The day Luke Skywalker came to Maxwell Park community centre

Borehamwood Times: Elstree Studios is the original home of Star Wars Elstree Studios is the original home of Star Wars

I hear the new Star Wars film has gone into production on location and at Pinewood Studios, though the original home of the franchise was, of course, Elstree Studios.

I understand Disney, the new owners of Lucasfilm, selected Pinewood because it has a long-term agreement to make movies there and is nowadays a larger facility.

The new film is cloaked under a veil of secrecy, probably greater than was employed producing the first nuclear bomb in the 1940s. Frankly, I find it all a bit silly as the majority of the population will never see the film and I doubt any leaked ‘spoiler’ will deter die-hard fans.

The problem today is the business is like a bubble in which they really believe what they are producing is important.

To me films are simply a form of entertainment that hopefully make money so they can make more films, but what do I know?

I was invited to visit the set of The Phantom Menace at Leavesden Studios a few years ago, and on arrival, I was asked to sign a form that virtually said I would kill myself if ever I revealed what I saw. I declined but they still let me in as I am of a generation where my word is my bond, even when it is all a bit silly.

I did visit the sets of the original Star Wars trilogy at Elstree, which all seems a lifetime ago now.
Many years later I was asked to write my memories for a Star Wars magazine but was then asked to sign a contract that assigned my memories to Lucasfilm. Naturally I declined and they still published the article.

Alas, when I did visit the set of Star Wars at Elstree in 1976, I was impressed by the sets but not by the story and cast.

In my defence, this was before the music and special effects were added. I even told George Lucas I doubted the film would be a big success as the science fiction genre was dead in the cinema, along with musicals and westerns.

Ok, I got it wrong and today George is a billionaire living in California and I am a pensioner living in Borehamwood.

However, the owners of Elstree Studios, at the time EMI, made the same mistake and declined a percentage of the profits in lieu of stage rental fees. The studio financing the film, 20th Century Fox, also missed out by allowing George to retain the merchandising rights.

Years later, when we were relaunching Elstree Studios in 1996, 20th Century Fox entered into buying the studio as a way of enticing George back to making the new series of Star Wars films for them, but they basically wanted it for nothing.

When they were shooting Return Of The Jedi at Elstree, I was trying to relaunch the Maxwell Park Community Centre, adjacent to the studio, as a youth facility.

I asked if I could borrow one of the stars to do a question and answer session with the local kids. I was asked if I preferred Mark Hamill or Harrison Ford and I picked Mark as I thought he would have a greater rapport with the youngsters.

I picked up Mark from the studio one evening after he had spent a long day duelling with Darth Vader. We went to Maxwell Park and spent a couple of hours with 300 youngsters answering their questions and then Mark signed autographs.

A few days later I had a lovely handwritten letter from Mark saying how much he had enjoyed meeting the Borehamwood youngsters and how it had put him back in touch with the audience they were making the films for.

I published the letter in my book Elstree Confidential, available from the Borehamwood Museum or online at the  Elstree Screen Heritage website, where it raises much needed funds for both organisations.

I am glad to hear that Mark, Carrie, Harrison, Anthony, Kenny and Peter are all reunited for the new film and I wish it every success. I find it hard to believe it is now 38 years since I visited the first Star Wars set.

I wonder if any of the kids who attended that evening at the Maxwell Centre more than 30 years ago remember the occasion? It’s frightening to think many of them may now have their own teenage kids.

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