For my 37th Birthday the P&P crew pitched in for me and Mrs. Reardon to visit Planet Hoth (London) for Secret Cinema – The Empire Strikes Back. I've always been a huge fan since my Dad took me to watch the trilogy when I was 6 at the ABC in sheffield (now an argos superstore... progess?). Mrs Reardon on the other hand would happily jump head first into the Sarlacc Pit than watch Star Wars. This could end bad! Be warned if you plan to go don't read on there will be spoilers!
The story is that you play a character as part of a band of Rebels known as Rebel X. You answer some simple questions on a microsite and you are given character names and profile 'Tiberious & Lux Nobis' Govenours of the Alliance. You are then incouraged to dress the part, this is not full-on cos-play BTW which would probably put most people off including me, more like Star Wars casuals. You can buy official merch from a pop up shop just off Brick Lane but most people made it up. Once inside the venue, an old print factory you are immersed into a live cinematic star wars world, actors guide you through your basic training before you depart on to your cargo ship with your fellow rebels (and in our case one stormtrooper, with a Bolton accent) The ship lands and you are escorted by Empire troops into a re-creation of Mos Eisley.
It was incrediblly immersive and atmospheric, sand on the floor, abanded speeders, stalls selling the most amazing curry's and other morrocean influenced food and Music. There are Jawa's scurrying around and the odd inconspicous glimpses of Chewbacca, Han Solo, R2-D2 and Obi Wan. If you venture into the Cantina Bar Stormtroopers walk by to ask if you've seen the droids (which you obviously deny) and impromtu scenes are acted out whilst everyone walks around the spaceport drinking it all in.
Mos Eisley Spaceport
You are then transported to the Death Star where you can walk around and explore the control rooms before an epic re-inactment of Darth Vader and Obi-Wan in a lightsaber duel. The stage, effects and atmospheric sounds make it incredibly visceral and theatrical, every clash of lightsabers sounds incredibly authentic. It's at this point you realise the sheer amount of rigour, detail and craft to the whole performance and inventive uses of the space, such as the back of the millenium falcon and a full size X-wing which swoop in of the factories industrial crane rigs. The final part pulls back huge black curtains that reveal a seating area to watch the film where specific scenes are acted out. It's the first time i've ever been to a live cinema experience. As the film industry tries to work out how to create an enchanced cinematic experiences such as live Q&A's and 3D (I hate 3D but that's another post) this is the only idea I have seen that you could truely enchances the experience of a film. The least interesting part was watching the film as i've probably seen it 50 times now. But that's the brilliance of Star Wars, this is one of a number of clever and interesting interpretions of the universe. There are numerous examples of fanbase ideas such from Avanauts flickr feed of photographic star wars spaceship models in realistic environments to jedi Go-Pro. This was always the idea behind the toys that the films where one interpritation and the toys allowed you to create your own stories. Both Mrs.Reardon and I exited the dis-used print factory feeling like we had experienced something pretty amazing that night, fan or not immersive theatre is something anyone can appreciate.