Even the most casual “Star Wars” fan remembers the Mos Eisley cantina scene from 1977’s “Episode IV: A New Hope,” in which Han Solo guns down Greedo the Bounty Hunter.*
At least equally iconic: the scene where Obi-Wan Kenobi employs Jedi mind control and tells a Sandtrooper, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
We all know Harrison Ford played Han Solo and Sir Alec Guinness was Obi-Wan — but what about the masked actor in the Greedo costume, and the helmeted Sandtrooper who succumbs to the Jedi mind trick and says, “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for”?
Meet Paul Blake, who played Greedo, and Anthony Forrest, who played not only that sandtrooper but also has bona fide “Star Wars” cult status because he was an elite clone commando named the Fixer — a character whose scenes were deleted from “A New Hope.”
Blake and Forrest are among the former bit players who occupied maybe one scene or were silent background players in the original “Star Wars,” and are now the subjects of the documentary “Elstree 1976.”
In less skilled, less kind hands, this could have been a goof, or a depressing film about forgotten actors signing postcards at Nerd-Cons the world over. But director Jon Spira isn’t interested in mocking these interesting, thoughtful, seemingly content people, who are now in their 60s and 70s.
“Elstree 1976” (named for the studio outside London and the year where much of “Star Wars” was filmed there) is a sweet, quietly funny, fascinating and contemplative study of 10 character actors and extras, none of whom had any idea back in the 1970s they’d forever be defined by the one or two days they spent on the set of a sci-fi movie featuring little-known stars and a space cowboy story.
“We thought we were making a television show,” says one of them.
Spira begins and closes the film with close-up shots of the action figures based on the characters played by his subjects. We get the backstories of the actors and learn what they’ve done since. (Nobody became a big star; nobody seems to have fallen on particularly hard times.)
Paul Blake says with good humor, “I have played Macbeth. … I’ve performed with the Royal Court Theatre … but my epitaph will say, ‘Here lies Greedo.’ ”
Of course we get scenes of the actors signing autographs at conventions, but seeing as how none of them was ever famous and none of them made much money from “Star Wars,” it doesn’t have the same sad vibe as when we see a former big-time TV star making a living $10 at a time signing pictures in cavernous convention centers. As one of the former bit players puts it, “You sign pictures all day for $15 or $20, and at the end of the day you jump naked into a big pile of money.”
There is some grumbling about the hierarchy at conventions — and a bit of jealousy: “Kenny Baker [R2D2] lived in a tin can, but HE’S the most popular.”
David Prowse, who was a bodybuilder and competitive weightlifter when he was hired to embody Darth Vader, acknowledges some tension with Lucas and Disney, noting he was asked to stop signing autographs “David Prowse IS Darth Vader” and change it to “David Prowse AS Darth Vader,” but he refused. Prowse, who says he’s persona non grata at official reunions of the “Star Wars” cast, makes the dubious claim the only reason James Earl Jones dubbed his voice was the re-recording sessions were held in Los Angeles, and it was too expensive to fly him out.
Prowse continues to maintain HE’S Darth Vader, HE did all the acting, and it was just his bad fortune they picked the greatest voice in the world to dub his lines. It’s a bittersweet moment, but Prowse seems to take great solace in knowing he was the one actually behind arguably the most famous villain’s mask in motion picture history.
FilmRise presents a documentary directed by Jon Spira. Running time: 101 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at AMC Streets of Woodfield and on demand.