Review: Secret Cinema Presents: The Empire Strikes Back by Owen Ward

Enjoy this guest post by Owen Ward about a truly amazing event happening in London right now!

The other night I got the chance to travel to a galaxy far, far away. I walked the streets of Tatooine, haggled with Jawas and had a drink in Mos Eisley Cantina. Nope, I wasn’t having delusions of grandeur – it was just Secret Cinema’s biggest event to date.

Secret Cinema started back in 2007 with an aim to create an immersive cinema experience. They take a film screening, combine it with interactive performances and recreations of key sets & locations, taking you in to a fully realised and tactile world at a secret location. Take a look at this video (LINK: for a taste of what they did for last years ‘Back to the Future’ event.

With the release of The Force Awakens this December, it is no surprise that they chose to recreate the world of Star Wars for this years The Empire Strikes Back show and no expense was spared in making each run of this summer long event truly a night to remember.

The experience doesn’t start when entering the venue, it begins as soon as you purchase your tickets. E-mails start coming your way from REBEL-X, letting you know that nobody is safe and the time has come to leave this planet. As it got closer to the time of the event, I got an e-mail asking me to sign up to REBEL-X. After a brief questionnaire, I was given a character and a class – I was no longer a mere Star Wars fan, I was now a Galactic Explorer. Each character class is asked to dress in a specific style and you’re asked to bring along a few different items to aid you on your mission. For myself, I was asked to bring a packet of seeds, with a compass and precious stones as optional extras.

I arrived at the designated meeting point on the day of the show, surrounded by scoundrels and Jedi of all ages. Even at this early stage, the event staff were completely in character, preparing us for our off world journey. It was particularly amusing to see them telling bewildered passersby that we were all waiting for a flight to take us off Earth with a completely straight face. Not long after, we were all ushered to the secret location – again confusing the locals as we all marched on down the streets of London.

Once we arrived at Terminal HX-1138 (nice touch), the pace picked up and we were sprung in to action. With Secret Cinema wanting the details of the days events kept as a surprise (which is understandable as it runs until the end of September), I will try to keep the rest as vague as possible to honour this request. Unfortunately, due to all the secrecy – photographs were not allowed, but there was an official photographer roaming around, so I’m sure they will be released at some point and I look forward to trying to spot myself in them.

After leaving Earth, we make a pit-stop on Tatooine. This is the most interactive and in my opinion, the coolest part of the night. Getting the chance to live in a fictional world that I have adored since being a child is absolutely thrilling and the actors do a fantastic job of truly immersing you in the environment. I’ve gotta give props to the guy who played a rather familiar looking moisture farmer, although he wasn’t happy with me entering his house.

Wandering about the place, I began to notice familiar events occurring around me and start to piece together the bigger picture of what is happening all around. I saw a separation, a meeting and a mess made in a cantina – if you catch my drift (gotta keep it secret!). This not only makes you feel as if you’re walking on the sands of another planet, you are part of the the story we all love.

The good chunk of time spent in this vast area doesn’t just give you an opportunity to marvel at the impressive production they have put on, it’s all about the interaction. The objects you were told to bring along are used to trade and barter with the locals, some of which are VERY iconic. All of the exchanges you make advance you further along, which is actually rather reminiscent of the way A New Hope is structured – you meet one character who leads to you another, who leads you to the next (and so on). Intentional or not, it is definitely a great touch.

Although there is a few hours time between this period and the screening of Empire itself, there was never a time with nothing to do. I didn’t get a chance to meet a big, hairy fella about some spice as it was time to leave Tatooine – but the theatrics didn’t end there. As we were led to our next flight, some more familiar events happened (it’s a secre…oh, you get the idea by now), culminating in my childhood literally flying right above my head, which genuinely brought a tear to my eye.

Soon after, it was time to actually watch Empire in the best way to ever watch a Star Wars film – with a pumped up crowd who are totally up for it. For those interested, it is the Blu-ray release of the film which is shown (the Fox fanfare is still there) and not the original cuts as some have hoped. Throughout the film, key moments are played out amongst the surroundings by actors – continuing the immersion of everything prior. To be honest, I expected more of this from what I’ve seen of past events. But with Star Wars being the way it is, it’s much more difficult to recreate the large scale of Empire than other films which they have done like Back to the Future and The Shawshank Redemption. The lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader at the end of the film was the most impressive, with the each swing being perfectly in time with the onscreen action.

As the end credits rolled, we were now free to just relax and hang around Tatooine once again. The bar stayed open till pretty late, so most stayed to have a drink and check out the live music. But this was also a great opportunity to have a more in-depth look at the sheer amount of effort put in creating the environment, taking it all in without the hustle and bustle. When it was time to leave, I really didn’t want to.

All in all, I had an absolutely fantastic time. The team behind it have done an amazing job, truly creating the immersive cinema experience that Secret Cinema are renowned for. At the time of writing, tickets are still available for shows all the way from now until the end of September, so if you can make it to London and have the money to spare (the tickets are a hefty £75 a piece!), I would definitely recommend it. One thing to keep in mind though, you get as much back as you put in – if you get well and truly involved and interact with all the actors you come across, you will be rewarded with a rich experience that is unique to you. My only hope is that Secret Cinema will somehow be able to put this show on again at Celebration next year.

We are REBEL-X.

Secret Cinema Presents The Empire Strikes Back runs from June 4th – September 27th at a secret location in London, England. Tickets are priced at £75 and are available to buy at

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