On the 15th December 2017, the latest instalment in the Star Wars saga- Episode VIII The Last Jedi will finally hit cinemas.
Despite being set “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” this much loved series of films has a surprising number of connections in and around London.
Here are 11 of them…
Located in Hertfordshire on the north-west outskirts of the capital, Elstree has been associated with filmmaking since 1914 when the ‘Neptune Film Company’ established themselves in the area.
It was in July 1976 that director, George Lucas arrived in Elstree- which then boasted a collection of huge sound stages- to begin filming the interior shots for the very first Star Wars film; the instalment which would later become known as Episode IV: A New Hope; an original 70s cinema trailer for which can be viewed below:
Production returned to Elstree for the next two films in the original trilogy; The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).
Sadly the studios in which the these films were shot were demolished in the early 90s and are now occupied by a large Tesco supermarket.
Despite this loss, Elstree still maintains a large studio complex on Shenley Road where filming on the 2016 Star Wars story, Rogue One was carried out.
Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire
Opened in 1936, Pinewood Studios– which are situated between London and Windsor- are most famously associated with the James Bond franchise.
In recent years they have been used for the latest Star Wars movies; The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017)
Canary Wharf station
Not all Star Wars production around London has been studio-based. In 2016, some on-location filming for Rogue One was carried out at Canary Wharf, with the futuristic looking Jubilee line station being used to represent the interior of the murderous ‘Death Star‘.
Anvil Studios, Denham
Denham on the western outskirt of London was once home to Anvil Studios and it was here that composer, John Williams recorded his sublime scores for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back with the London Symphony Orchestra both of which can be listened to below:
Sadly, Anvil Studios were demolished in the early 80s, just months after the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack was completed.
Abbey Road Studios
Following the loss of Anvil, John Williams headed to the world famous Abbey Road Studios to record music for 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
The soundtracks to the prequel films- The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) were also made at Abbey Road.
This bustling square in London’s West End is synonymous with cinema, and it’s here that every Star Wars movie has had its UK premiere.
Click below to hear a vintage radio advert announcing showings of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ at The Odeon, Leicester Square in May 1980:
On the 2nd April 1914 at Maida Vale’s Lauderdale Mansions South, the legendary actor, Sir Alec Guinness was born.
Sir Alec Guinness appeared in many celebrated roles during his life, including The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Ladykillers (1955) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
In Star Wars of course, he played the wise old Jedi, Obi Wan Kenobi who confronts his former pupil, Anakin Skywalker- now twisted, and corrupted as the treacherous Darth Vader- in a final lightsaber duel aboard The Death Star (please click below to view):
As seen above, the villain of the original Star Wars trilogy was the ominous Darth Vader.
This mighty baddie was portrayed by Dave Prowse (although his voice was provided by the deep tones of the incredible James Earl Jones), a bodybuilding and weightlifting champ who was born and bred in Bristol.
For many years, Dave Prowse ran a gym on Southwark’s Marshalsea Road which was popular with many celebrities- including the late Christoper Reeve who he helped to bulk up for his role in Superman (1978).
It was in Barnes, south-west London that the 7ft 3. Peter Mayhew was born and raised. He would go on to play the huge, furry Chewbacca; Han Solo’s trusty copilot onboard the Millennium Falcon.
At the time he was offered the role, Peter Mayhew was working as a porter at King’s College Hospital, Brixton.
John Boyega– who plays reformed storm trooper Finn– is one of the biggest names in the recent Force Awakens and The Last Jedi movies.
John was born in Peckham in 1992 and attended Oliver Goldsmith primary school on Peckham Road where, at the age of 9, he had his first taste of acting. He then went on to attend Westminster City school, South Thames College and the University of Greenwich, before going on to study acting at the Identity School of Acting in Hackney.
As well as film appearances- including 2011’s Attack the Block which was filmed on the former Heygate Estate at Elephant and Castle, John has appeared on stage both at the National Theatre and Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre.
Bushey, which can be found between Stanmore and Watford, was home to both Kenny Baker (born in Birmingham) and Jack Purvis (born in London) who’d been friends since the early 1960s after forming a double-act called The Minitones in which they’d performed in night-clubs across Britain.
In 1976 Kenny Baker was offered the opportunity to play the loveable little droid, R2D2.
He accepted- but only on the condition that his pal, Jack be given a role too. Consequently Jack went on to portray numerous droids and creatures throughout the original Star Wars trilogy.
Jack and Kenny also had prominent roles in the 1981 Terry Gillingham film, Time Bandits.
Tragically Jack Purvis was later paralysed in an accident at his Bushy home and died a few years later in 1997.
Kenny Baker passed away in 2016; the same year in which Carrie Fisher (who played Princess Leia) also died.
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This made me think of my own connection to some of those places, Rob. I lived in a rented flat in Borehamwood, following a divorce in 1997. The commute to work in Ladbroke Grove ambulance station (St Mark’s Road) was a traffic nightmare! I have been in Lauderdale Mansions more times than I can recall, as I worked in the area for the London Ambulance Service for more than 20 years.
Kenny Baker must have lived close to Ladbroke Grove at one time, as he was often seen walking past the ambulance station, and always said hello.
And for the last 30 years of her life, my Mum lived in Nunhead Green, Peckham.
I never knew I had so much in common with Star Wars! 🙂
Best wishes, Pete.
Thanks for sharing, Pete.
I was lucky enough to meet Kenny Baker myself, he was a fantastic, very generous man.
Carrie Fisher was looking to secure a property in Chelsea shortly before she died. I overheard one cabbie, who was lucky enough to pick her up his taxi, describe her simply as “A wonderful human being.”
They are nice cabbie memories to have, Rob.