact widely reported. It seems to me £78 is reasonable, in-line with previous screenings considering this one is huge (although I didn’t go to the Back To The Future event). For a Princess or a pirate, it’s a big chunk of change which ever way you cut it, even before travel costs and pricey on-site refreshments, but if you can afford it, I can’t see how you can consider being robbed. You’d pay similar for a concert lasting a couple of hours and Secret Cinema create a five-hour plus illusion, the memories of which will last a lifetime. Anyway, it was my birthday. I don’t smoke, nor drink to excess, so sod it. If I’m going to start a mid-life crisis by confirming my uber-geek status, this is the best way to do it!

It would be great to spill the beans about exactly what goes on, but that would really spoil the spirit of the thing, so I’m keeping spoilers to a minimum. You’re so much better embracing it fully and if you’re a Star Wars fan you owe yourself this experience. You’ll absolutely love it. One important tip if you do go for it, read the mysterious emails fully. Log into the chat rooms they direct you too a couple of times at least. Take the various obscure items they suggest. And dress up. Like a pillock, maybe, but dress up like your scummy Rebel life depended on it. Geeks are fashionable now, anyway!

Your life is not your own as you go through the entrance, your phone sealed in a silver packet away from signal, Twitter, Facebook and other loved ones. You’ll soon forget about it anyway although it’s a damn shame photography has to be denied, albeit understandably. That selfie with Boba Fett is going to have to wait.

The first major area you get to is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. (Actually that’s not true, they turned out to be lovely people). There are real market traders where you can buy food, trinkets and t-shirts, while being bothered by Jawas. Keep your eyes peeled for familiar characters while drinking in the Cantina, but what happens exactly is up to you. Suffice to say, it’s like a live-action Skyrim! Wander around as much as you like, but tease the actors a little and you’ll discover tasks that pull you into the story. You won’t be stuck on that dust-ball for long and your jaw will drop more than once throughout the evening.

The actors are superb. They never break character, seemingly regardless of how cheeky you are, so interact with them as much as you can, because those guys absolutely make the experience, working very hard to guide and tease you through the various features throughout the evening until you reach the actual screening. You might have forgotten by that point, but there is the little matter of the film to watch. Even if I wanted to tell you how the staged segment of the evening prior to watching the movie is brought to a close, I don’t think I know how. It’s an exhilarating, glorious, goosebumpy “how are they doing this?!” kind of moment. The approving roar from the crowd was deafening.

A welcome surprise was that the screening was relatively comfortable. Bladerunner certainly wasn’t, so I’d been anxious about two hours stuck on a cheap seat. I mean, you shouldn’t expect much, considering the secret location certainly isn’t exactly the Odeon, but still we were able to relax. And of course, 30+ years on, The Empire Strikes Back is still phenomenal. Any of you who have been to a Secret Cinema screening before will know there are occasional surprises during the film and they are brilliantly done again. The Force is strong with this one and the few poor reviews I’ve seen are not justified.

We set off for home, exhilarated and exhausted in equal measure, riding waves of nostalgia for the most beloved film trilogy of all (what prequels?). The Secret Cinema team know their films and more importantly, their audience. The Empire Strikes Back is a gob-smacking achievement, staged for those of us that love Star Wars by people who might love it just a bit more.

It says something that on that tube ride home I’d almost forgotten the clothes we were wearing and certainly no longer cared what anyone thought. I only noticed my laser blaster, slung across my shoulder, hadn’t been put back in it’s Co-Op bag until we got to a KFC and I absent-mindedly put it on the table next to me. That might explain why they didn’t charge us…

The Rebellion continues through September. Go join while you still can. “With you, RebelX”.

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