Secret Cinema: The Tractor Beam to Childhood

Secret Cinema: The Tractor Beam to Childhood

Starting this with ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ would be a poor, clichéd beginning. However, ‘in the north of Pembrokeshire, quite a few fields away from Fishguard in the late 70s’ would have been completely crap.

Just like with my religion (afterlife, giant drinking hall, 6 nations rugby on a Saturday only, pork chops, marmite crisps, no geese, paper/scissors/stone being recognised for the sport it is… y’know the usual), my relationship with Star Wars is personal. I don’t care how other people like it, I don’t care if they sit down to watch Coronation Street dressed up like Darth Maul or have painted their car to look a little bit like an X wing fighter.

I love Star Wars and I love it the way I love it.

Like me having a rudimentary knowledge of the English language, I don’t remember a time before Star Wars. School and family life just got in the way of me playing with my Star Wars figures, reading Star Wars comics and discussing, as if it was life and death, Star Wars. Christmas and birthdays were about Star Wars figures or for a huge present, a starship! That was rare, we were as far away from well off as we could get, so these figures weren’t expected just hoped for, dreamed about. The Millennium Falcon (for many the headliner spaceship) or the AT-AT (my mother infuriatingly called it ‘the space dog’) was so out of my grasp, I may as well have asked my parents to buy George Lucas and make him live under my bed. I cannot explain to you the feeling of joy I had every time my collection was added to by Mam and Dad, Gran or one of my glorious Aunties.

That love remained. It’s not like now. It wasn’t cool to like comics, or fantasy fiction when I was a young adult. Rugby, drinking and girls became the centre but I never really forgot. Like a childhood teddy bear, when I first left home to join the army I brought 3 or 4 of my favourite figures for luck. I still have them and they have been joined with the others I rescued from home. (sorry Dad? You put them in the shed? THE BLOODY SHED?). I have also added to them. Over the years I would find myself in a shop with Star Wars memorabilia. I would think about my 8 year old self and I would buy him and me something. Mrs Mathias knew of and shared my love of Star Wars (in a different way – obviously) and a few years ago bought me that AT-AT. I didn’t know what to do with it, I still don’t, I just love the fact that I have one.

The very same Mrs Mathias told me we were going to Secret Cinema and the film and theme was The Empire Strikes Back. I knew what secret cinema was as I had read about their Back to the Future showcase. So in a nutshell, it was going to be a showing of one of my favourite films in the midst of a large area featuring live sets and scenes from the first three films (look I am not explaining ‘old three/new three’ or chronological three, if you don’t know about Star Wars, this article or the event isn’t for you, Wales Arts Review is chock full of other great stuff for you, ‘move along’ (line from Star Wars you won’t get).

Mrs Mathias was expecting me to fall down, legs buckling in a sex wee induced stupor. I didn’t, I got all stressed out. Anybody who has seen The Phantom Menace knows damn well what happens when someone messes around with your entire childhood. I knew people had to go in fancy dress to get the most of the event, I knew there were secret instructions about what to bring and what to do.

NO, NO, NO, I just wanted to walk around a recreation of the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the spaceport of Mos Eisley, then the rebel hanger on the ice planet Hoth and I then wanted to watch the film. That’s it, nothing else. I didn’t want to rush around the place solving clues and being looked down at by Keith from Milton Keynes, who had spent a millionty thousand pounds dressed up as Boba Fett, because I had come in some chinos and a brown towel for a cloak. Nor did I want to spend the weeks leading up to the event wondering and worrying about what I was going to wear!

I went as a Jedi knight in the end, I didn’t care about the detail. I understand that Jedis didn’t have bellies, crap knees and they didn’t go ballistic at people who can’t use self-service tills but hey I had a greyish beard like Obi Wan and like him I knew what it was like to live like a hermit in the middle of nowhere like Tatooine because as a teenager I was stuck in rural west Wales with no transport. I can’t really go into too much detail about the event because it’s called secret cinema and it’s a secret.

I am also obviously not reviewing the film. The Empire Strikes back is my favourite of the six and a straw poll will reveal that is the same with most fans. It’s dark, it’s detailed, the back story for characters is understood more, the Rebellion seems more up against it, more real and so does the might, power and threat of the Empire. It has bounty hunters, Yoda, AT-ATS, a city in the clouds, Lando Calrissian (once known as the only black man in the galaxy) and it also introduces the brooding ‘Imperial March’ by John Williams. Return of the Jedi would’ve pushed it close if it wasn’t for those bloody Ewoks.

If you are over 35 and have never seen the originals, don’t bother. You won’t get it and won’t appreciate it. You’ve missed it. It’s like when I read Catcher in the Rye in my mid-thirties; that kid Holden wasn’t a visionary that got how I felt, he was a moaning little twat who needed a shake.

But while I smugly can’t mention much, I want you to know that I enjoyed it. It is up there as one of the best things I have ever done. I am not giving away much by saying actors playing some favourite characters were everywhere, Lando even tried to get off with my missus… the scoundrel. The Stormtroopers that were patrolling were huge and they were nasty. At one point they came over to us and asked if we had seen some droids. As I was dressed as Obi Wan I thought it hilarious to retort with a classic line ‘they aren’t the droids you’re looking for’ my self-satisfied smile was wiped off my face when the giant stormtrooper came straight up to my face, poked me really hard and said ‘They F******G ARE THE DROIDS WE ARE LOOKING FOR!’

I don’t recall that line from any of the films.

All those hundreds of people that joined us that night loved Star Wars as much as me, I could tell. They helped make it what it was. They had changed me, I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Morning. They were excited, they got into it, they embraced everything, because if you didn’t you wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. I felt like I was among my own. Keith from Milton Keynes wasn’t there but everybody had dressed up, they put the same love they had for the film into what they wore. The whole thing was exactly like Star Wars; it was big, brash and exciting, it cared about details and the people at Secret Cinema cared about your experience because they loved the details as well. There were points during the evening I actually cried and while it may have been because I had gotten so excited I consumed a lot of alcoholic drinks, I know for a fact that it was because I was thinking about how much the little boy who grew up in West Wales would have loved it.

So as I didn’t do the clichéd start, you’ll also notice that not once have I mentioned the much maligned character Jar Jar Binks so I will leave you with this.

Jar Jar Binks is shit.