Remember, acting guru Constantin Stanislavski preached, “There are no small parts, only small actors.”
He must have dreamed there’d be a film as closely scrutinized, with its tiniest performances parsed and scrutinized, as “Star Wars.”
“Elstree 1976” is a documentary that takes us back to the British soundstages where the film that would come to be called “Star Wars: A New Hope,” was shot.
But stars in the making Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher or Mark Hamill are not who he talked with to create this behind-the-scenes remembrance. Spira’s twist was that he’d talk to Dave Prowse, who wore the Darth Vader suit and acted out a performance that James Earl Jones’ voice would make legendary. There’s Paul Blake, stuffed inside a green mask and turned into “Greedo,” the guy Han Solo shoots in the cantina bar.
And Pam Rose, given an addition to her noggin to play a waitress at that bar.
Jeremy Bulloch’s character became an icon and an action figure — bounty hunter Boba Fett. The character became famous, not Bulloch.
And Angus MacInnes had lines, barking out orders as “Gold Leader” among the rebel pilots, a Canadian character actor you might recognize from “Witness” or “Atlantic City,” “Hellboy” or most recently, “Captain Phillips.”
They were bit players, often covered in helmets or makeup, anonymous cogs in the machine that was George Lucas’s vision for “Star Wars.” They looked right, like storm troopers or what have you.
Spira tracks them down and introduces them — first names only — just people tackling “another job of work,” a bit of sci-fi they were sure “was being made for TV.”
It wasn’t. And rather than have their months of tedium pass into the ether, it made them immortal — with a lifetime income, many of them — just for showing up at conventions and signing autographs.
The towering Prowse was a semi-famous British bodybuilder who broke through in film with Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” He had no idea his voice would be replaced as Darth Vader. And his attempts to own Vader since have put him on the outs with Disney and Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars Celebration” conventions.
This or that extra remembers bonking his head into an archway in those cumbersome storm trooper suits. Another relates how he tricked the assistant director by snapping his helmet visor up in the honors ceremony scene so that his face would show up.
One had his character cut from the film, but was squeezed into a storm trooper uniform for a different scene, and made immortal with the line “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.”
They all laugh, and marvel at how their tiny, sometimes unbilled turns in the film led to this afterlife of conventions. They tell stories of directing instructions from technician George Lucas.
“Just play like they do in the movies.”
Spira uses archival footage (outtakes), GIF frames of the actor in his or her part, clips from other films these players appeared in and recreations (not enough) to tell his story. He takes his time — entirely too long, I must say — masking the actors’ identities and filling in their background. It’s the way a fan would treat them, giving us tales of folk music busking, reasons “I never went to acting school” or “How a Canadian ended up acting in London” or “I played ‘HAMLET’!” anecdotes.
The testy hierarchy between actors (speaking lines) and extras (set dressing) is laid out. And the lives and career-changes (for most of them) that followed “Star Wars” are touched on, touchingly.
The whole adds up to a charming portrait of the micro-fame and full, rich (not that rich) lives of the big actors who played little roles in the most carefully watched and memorized movie since “Citizen Kane.”
MPAA Rating: unrated
Cast: Dave Prowse, Jeremy Bulloch, Paul Blake, Pam Rose, Garrick Hagon, Angus MacInnes
Credits: Written and directed by John Spira. A FilmRise release.
Running time: 1:30