Secret Cinema Presents Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – An Immersive Yet Unforgettable Experience

image002When it comes to geeking out, nothing comes close to Star Wars and an opportunity to immerse yourself in a galaxy far, far away, is one that cannot be missed.

UK events company Future Cinema specialises in secret, interactive film screenings, the majority of which take place in Londo.  With experiences ranging from recreating 1920s Beaumont for Miller’s Crossing to sudden incarceration for Shawshank Redemption, the organisation has created a series of visually memorable events that raises a normal trip to the cinema to a multi-sensory level.

Last summer, the company held their first ‘Secret Cinema Presents’ event, hosting Back to the Future in a recreation of 1950’s Hill Valley.  Despite initial cancellations, the run was an overwhelming success, so much so that not only did it put Robert Zemeckis’ hit back in the UK box office but has also inspired a similar event to be hosted in Los Angeles later this year.

So it is fair to say that Star Wars got film fans very excited – even with the steep £75 (slightly over C$151) ticket price.  With the release of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens in December, the time to celebrate what is considered the best film of the franchise couldn’t be better.  So, on a warm July evening, donning goggles, scarves and a makeshift mercenary outfit (cosplay is encouraged though not compulsory), it is time to join the Alliance.

Image by Mike Massaro.
Image by Mike Massaro.

Upon arriving at the secret location, there are Alliance pilots, Jedis, bounty hunters, mercenaries and galactic warriors everywhere.  With everyone – kids and adults alike – getting in on the experience, it is easy to feel part of something special that makes it all the more enjoyable. The idea of venturing into the unknown is enough to build up inner excitement levels but being surrounded by people who share the same enthusiasm and love for Irvin Kershner’s classic multiplies them to no end.

As members of Rebel X, we are to be smuggled from Earth to our intergalactic destination and warned to blend in.  With the fear of being discovered, everyone plays a designated role and after boarding our ‘craft’ and lucky to avoid detection from the Galactic Empire, we end up a place whose accurate recreation is enough to make an inner child squeal with delight.

Image by Paul Cochrane.
Image by Paul Cochrane.


Walking around the first set, there are huts selling Middle Eastern food, evoking rich smells like a souk from Morocco, as well as trinkets and bottles of blue milk.  There is also a cantina featuring an all-too-familiar band.  Basically, you are welcome to wander around for a good half an hour before moving onto the next set. Although the whole setup is relatively free-form, audience members can actually get involved with secret trades by intermingling with the production’s ‘cast’.  Ranging from Galactic officers to street traders, they effectively get everyone involved and act with such conviction, a Stormtroomer can effectively scare you to death by charging in for an arrest, leaving nothing but fear and an odd sense of anticipation in your bones.

The real highlight comes in the next stage of the evening, which directly precedes the screening. Moving onto another impressive set, the vibe becomes a lot more structured that seems to quickly dissolve into chaos. Audience members are encouraged to continuing playing a certain role but in this case, it becomes all too easy to stray from the ‘chosen path’. But all this is forgiven as an amazing climatic light show sends tingles down your spine, and the collective anticipation feeds everyone’s excitement levels right before the big kahuna of the evening: a screening of Episode V.

Photo by Will Cooper.
Photo by Will Cooper.

Interweaving with little live-action reenactments of key scenes, lightsabers waving around and the odd fanboy cheer, The Empire Strikes Back is embraced by everyone. While traditional cinema etiquette is annoyingly thrown out of the window, even the odd snoozing fan cannot dampen the spirits of the raucous audience and the atmosphere.

So, is it worth the hefty price tag? That depends on what you expect. If you are willing to fully immerse yourself in the whole experience, or looking for a night out to the movies with a lot more on offer, then most definitely. The sets are ambitious yet articulate in detail, and a chance to get ‘involved’ in the world of Star Wars?

It’s an experience that cannot be passed up.

Embrace your inner Star Wars fan and join the Dark Side.

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