I saw a ‘Star Wars’ striptease in SF, and I changed forever

If you’ve ever fantasized about a captive Princess Leia twirling in a bikini and swinging her chains on the filthy, rotten trap of Nine Inch Nails’ sultry 1994 hit “Closer,” or if you wanted to watch sexy stormtroopers trample the relentless 4 /4 beat of “Seven Nation Army,” then “The Empire Strips Back”—a “Star Wars” parody and traveling burlesque show—is absolutely for you.

Popularized in the United States in the 19th century, burlesque blurs the line between comedy and adult entertainment, incorporating camp and theater into playful striptease routines without nudity. ‘The Empire Strips Back’, originally conceived in 2011 and performed in Sydney, Australia, for a three-night run at a small theater, is a huge hit: Representatives say it has attracted a devoted following, thanks to a 2016 Huffington Post feature that has gone “viral”. Now he is finally coming back to San Francisco.

With each draw of the curtain, we saw a series of visually decadent and tonally unique slapstick acts.

Jon Bauer

I have to admit, I’m not the biggest “Star Wars” fan, and I’m not familiar with burlesque. But when I agreed to cover this show, I thought maybe this was just the intro I needed for the “Star Wars” canon – that’s how I ended up center stage of one of the most memorable and impressive live performances I have ever seen. As I sat down and strapped in, I hadn’t anticipated just how “dark and sexy” Rebellion really was.

Production of The Empire Strips Back at the Great Star Theater in San Francisco, CA on July 14, 2022.

Production of The Empire Strips Back at the Great Star Theater in San Francisco, CA on July 14, 2022.

PATRICIA CHANG/Special at SFGATE

To begin, emcee Eric Newton, an Oakland comedian with glittering onyx-black nails and a pastel blue cape, presented each dance with energy, candor and sharp wit. Chinatown’s gritty and eclectic Great Star Theater — a century-old venue that just reopened to the public — is likely the perfect space for the “Empire Strips Back,” who starred in sold out venues across the West Coast and its Australian homeland.

The

The “Empire Strips Back” gets plenty of laughs, but it’s also not afraid to embrace the raw talent of its dancers.

Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE

With each draw of the curtain, we saw a series of visually decadent and sonically unique burlesque acts. Aside from Jabba the Hutt and the captive Leia, my other personal favorite was when Sheev Palpatine — who looked absolutely grotesque thanks to a wrinkled blue and white skin suit — fully stripped and swung on a huge disco ball to “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus.” Just before that, resident space pimp R2-D2 made it rain by tossing wads of cash into the air while a swaggering Han Solo rippled to “Smooth Criminal,” making all the goths and nerds in the audience scream. like animals.

The “Empire Strips Back” has plenty of laughs, but it’s also not afraid to embrace the raw talent of its dancers, which shines in some of the moodiest routines. I nearly fainted when performer Cecilia Qu’in portrayed a Jedi with acrobatic precision on Massive Attack’s “Angel” – a certified ’90s banger that’s just as spellbinding as the performers who bring it to life.

Camp away, performing in masks, heavy costumes, and full-fledged Chewbacca outfits is challenging for even the most classical dancer.

Camp away, performing in masks, heavy costumes, and full-fledged Chewbacca outfits is challenging for even the most classical dancer.

Kevin Bern

Jin Kim, who played Han Solo, quit her supporting role at Facebook to pursue her dance career. “I just got to a point where I was like, you know, this is not what I like to do,” he said from his apartment in an interview via Zoom. While currently performing on the all-male Warriors dance team, blue crewhe says his partner, Isa Musni – who played Princess Leia in the number with R2-D2 – pushed him to apply for a role in “The Empire Strips Back”.

Musni, a trained ballet and contemporary dancer who studied at ODC and the California Institute of the Arts, says it was easy to tap into her role. “I resonate with a lot of character traits,” she says of Princess Leia. “You know, she’s a very opinionated woman. She can be very stubborn.

Backstage at the production of The Empire Strips Back at the Great Star Theater in San Francisco, California on July 14, 2022.

Backstage at the production of The Empire Strips Back at the Great Star Theater in San Francisco, California on July 14, 2022.


Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE
Backstage at the production of The Empire Strips Back at the Great Star Theater in San Francisco, California on July 14, 2022.

Backstage at the production of The Empire Strips Back at the Great Star Theater in San Francisco, California on July 14, 2022.


Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE


Backstage at Empire Strips Back at the Great Star Theatre. (Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE)

Australian creator Russall S. Beattie says producing “Strips Back” was inevitable. “I am Peter Pan. I never really grew up,” he says, as his French bulldog snores audibly in the background. “It takes all the best things about being a kid and all the best things about being an adult and putting them together.” In between questions, I ask about his knuckle tattoos, which spell “Sexy Boss” – a nickname he earned while working in the burlesque circuit. “I was drunk in Texas one night and I got it,” he says. “And I could tell I was drunk because the ‘x’ isn’t in the middle.”

Camp away, performing in masks, heavy costumes and full fledged “Chewbaccer” outfits is challenging for even the most classical dancer. “They didn’t all know what they were getting into, which was kind of funny.” He’s laughing. “I think they thought it could have been a little easier.”

Production of

Production of “The Empire Strips Back” at the Great Star Theater in San Francisco on July 14, 2022.

Patricia Chang / Special for SFGATE

Finding a permanent home for the production in the United States has also not been easy due to the pandemic. Beattie says he flew from Australia to Vegas to sign a three-year contract with Caesars Entertainment, but COVID-19 lockdowns hit the same day, forcing him to return and cancel the contract. While he doesn’t know where the production will go next, he hopes it will become a San Francisco staple, much like “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” “We always say we’re a rock show vibe with Broadway aspirations,” he says. But, based on the audience reactions and the attention the San Francisco production has already received, I know the force is already with them.

Visit “The Empire Strips Back” for tickets and show times in San Francisco.

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