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The 5 best things about Secret Cinema's Empire Strikes Back


"Welcome back Rebels!"

It's at this moment, crouched low amongst scarfed strangers in a shipping container outside an altogether ordinary London warehouse, that you'll make an important discovery about Secret Cinema's Star Wars experience.

That you'll either decide with sighing reluctance that an evening spent in the company of eager actors and superfans wasn't really worth £78 if this is the level of gun-ho exuberance you're in for. Or, conversely, that you haven't felt this level of excitement since you hovered your mouse over the play button for the Episode VII trailer.

Twice the size of last year's Back to the Future extravaganza, the scope of Secret (an increasingly inaccurate moniker) Cinema's Empire Strikes Back will thrill everyone looking to throw themselves into an evening of immaculate detail, epic sets and the best Star Wars film to date. These are the best bits of this year's spectacle.

Warning: Spoilers lay ahead, obviously, so if you don’t want to ruin the surprise then look away now…

The Build Up


The Star Wars experience starts as soon as you order your ticket: you'll get an access code and be pointed toward a website filled with familiar typography, costume ideas, a name generator and a host of other treats in which fans can bury themselves. Sure, you don't have to watch the lovingly-made short media pieces, nor do you need to engage in the Twitter activities the site promotes, but those who do will find their experience of the evening altogether more rich, as certain blanks are filled in. 

Be sure to study your chosen 'equipment' profile, and bring your recommended items with you. They'll open up experiences that other audience members might miss.

The constant threat


Image: Paul Cochrane

One of the main thrusts of the evening's "performance" aspect is the tension between the Rebels (you, and the majority of the shifty-eyed cast) and the Imperial Forces. At various moments throughout the evening, the pleasantly jovial atmosphere will be interrupted by a group of Storm Troopers and stiff-backed officers - interaction with whom will often lead to trips into areas of the set only accessible by the Empire's forces or their unfortunate captors.

As with much of the evening, if you take opportunities to play along as they arise, you'll be rewarded with a sense of the evening's events having something of a narrative. Or, you can just hang out at one of the other highlights of the evening...

The bars


Image: Paul Cochrane

We can't tell you the exact nature of the bars you'll be able to frequent throughout the evening's multiple areas, but you'll be able to get a pretty good sense of the phenomenal detail on show from the above picture. That, and... well come on. What sort of a bar would you build if you were hosting a Star Wars party? Exactly.

It's not just the alcoholic set pieces that are impressive: each of the assorted watering holes has some form of live entertainment in the form of a band or DJ. If you find yourself a touch overwhelmed by the pressures of carrying out the secretive work of the rebellion, rest assured that there's a comfy seat with something cold waiting for you. And yes, prices are a bit steep, with (small) beers setting you back around £4, cocktails at £10 - all payable via contactless card readers (don't bother bringing cash, basically).

The set design


Image: Paul Cochrane

Secret Cinema has done its homework. Or rather, they've watched the Star Wars series, thought to themselves "Right, we should really find someone who can build a hut that looks exactly like that hut in Star Wars", and then that person went and nailed it.

What with Disney acquiring the Star Wars licence and pumping the internet to the brim with media from a galaxy far, far away, there's a danger you've become saturated by the bold, brilliant world George Lucas first showed us in 1977. Yet the space that Secret Cinema has created should refresh the childish wonder first associated with seeing the dusty surfaces of foreign worlds. Anyone can build a fifties fairground - it's a far more impressive achievement to construct a droid-filled, altogether alien universe.

The film set pieces


Image: Mike Massaro

Eventually, having passed secret messages between members of the Rebellion, broken out of Imperial captivity, discovered the location of Captain Skyblaster to deliver him the droid schematics and had your fill of Bantha Falafel - eventually, there comes a moment to take your seat (there are loads of them) to prepare for the main event. 

As George Lucas has proved over the years, you can't improve Empire Strikes Back. Secret Cinema doesn't try and distract from the central experience: the actors who emerge from the wings to mimic on screen events are tributary cheer leaders, allowing the enthused amongst the audience to whoop in delight as that battle is won, that encounter is had and... again, think of the bits you'd want to act out in Empire Strikes Back and you'll get a pretty good idea of what to expect. It compliments an otherwise classic slice of sci-fi theatre. (And the above image isn't one of those moments)

Secret Cinema's grand achievement won't succeed in making all of its guests feel like they went to a galaxy far, far away; those a touch nervous or comfortably introverted will be left behind for many of the set piece moments. But if your idea of a good night out involves donning a set of robes and quoting lines from a set of films it's cool to hate, then it's the best £78 you'll spend on an evening's entertainment this year.

Written by David Cornish, follow him on Twitter: @D_Cornish

‘SECRET CINEMA Presents STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK runs now until 27th September 2015


(Hero image: Olivia Weetch)



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