On one hand, I feel a bit guilty about writing about Secret Cinema, you know, because it’s supposed to be secret and all that. On the other, I really want to share everything I can remember about it with all of you. I don’t want to spoil a lot of what goes on, so this might end up a really weird post. We’ll see…
Just in case I don’t manage to keep the post spoiler-free (let’s be honest, I won’t manage), keep reading at your own risk and don’t blame me if you end up reading something you didn’t want to… Deal?
I knew about Secret Cinema for a while, in the format of not knowing the location of a film until just a bit earlier (a few days or hours, I didn’t have all the details figured out), but I had never attended one. Last summer, in 2014, they did a Back To The Future one, in which that was the film they were showing all summer, and in theory, it was supposed to be amazing. I didn’t really know what all the fuss was about, but still wanted to attend. I couldn’t justify the price of the ticket to go to the cinema (and I couldn’t see why it would be so expensive).
One day, my colleague Andrea texted me out of the blue to tell me her friend had tickets to Secret Cinema presents: Back To the Future and if I wanted them, I could have them for free, as long as I went to the place within a few hours. I, of course, said yes, and embarked on a quest with Oummou to get there before another two people trying to use the same tickets, you can read all about it here.
As soon as we left, I knew I would want to go back the following year.
This year, it was Star Wars… Star Wars!!! As soon as I found out which film they were showing, I went to the website to check the tickets and at £78 I realised it was probably never going to happen.
Since they launched it this year, I’ve been eyeing the tickets, I’ve been wanting to go, and finally, I asked Oummou if she wanted to join me. The way I saw it was, last year it was amazing. It was the whole evening, there were lots of actors around, the setting was amazing, it all looked like out of the film, and watching the movie with actors performing key scenes was a great experience (one I probably won’t forget, by the way). Taking all that into consideration, and adding the fact that it was Star Wars, I decided I couldn’t miss it.
We bought the tickets and did all the online registration. I was supposed to be Thea Quinn, a galactic explorer. They suggested certain clothes, and asked that I wore a scarf, specific to my rank and group. Oummou answered the same questionnaire differently, and she became Yemima Ordo, from the creative council.
On the day, we left work early, so we could go to her place, get changed and then drive to the location. We checked the map of the area many times, but we couldn’t figure out where it would be exactly. Was it outdoors? Was it in a building? Where? We got to the place, and didn’t see that many people dressed up. When I was going to check the map again, a girl approached us to ask what was going on because she was German and had seen a lot of people like us (true story). We explained and I quickly asked where the others like us where and she pointed us in the right direction. There was a queue.
They checked our tickets, stamped our hands and we went in.
How can I explain how it was?
Last year, it was a stroll around the town square, watching stuff happening. It was more like being at an exhibition. Sure, you could interact with the characters, but it was a wide open space and it felt more like a picnic.
This year, as soon as we entered, it was all go-go-go!
First of all, we were all rebels against the Empire. When we arrived and the rebel leader, I guess, gave a speech, we were told to cover our faces with our scarves, how to make contact with another rebel and what to respond, etc.
There was a guy dressed as a stormtrooper (to this day I’m unsure whether he was real or planted) and the rebel leader went up to him and started shouting at him (you know, the sort of you think you can come here dressed like that?), while getting super close to him, basically like you’ve seen in bars just before someone headbutts another someone.
We were rushed to a ship (travelling as cargo), and when we landed, a bunch of stormtroopers stormed in (no pun intended, I think, maybe I did intend it) and approached the guy dressed like them, and escorted him out. That was good.
Then, we were told to leave the ship and arrived… wait for it… at a border check! There was a character checking our IDs, which we had been told to print. Not all of them, it would have taken forever, but a few. I don’t know what species she was, but definitely not human.
When we finally gained access (after someone got told off for taking photos with their phone right before we were meant to seal them in a metallic-y plastic bag), my jaw dropped. We were in a planet out of Star Wars. Everything looked the part! I was dressed the part. I felt like I was living the film. I did say out loud Oh my god, I think I’m gonna cry, and I’m not embarrassed to admit it.
We had a beautiful sky painted over one of the walls, and the lighting in the venue was perfect. We walked around the place, taking everything in. Stormtroopers and Imperial officers would patrol and walk the streets.
Now, a note on stormtroopers.
When you watch the films now, and you look at stormtroopers, they pretty much look like toys. Plastic toys, even.
Stormtroopers have become a souvenir. You see them in mugs, t-shirts (I, myself own a really cool sugar skull stormtrooper t-shirt), there are even cute Lego toys! If you’ve ever walked around Camden, you have definitely seen a stormtrooper (and Darth Vader, actually) around, with whom you can pose on pictures. Stormtroopers are not scary.
(Maybe they’re not scary because they wear trainers… with velcro??)
But. You are dressed as a rebel out of the Star Wars universe. You are in a planet that looks the part (even if you know you really are in a warehouse or something like that). You are walking around and everyone is dressed similarly, everyone is looking the part, and there are even different aliens and creatures walking around (we even saw Jawas!). And then, a pair of stormtroopers patrolling the streets with their weapons stop near you and start barking orders with their metallic voice. They are bloody intimidating, to be honest, so if they told me to move aside, I moved aside.
At some point, we crossed paths with C-3PO and R2-D2. Seeing R2-D2 face to face was so amazing, I felt like a fan girl at a One Direction concert! We also saw Obi-Wan, Luke and the droids riding past in the landspeeder (and then, when they left it parked, unfortunately, they took the keys with them, I checked…) and then Luke running around looking for them (or before, I can’t remember the order in which things happened in the film or at the event, which essentially, followed the same timeline).
Later on, someone ran past me, placing his hand on my shoulder so I would let him pass (quite gently, actually), and it was Luke Skywalker, running away from a pair of stormtroopers. I distractedly walked back to where I was, essentially blocking their way, but they barked move aside, and so I moved. I tried my best, Luke, I’m just a bit of a coward!
OK, you know what? I can’t not tell everything!
We saw a girl being dragged by officers and troopers, and made to kneel and reveal the names of her contacts in the Alliance, or die. Stormtroopers were pointing at her with their weapons, and I sort of said to Oummou can’t someone with the Force, do the whole these are not the droids you’re looking for thing and save her? Nobody seemed to have thought the same, until a couple of women appeared and did it, and saved the girl. The poor Imperial officer was completely confused afterwards. That was cool!
After, they arrested a guy who was putting up a fight and suddenly had a hand grenade, threatening to blow everyone up. So there was plenty of stuff to get involved in, if you wanted to, or just to watch from a distance, which I did on this instance, as fake or not, someone threatening to blow everyone up with a grenade is not something I want to get close to (I know, I know…).
We also met Lando Calrissian, playing cards in one of the buildings (and then arguing with a Jawa). We went to the cantina. There was a group of people surrounding a table/booth and when I peeked over the heads, I saw someone that was dressed like Han Solo (but who didn’t look at all like Harrison Ford), and I said that I thought it was the Han shot first scene, but that I really didn’t know who it was (basically, my brain kept telling me they didn’t look at all like the characters, but my instincts were telling me it was that scene being played). Anyway, we couldn’t see much so we kept walking around.
We arrived at a place where there was a shuttle going to Alderaan. Now, I cannot tell this story without spoiling every detail, so be warned.
The guy at the dock told us we were lucky because it was the last shuttle of the day, and they let us in sort of in the last second. I sat down, but Oummou didn’t find a seat. They told her it was alright, because it was a short trip anyway. We were travelling, and saw the space through a massive window on the ship. At some point, our engines started malfunctioning a bit, and we were pulled towards the gravity of something that looked like a moon. One of the pilots, through the intercom said as much, and in my mind, of course, I replied that is no moon. Oh. My. God. The Death Star was just in front of us. Oh. My God. We were being pulled into the friggin’ Death Star!!! They told us to prepare to be boarded by Imperial officers and stormtroopers and to do everything they told us, and to prevail, rebels!
Sure enough, we were surrounded by stormtroopers and escorted out of the ship. We were ordered to march in a single line, placing our right hand on the right shoulder of the person in front of us. Stormtroopers were flanking us, pointing at us with their guns, making sure we didn’t break formation. We had to walk fast, so of course, we would break formation and had to run to catch up, at which point we would be shouted at by both stormtroopers and Imperial officers. Some of them, had a green laser point on their weapons, which was quite… scary (I realise I’m using the word scary, when I don’t really mean I was scared as such, because I knew they were actors, and it wasn’t like a haunted house in a theme park, but you know what I mean).
We were put in cells, and left there (to rot… haha, no, not really). At some point, they came and asked if we had experience and this or that. They got us out of the cell and made us march in three rows. I must say, while marching around, I glanced over to the side and saw a table with cupcakes and biscuits, and I couldn’t help but nudge the guy next to me and say come to the dark side, we have cookies. He didn’t get it.
We were taught how to salute to an Imperial officer and stuff like that, which we resisted a bit. We were taken to the bridge and made to wait, and then, the fire alarm went off.
Yes. The bloody fire alarm went off. It had been so noisy and chaotic inside the Death Star, that at first we didn’t know what was happening, and it was only after, when we realised we were exiting, that we figured out it was a real fire evacuation.
We stayed in a car park for about half an hour (and then figured out where we actually were!) and everyone got their phones out and took photos. Oummou and I resisted the temptation. I knew if I took my phone out and turned it on, I wouldn’t be able to put it away again, so I kept it off inside the bag inside my pocket.
Finally, we went back in and into the Death Star, where first Grand Moff Tarkin gave a speech commending us for our exemplary behaviour during the recent incident (although he called us servants). He asked for our support, and we booed him. Then, Darth Vader talked to us, and again we booed him. They both left, and we felt the impacts of an attack. We saw through some windows the Millenium Falcon arriving, and not too long after, Han Solo and Chewbacca appeared chasing a couple of stormtroopers. They disappeared on the side, only to reappear again, this time a bunch of stormtroopers chasing them instead.
We were given another speech by the rebel leader, which told us the only way to destroy the Death Star is by shooting at a very specific target, and then, the most amazing scene happened.
Out of nowhere, an X-wing starfighter appears hanging from above. We see how it flies, goes up, down, and moves (hanging from some rails, of course), while we can see at the front the matrix the pilot sees when flying, black and green, and behind on another screen, the actual footage of the Death Star, when Luke Skywalker is navigating outside, trying to find a way in to destroy it. It was amazing and I was shouting and cheering like my life depended on it.
If you know the film, you know the end. The Alliance manages to destroy the Death Star, and we cheer and salute the pilots, Chewbacca, Princess Leia and Han Solo.
We’re then told we can proceed to the screening area, where we take our seats and watch the film.
Since it was gluten day and therefore I was allowed a beer, I went to the bar (there was a long queue, mostly due to the card machines not working) and ordered a can and a couple of bottles of water. The film started and I was still queuing, which was annoying, but after all, I’ve seen the film many times (if you haven’t made the connection, we basically lived Episode IV and were about to watch Episode V). The film is great, no matter where you watch it, but seeing some scenes being acted live while you watch it makes it even more amazing. Even when you feel sleepy (and possibly drunk) halfway through the film due to just one small can of beer. That’s what 50 days of no alcohol do to you!
Before the film started, we saw the duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan. During the film we saw Vader duel Luke. Han and Leia flirt and kiss. Han being lowered into carbonite. We finally saw the main duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader (I am your father).
It was fun. It was epic. I wish I could go again.
If you love Star Wars, or even if you just like it a bit, go if you can afford it. Even if I’ve spoiled some of the surprises, the experience will still be unique. If you do decide to go, go all in. Dress up, buy the scarf, get the precious stones/seeds/whatever, interact with the characters, get involved.
I got a henna tattoo, and that’s about it. I would have interacted more, but I was unsure. Even being a spectator only, they still got me quite involved (at the minimum, by people greeting you as rebel, at the max, by being imprisoned inside the Death Star). Walking around the planet (OK, yes, it was Tatooine, whatever!) with the dim sunset light, looking at the two suns, all in orange colours, with sandy floors and clay-type of huts. Gosh, I wish I could be back there.
I loved my outfit, the experience, and I even loved myself in that planet. It was so much fun, totally my crowd.
At the end, I told Oummou I can’t wait for next year’s Secret Cinema. I have no idea what they will prepare, but I’m (not so) secretly hoping it will be Jurassic Park. If they do that one, I know I will be saying I won’t go for ages, and then I’ll go anyway. During the whole evening I will be having the worst time of my life, and as soon as it finishes, I’ll want to go again. Please, make it a Jurassic Park!
Have you been to Secret Cinema, Star Wars or others? What did you think? Would you go again?