Star Wars & Me
This is about ‘Star Wars’ from the London end.
One evening in 1977 we gathered in the Blue Posts, a strange rockabilly pub at the bottom of Tottenham Court Road that looked like a one-storey plank shack (eventually torn down and replaced with a concrete box housing the Muji store) and grabbed a few beers before stumbling off to see an SF B-movie nobody knew anything about. The working title had been ‘The Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Starkiller’.
How did I get to be there? Although I had yet to start my film company I was already deeply embedded in the UK film world. I knew a very camp old-school theatre agent who had a small film on his books shooting in Tunisia that had lousy pay, so the producers were offering percentages to the speaking-roles. Several of his clients had been approached and he advised them to turn the part down. ‘Why would you take it?’ he argued. ‘All you’ll get is a dicky tummy and no back-end because it will never see a profit.’
One actor, Al Lampert, ignored his advice – I seem to remember he was broke at the time – and took the gig, trotting out a handful of lines in corridors and nodding a lot. He looked a bit like a young Peter Cushing. Anyway, he took the role and never had to work again.
Arriving late for the cast and crew screening of ‘Star Wars’, its first showing anywhere in the world, we grabbed the last few seats in the very front row and watched in astonishment as an unimaginably vast spaceship passed over our heads on London’s biggest screen. By the end, we felt that cinema had been reinvigorated. Not reinvented, though, because the film was clearly modelled on old Flash Gordon serials. But hey, old wine in a shiny new bottle can work as well.
That was a pretty wide-ranging year for films (Saturday Night Fever, Annie Hall, The Spy Who Loved Me, Eraserhead, Close Encounters, New York New York, Suspiria) but ‘Star Wars’ stood out for sheer old-fashioned elan. For a franchise (although that word had yet to be coined) that survived on one good original film, one good sequel and four lousy ones, the reboot seems all the more remarkable until you consider that we live in times when the brand is everything.
The Dominion Tottenham Court Road is still there, but now has coach-party stage shows (its auditorium is too big for much else). Whether it will survive the wholesale destruction of the neighbourhood around it is a matter of conjecture.