I can now finally upload this blog post about the Star Wars Secret Cinema because it is no longer secret. After 5 months of non stop shows it’s now done and the unofficial blogging embargo has been lifted. I’m writing this right after the event in July while it is fresh in my mind, so excuse me if I shift in and out of past and present tense whilst writing. I had the pleasure of attending this year’s event run by Secret Cinema back in July. For those of you who don’t know, Secret Cinema is an amazing UK company, based in London, that organises immersive viewing events where you get to experience a movie in a live environment, before then watching the movie itself on the big screen. Think real life sets, actors interacting with you, themed drinks and food etc.

Last year I attended their Back to the Future event where they recreated a 1955 Hill Valley, complete with clock tower, high school dance and a DeLorean being chased by Libyan terrorists. It was a fantastic experience and you can read my review of it at the link above.

This year they tackled Star Wars. The movie being shown was The Empire Strikes Back but the immersive experience covered the Star Wars universe in general. It was pricey at £75, (Back to the Future was £50), so they have upped the price but they have also upped the quality and the immersiveness. The level of detail was insane in places. I got my ticket as a birthday present but if I had paid for it myself I would personally say that it was worth every penny. You may well have to be a big Star Wars fan to appreciate the immersiveness and to feel it’s worth the price tag though. If you compare it to a West End show though, I think you’re getting way more for your money.

Rebel X

Before the event even starts, you are sent the first part of the immersive experience. You are sent emails that are so secret they can be easily missed. Or maybe it’s just me. I missed the ‘Secret Cinema’ text in the subject of the first one and from then on I thought the emails coming from an account called ‘RebelX’ were just spam emails from some extreme sports company or something. They were sent three months prior but I only found them about two weeks before the event! These emails are sent from the Rebel Alliance and are very covert in nature, drip feeding you information about the event and about the setup of the whole narrative. You are given an identity and a ‘faction’. My name was Skye Skye (not sure if that was a glitch in the procedural name generator or not) and my faction was the Creative Council. Each faction has a certain uniform that you are encouraged to wear, and of course they have a shop that you can purchase your clothing and accessories from. I managed to cobble together a few things of my own but bought a scarf, goggles and iron-on patch from the shop. I basically looked like a steampunk Ben Kenobi in the end.


It also gives you covert directions to a physical store they had setup in London that I tried to pop to in my lunch hour one day, but their map online was like a black and green version of Google maps with no street names, and in my rush I actually got lost and couldn’t find it! This kind of just added to the secrecy for me and I tried not to feel too embarrassed. I did kind of feel (and I remember feeling this way last year too) that they almost give you too much information. It’s all very disparate. Some of their emails have about 10 hyperlinks all going to different microsite or Facebook pages. It can be hard to keep track of what’s what and know which has the important information such as where to go and what you need to bring. But I shouldn’t complain about it because it kind of only enhances the depth of the world that you are entering into. If you’re going with a bunch of friends who are really getting into it then it could really be an amazing experience enjoying the build-up. They even held special nightclub events and a May 4th event in London too where you could get a taste for what the big summer event would be like.

Star Wars shop

Star Wars shop

I had tried to talk some of my friends into going with me but the big Star Wars fans weren’t able to go on the same dates I wanted to go and the others weren’t willing to shell out £75 for it, which is fair enough. I got my ticket as my birthday present from my wife so it was easier for me to pull the trigger. I didn’t mind going on my own though. I think it actually allowed me to immerse myself a bit more to be honest. I know people who went with their friends and they said their friends weren’t really getting into the dressing up and the immersiveness and it made it a bit awkward for them to enjoy the experience as a result. But if you did go with friends who were all-in then it would be great fun.

As it’s a UK event the majority of the people attending were British but there were plenty of internationals too. Brits aren’t known for their dressing up or roleplaying particularly, so I was expecting to have lots of people not really getting into it or taking the piss out of the actors there etc. But actually it was the opposite. Even with actors running around telling us what to do, and doing ‘make believe’ around us and with us, the majority of people were really getting into it and getting involved without too much self-consciousness or cynicism. You would occasional get some banter like when one of the Rebel leaders asked us “Are you ready to join us?!” one guy sneezed and then said “I’m not ready, I have hay fever!”. All the banter was in good jest and over 90% of attendees were dressed up to some degree which was great to see. If you didn’t get dressed up then you would actually be decreasing the level of immersion for everybody else.

So what actually happened in the night? You arrived at the venue, which was an unused industrial factory and straight away you can see Star Wars signs everywhere. Done very realistically. Right away you realise that every little sign at the entrance, from venue signs to little ‘health and safety’ signs on the wall are all done in Star Wars language writing and symbology. Right from the start you are dealt with by actors. The security guys checking bags ask you if you have any devices in there that could harm the fabric of the galaxy, or something like that. And as you queue up there are rebel officers telling you to keep to the right, or to keep low or to wear your masks. I normally find things like this a bit awkward where people are ‘acting with you’ rather than just watching people act on stage. I never really know what to say when actors in character talk to me or I burst out in nervous laughter. But luckily they weren’t too direct in engaging with the audience and it was also so immersive that I kind of managed to go with it. The whole entry process sets you up for the rest of the night.

Eventually you end up in what is essentially a Rebel recruitment warehouse where new recruits are drilled. You have your tickets scanned, you are asked to line up in file and they do things like shine flashlights in your eyes and your mouth and they give you motivational speeches of how to be a part of the Rebel Alliance. This is also the part where they ask you to put away your communication devices (smartphones). Last year at Back to the Future they actually took your phones off you and I was expecting the same this year but they just told us to put our phones into these special silver bags and then they never asked us to hand the bags in anywhere. So I guess theoretically you could open your silver bag and take photos with your phone but they did have a fair amount of staff around who were probably watching out for this all night, in order to keep the secrecy. The whole Rebel spaceport was pretty realistic, with passengers lists appearing on large monitors and a big rotating spaceport logo appearing on a massive projector overhead. To be honest I felt this stage of the night took a bit too long. Maybe they had it as a way to control the flow of arrivals into the first main scene of the night but I still think they could have moved us through more quickly and given us more time to buy food and drink (and they could have made more money). In Back to the Future last year you could have a whole night of indulging in food and drink but in this one there was only a short window where you had the full food and beverage options available to you. I was also really wanting a bottle of wine and I asked several staff where I could buy wine and nobody knew. I’ve since heard from other people that you could buy wine. That is just a stupid, simple fail. Take my money next time guys.

Rebel transport

You were then ushered through into a spaceship interior which had rows of seating and three screens at the front which were made to look like windows of a spaceship. They proceeded to show a pretty impressive animation of our ship flying over London and then out in the atmosphere and subsequently flying through hyperspace. This was really well done actually and it certainly did help you to imagine that you were travelling to a different planet. When we ‘arrived’ we were boarded by stormtroopers (always awesome seeing real life stormtroopers) and marched off the ship with our scarves over our faces.

Imperial Officer

When we came out we found ourselves on Tatooine surrounded by merchants in stalls selling food and drink. The whole place had a very Moroccan vibe and so did the food. It was a great selection of things like lamb wraps, chicken burgers, halloumi fries, ice cream etc. I thought the whole environment was extremely well done, such as the back wall was lit in a cool way to make it look like the Tattooine sunset, complete with a projection of two suns just like in the film. And as you walked around you started to notice some of the actors that there were. They had someone dressed up as Boba Fett just walking slowly around, which was pretty cool. Various Stormtroopers with Imperial Officers, often marching audience members into a jail in the corner. There was a C3-PO and a remote controlled R2-D2 just walking about. There was even a landspeeder in the corner. It was just very cool wandering this area with all these characters that you know so well just acting around you. And you had constantly look out for Stormtroopers and Imperial officers. If you looked at them wrong they would grill you and frog-march you over to the jail. There were also several little huts which looked like the Lars homestead and one of them had an actress playing Aunt Beru and you could talk to her about her seeds which I think was part of the storyline that some people had been given to roleplay, and one hut had a Lando Calrissian that you could actually have a game of cards with. It was at that time that I saw a full size Chewbacca walk right past of me, so I had to follow him…


I followed Chewie into the next area and found myself in a replica of the Cantina bar. Sadly no band, but the bar was pretty cool. The one let-down was the choice of drinks. There was one unknown beer and some Star Wars cocktails and I think that was it. No wine or anything else. And no blue milk! I went for a wander round the bar and in one of the booths, just like in the movie, there was an actor playing Han Solo and sitting next to him was Chewbacca who had just returned. There were some audience members sitting with them quizzing Han about how much it would cost to hire his ship and asking about the Kessel Run etc. Pretty fun to re-enact these bits from the film! I wonder if they had a Greedo appear later on. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. I have later discovered that I missed out on a big bit of a set play back in the Tattooine market area where the landspeeder I saw actually moved across the whole set and a Ben Kenobi actor did the whole ‘These aren’t the droids you’re looking for’ lines on some Stormtroopers. I’m gutted I missed that and that’s one of the downsides of the Secret Cinema setup… things can happen in areas where you’re not present and you’re never going to be able to ensure you witness all the cool bits. You can be lucky or unlucky, depending on where you are.

Cantina Bar

Sadly I was a bit unlucky here because I went for an explore as I wanted to see everything that there was and then get a relaxed bite to eat, rather than rush a bite to eat before exploring. But the area next to the cantina was a docking bay (I think it might have been number 94) and there was a kind of a checkpoint. This is where I would have appreciated a straight answer from the actor but when I asked what was up the flight of stairs he said ‘Passage to Alderaan, a safe place’. (Alderaan a safe place, yeh right!) I asked if I was able to come back to the food stalls and he said ‘There will be return shuttles, yes’. So I chose to go through, but then I was stopped and asked for spices. ‘Were you not told you had to bring spices?’. I’m not sure if I missed a secret memo (very possible) or if this was just a narrative exercise on the night, but I couldn’t be bothered with going hunting for other actors to barter spices from so I just said ‘look can I not just give you something else so that I can get through, like… a song or dance or tell a joke or something?’ I was kind of joking here. No in fact I definitely was joking, but the minute it left my mouth I regretted it. Never give an actor in character an opportunity. He proceeded to bring over a ‘senior checkpoint official’, a very serious looking women, and said that I had to make her laugh in order to get past. After a very awkward silence she somehow managed to get me to do a Marcel Marceau impression and promptly let me pass. That was the last ‘acting’ I did that night! But the bad bit about this whole thing was that I actually left the main first area and got embroiled in the ‘transition experience’ through to the next area. So I missed out on a chance to buy more food and drink for about the next 20 or 30 mins which was annoying and as I mentioned above I missed out on the landspeeder scene being acted out.


The transition through to the next stage was pretty cool though. Firstly you get taken through to another spaceship where you strap yourselves in and are meant to be en route to Alderaan. We come out of hyperspace and the actors on board the ship then proceed to re-enact the scene in the Millennium Falcon about ‘That’s no moon’ and ‘They’re not going to get me without a fight’. So then we ended up on board the Death Star!

This is when we really get to see the venue at its best. It was an old printing factory I believe and, after it had been dressed up a bit and lit very well by the Secret Cinema production team, it really did feel like you were on the Death Star. First of all you are taken off the ship by stormtroopers and frog-marched in single file around a few Death Star corridors until you end up in the detention level. They then actually put you into a jail cell for a few minutes (so that you can bond with your fellow attendees) only for a Rebel to then come and break you out! All of this is with actors dressed up as characters giving you orders or instructions on what to do. You were told to go down the corridor and look for someone, and as you wander round exploring you realise you’re now in the next stage of the event. This consisted of a bar, toilets, a few small rooms where it looked like you could do things like learn how droids were built, and also a main area which was to become the centre of a set piece later on. This area basically looked a bit like a prison, with a main concourse on ground level and a balcony running around the whole perimeter and two walkways running across the width. At about 8pm we were then aware of a set piece happening around us. An actor playing Grand Moff Tarkin (or a similar senior Imperial officer) walked out, with Vader next to him, and gave us a speech about all rebels being quashed and experiencing the firepower of this battle station. But then we saw Ben Kenobi up the far end, pulling down levers to switch off the force field, Han and Chewie running the length of the balcony and blasting their way through some stormtroopers and who knows what else. All these actors just running in and out of the audience and making you feel that you are part of the ‘show’. This is one of the love/hate things about Secret Cinema, you can miss out on some of the bits of action when they happen. I happened to be standing in a spot on the ground floor where I could hardly see any of the things I just mentioned. There may well have been other things happening (with Luke and Leia actors for example) which I wasn’t even aware of. There was actually a lightsaber battle between Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader happening on the balcony right above my head which was quite frustrating as I couldn’t see a thing. But the whole crowd was getting behind the fight and it was still cool to experience.


I was beginning to get a bit angry and frustrated with Secret Cinema though about how you can pay all this money and sometimes miss some of the action. It seemed a bit luck of the draw. But a few minutes later it was the last thing on my mind as I was totally in the right place at the right time. Firstly though was the main set piece action of the night which consisted of a lifesize X-Wing fighter descending from the ceiling on motorised cables, complete with a trench run animation being projected on the big screens at either end. The X-Wing came pretty low and moved along a fair part of the venue. It must have been extremely impressive for those on the balcony. It obviously culminated in the explosion of the Death Star (you had to suspend your belief that we were now no longer on board the Death Star of course) and big whoops and hollers around the venue. What came next was amazing though. Secret Cinema staff started walking down the middle of the ground floor asking us all to part in the middle. I ended up right next to the ‘aisle’ which they had just made. They then played music which we all immediately recognised as the medal ceremony music and then we saw Princess Leia walk on at the top of the stairs up to the main walkway bridge. Everyone started whooping and hollering even more as the actors playing Luke, Han and Chewie started walking the whole length of the aisle with the medal ceremony music blaring away and everyone at the aisle patting them on the back and high-fiving them. I was right at the edge of the aisle myself so I managed to high-five Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca as they walked up to get their medals with the final fanfare of the original Star Wars movie blaring away. I can tell you honestly and with no shame that I actually got a little emotional. For that minute or so I was totally 100% immersed. That moment alone was worth the price of the ticket. It probably doesn’t sound very special if you’re just reading this but if you were there you would know what I mean. Again, for people who weren’t on the ground floor next to the aisle they probably wouldn’t have had as strong an experience as I did at that bit, but as I had missed out on some bits earlier I felt vindicated that I had experienced this moment.


It hadn’t been clear up until that point but it was very clear now that the whole immersive event was recreating the plot of the first Star Wars film, and immediately after the heroes had received their medals the staff ushered us through into the next room which was where we were going to immediately start watching the next instalment, The Empire Strikes Back, on the big screen. Cleverly done.

There’s not much to report on the rest of the night, other than we got to watch Empire on a big screen. We were allowed to quickly run back to Tatooine and get more drinks and food but some of the food stalls had shut down unfortunately. And there were a few more moments of real-life acting whilst the film went on, such as Vader and Luke actors having a light-sabre battle next to the cinema screen, or Han and Leia actors kissing on a balcony up to our lefts. Quite nice just to bring some scenes to life but not as much as the Back to the Future had.

In the interests of balance and fairness I should add that many people have had bad experiences with the customer service from Secret Cinema. Last year’s Back to the Future had a bit of a disastrous opening few weeks when they had to cancel several shows. I know people who were booked for those shows and they were not impressed by the customer service at all. Even for my Star Wars one this year I had mistakes from their shop and couldn’t manage to get hold of anyone at all at the organisation on Twitter or by email. Obviously this is something they need to work on.

It kind of highlights the whole essence of the experience though in some ways. They don’t give you everything on a plate. You need to make an effort to get involved, to read all the material, to put together a costume. To just get on with living the experience yourself. You get out of it what you put in. If you get involved and immerse yourself then you can have an amazing experience.

I’m able to put aside the teething issues that go along with the Secret Cinema experience (although I do hope they start to get rid of them, now that they are charging much more for their tickets) and I can immerse myself enough to enjoy the experience. It really is a unique sort of experience and not something you can do every day. As I said earlier, if you compare the price of the ticket with a West End show or something like that then I think it totally justifies itself. The experiences of Back to the Future and Star Wars will stay with me for a long time. I can’t wait to see what film they do next year. I just hope they don’t put the price up again!

Here are a couple of videos from before/during the event.

Secret Cinema presents Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back from Secret Cinema Presents on Vimeo.

And here is the full official video from Secret Cinema that they released a few months after the event in December 2015.