Secret Cinema: The Empire Strikes Back – Geeking It Right


I’m not going to tell you too much about this because it’s supposed to be a secret, that’s kind of the whole idea. Not as much as it used to be though. The original idea behind Secret Cinema was punters turning up to a location specified at the last moment to watch an unknown movie. Over the years though the concept has evolved with people told to wear particular clothes and ending up involved in reenactments of certain moments from classic films. Two good friends of mine went off to one event dutifully dressed in suits over long johns only to be stripped of the first layer and thrown behind bars before watching The Shawshank Redemption in nothing but their out dated under crackers. 

Last year the format changed a little as the chosen movie was announced right at the start. Then it was Back to the Future and fifties clad participants got to wander around a Hill Valley reconstructed in the old Olympic grounds where every so often someone dressed as Marty would play out a scene from the film in their midst. Further iconic moments were then recreated in front of the screen as the movie played. This year the same treatment has been given to the only Star Wars film that’s properly got it right (giant space worms allowing); The Empire Strikes Back.


Off I went last night then, dressed as directed as a galactic explorer in beige and browns complete with scarf and googles. At heart I am a geek so I made some effort on my costume but what I like about these kind of events is they show me that there are others out there who are so much more nerdy than me. On the train yesterday, not even at the event, some guy came up to me excitedly and asked me if the weapon I was carrying was a vibro-staff. ‘No,’ I replied somewhat lamely, clutching the thing I had made out of a broom handle and two Lucozade bottles because I thought it finished off my look quite nicely, ‘it’s a… er… it’s for moisture farming!?’. ‘Oh,’ said the guy ‘I thought it was a vibro-staff. I used to play a computer game called Star Wars Galaxies all the time and I built myself a vibro-staff.’ He turned back to his seat, slightly disappointed that he hadn’t quite found the kindred spirit he’d expected, then added with pride ‘Sometimes mine had a blade on it.’ Suddenly I didn’t feel as lame. 

That’s the thing about the true geeks, they don’t quite know how to operate among people less passionate about this stuff than them. Don’t get me wrong, I do love them. If not only because they show me a dark reflection of what I could have become if I’d not married a normal woman. Take what I saw once inside the event. Many guys had properly gone to town on their costumes and were walking around in full robes, movie quality lightsabers swinging from their hips, but they had their specs on and it totally ruined the image. Come on guys, this is not a Harry Potter event, it’s Star Wars. If you want to look really good then now is the time for contact lenses. No, no, it is them that are sad you see, not me. Hey, don’t judge me. I’m a film fan, I like authenticity.

Authenticity is clearly what the Secret Cinema organisers are going for too. They have painstakingly recreated the desert town Mos Isley from the first movie and the event starts with everyone wandering around in this world, interacting with one another and actors who take the parts of the movie’s characters. If you want to feel like you are in the world of a movie, then this is the place you need to go. Last night I properly spent time hanging around with friends on Tatooine. We drank in the cantina, we hid our electronics from covetous Jawas, we perused the stalls in the bazaar and we avoided eye contact with Stormtroopers. In amongst all of this the people playing Han, Ben, Luke, Chewie and Threepio moved around switching seamlessly between improvised interactions with the punters and playing out moments from the films. I’m not going to give away everything that I saw, and indeed there would have been lots that I didn’t see because I wasn’t in the right place at the right time, but I will report that I am able to help with the whole ‘who shot first, Han or Greedo?’ debate though because I WAS SITTING AT THE SAME TABLE WHEN IT HAPPENED!

My other favourite moment was when the official Luke and Leia fled down a corridor, escaping from Imperial troops with some other bloke dressed up in the iconic white dress and Danish pastry hair do skipping and squealing camply along behind them. It all gets pretty surreal at times (at one point I witnessed Ruby Wax haggling with a Jawa) but this was the joy of it; you pay your money and you get involved as you want to. 

The money has been a point of much discussion on social media leading up to this event. Many people it seems consider £75 too high a price to pay but while that is certainly on the expensive side I certainly feel as though I got my money’s worth. You are not just paying to watch a movie (in fact at one point I actually forgot the evening was going to end with a screening) you are buying a ticket to be part of an unforgettable and immersive theatrical experience. You would easily pay the same for a ticket to a West End show or an arena gig and this is a lot more fun. I spent more than that to see Madonna once and I had a much better time at this.

You can see where the money has gone too. The way they have changed this existent London building (I’m not saying where, it’s a secret) into a convincing Star Wars environment is fantastic and meticulous. I did see a sticker for The Metro Newspaper on the wall as I disembarked from my transport craft on to an alien planet but that’s okay, I didn’t question that. I guess Metro have just got a wider distribution than I had imagined.

I had a superb evening with Secret Cinema, I got to play around in a world with Jedis and no Jar Jar, I chatted to Chewbacca and R2 D2, I witnessed things you’d never imagine, I watched one of my all time favourite films on the big screen again and I got to feel a sense of freedom and a certain loss of inhibition. Hey, I was so beyond embarrassment and buried in fantasy that I even had a go at the promotional velociraptors on Waterloo Station with my vibro-staff on the way home. 



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