Oxfordshire filmmaker shines a light on lesser-known Star Wars characters

Filmmaker Jon Spira is the man behind the new movie Elstree 1976  Picture: OX67403 Jon Lewis

Filmmaker Jon Spira is the man behind the new movie Elstree 1976 Picture: OX67403 Jon Lewis

First published in News
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Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Blackbird Leys and Greater Leys. Call me on 01865 425403

PRINCESS Leia’s hair, Darth Vader’s heavy breathing, Jabba the Hutt – Star Wars characters are some of the most famous in the world.

But Jon Spira, from Thrupp, near Kidlington, is looking at the lesser-known characters in his upcoming documentary film Elstree 1976.

The filmmaker explained: “We have spent the last 18 months travelling the country tracking down and interviewing people who were extras, had small roles, or were cut out of the first Star Wars film.

“We had two rules: they had to appear on camera at some point and their faces had to be obscured by masks or helmets.”

The project began when Mr Spira was teaching a screenwriting course at Film Oxford in Cowley.

He said: “There was this older guy in the class who travelled in for it and I got talking to him.

“It turned out it was John Chapman, who had been an extra as a rebel pilot in Star Wars. The more I spoke to him I realised it was a really big thing in his life. He went to conventions, he signed autographs, met fans, really lived Star Wars.”

The film interviews 10 actors from the original 1976 cult hit.

Mr Spira, 38, said: “It’s not really about Star Wars, it’s about those people, who they were before they were in it and then how it affected their lives.

Oxford Mail:

  • Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in the first movie released in 1977, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

“That was what interested me as a filmmaker. What’s going on around back? The most interesting stories are the ones that haven’t been told.

“The one thing these people have in common is that in 1976 they were all on this set making a film that people thought would be a flop and it turned out to be the most significant pop culture thing ever.

“It’s 30 or 40 years later now and it’s affected all of their lives – some for the best and some not so good.”

The film’s producer Hank Starrs said: “The well-known characters make a lot of money from it, but what about the people under the helmets and under the masks?

“Star Wars has become this cultural phenomenon and this film looks at how it’s exuded through mass culture.”

Mr Starrs, 48, who used to live in North Oxford but has recently moved to London, said: “Independent films are very different from Hollywood because you haven’t got many resources.

“But it’s really good fun because you have complete control and you haven’t really got any deadlines except the ones you set yourself.”

Filming is complete and Mr Spira is now fundraising so that it can be released by the end of next year.

He said: “It comes out towards the end of 2015, which will coincide with the new Star Wars film. It feels like that’s a time where people are coming out to see more Star Wars stuff.

“We’re raising funds using crowd-funding website Kickstarter to do post production.

“We need £30,000 to get it finished and at the moment we’re nearly at £21,000.”

Projects that use Kickstarter reward investors, with better rewards for bigger donations.

People helping Elstree 1976 could get limited-edition DVDs, signed prints, premiere tickets or a credit on the film.

  • To donate visit kickstarter.com/projects/832232974/elstree-1976


    'Join with me and I will complete your training’ 
     
  • Most people wouldn’t consider Darth Vader to be a small role, but few people recognise Dave Prowse, 78, below
    Oxford Mail:
  • In this iconic role his voice was dubbed over by actor James Earl Jones due to his strong Bristolian accent. 
  • He was better known in the UK at the time as the face of road safety – The Green Cross Code Man – appearing in many public information films, touring schools and even releasing a single. 
  • Mr Prowse also starred in A Clockwork Orange and the Hammer Frankenstein films.
  • These days he lives in London with his family and regularly travels the world to attend sci-fi conventions.


‘These aren’t the droids we’re looking for'

  • Anthony Forrest, below, played the role of the Sandtrooper who had the Jedi mind trick played on him by Obi Wan Kenobi.
    Oxford Mail:
  • He got to say the famous line “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for”.
  • The 63-year-old played that role as a favour to George Lucas because he was originally cast as a character called Fixer, one of Luke Skywalker’s best friends.
  • All of Fixer’s scenes were ultimately cut from the film.
  • Mr Forrest came from the 60s folk scene in Canada and now music is a big part of his life.
  • He’s a regular busker on the London Underground.


Boba fett the bounty hunter

  • Jeremy Bulloch, below, played the role of Boba Fett, a bounty hunter hired by Darth Vader.
    Oxford Mail:
  • Boba Fett is one of the most popular characters from the Star Wars films, despite only having a really small amount of actual time on screen.
  • Mr Bulloch is a seasoned actor, starting his career as a child in Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday.
  • He has also starred in Robin of Sherwood, various James Bond films and Doctor Who.

The 69-year-old continues to act now but, along with Mr Prowse, spends a lot of his time travelling the world to sign autographs for Star Wars fans at conventions.

See Leesub Sirin in The Cantina

  • Pam Rose, below, played the role of Leesub Sirin, a bulbous-headed background character in the Cantina scene, in which Luke Skywalker first meets Han Solo.
    Oxford Mail:
  • Ms Rose’s career began in the 60s as a dancer on Ready Steady Go and from there she went on to be a regular extra in film and TV.
  • She has appeared in hundreds of films including Carry On Camping, Superman, An American Werewolf in London, Batman and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in which she was the stand-in for Jessica Rabbit.
  • She still works as an extra, most recently in Kick Ass 2 and Downton Abbey.
  • She also works in extra casting and is a proud grandmother.



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