A galaxy far, far away comes to a cavernous, industrial setting for Secret Cinema’s new entry, The Empire Strikes Back. The choice of the Star Wars sequel ties in neatly with a year that will see the release of a new instalment of the space saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The set itself is spectacular – reportedly twice the size of last year’s Back to the Future installation – with a scrupulous attention to detail sure to please even the most ardent of Star Wars fans. With tickets firmly on the dark side of the force at a (ridiculous) bounty of £75, there is no room for apathy here.
The pre-screening pantomime begins with a curiously incoherent scramble as participants are rushed into various spaces and rudely barked orders at by aspiring actors in military costumes. In a cattle-like journey to the first destination, you spend the first half-an-hour being hustled through a warehouse, crouching in a shipping container to hide from customs officers and randomly searched. It was exactly like boarding a flight at Heathrow. The interactive element can feel a little invasive. An impromptu dance number was forced upon this writer with an order of “you dance…or you leave”. But there does come a point when you leave all this behind and fly straight back into your childhood.
Once inside the first location, the events of Star Wars slowly unfold in part around you as familiar characters wander the cleverly recreated universe in near perfect costume. The impressive sets have the initial wow factor. Cinema-goers are allowed a surprising amount of freedom to improvise and interact with the actors throughout the experience. Where else would you get a chance to high-five Wookie under the watchful gaze of the storm trooper patrols, or frolic around the desert-cum-souk remake of planet Tattooine? (It’s worth noting that, while the film being shown is The Empire Strikes Back, the event itself is actually more inspired by the first Star Wars movie, 1977’s A New Hope.) There are a couple of other nice touches (which would be unfair to reveal), however, these are difficult to appreciate due to the vast scale of it all. On several occasions it’s hard to understand what on earth is happening – which can be both exciting and disorientating.
The actual viewing experience, projected on disappointingly small screens, is probably the least enjoyable of the six-hour spectacle. The seats are hard and the audience is packed in with little room for manoeuvre. As the film plays out, Secret Cinema continues to deliver action and surprises that has the audience cheering throughout. At times, though, it can be difficult to know where to look.
With those who have a strong personal connection with the franchise, of which there are undoubtedly many, Secret Cinema will forge great memories for them. It is a unique and exhilarating experience – similar to that of a theme park ride – but the extortionate price tag does make it for super-fans only.
Verdict: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Secret Cinema Presents Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is on until 27th September, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Secret Cinema here: