Standing at the top of Trafalgar Square at 10am midweek is rather odd. The influx of tourists hasn't arrived yet, instead there are just a few early birds strewn about. Yet today — like every day — some odd structures have been erected.
Poles stretch several feet up into the air. Attached to them are capes billowing in the breeze. They're the set up for the famous floating Yoda trick... but the floating Yodas aren't here yet.
So where are the floating Yodas themselves? Upon looking closer, we spot them. Or at least we spot the men who will become them. Clumped together groups of men sit by the National Gallery's grass, some with a can of Red Stripe in hand. They're psyching themselves up for a long day of sitting still and waving at tourists.
We approach but no one is that interested in speaking to us. The group are wary, claiming they don't want to chat because their English isn't great. However, we manage to have a few words Alexandru. "I've been doing this for four years," he says, "I used to enjoy it, but now I don't like it. I want a real job."
It's all the sitting still for hours on end that has drained his enthusiasm.
Suddenly, he announces that he must get ready for his performance. Cutting our thrilling conversation off mid-stream, Alexandru wanders away, only to end up with a different group of men at the other side of the square, whom he proceeds to chat to for the next 40 minutes. We sense that we might be causing a disturbance in the force.
It's ironic to see that they're so cold out of character, for when they're 'floating' in mid-air they rely on friendly body language. It can't be under-emphasised how adept these people are at what they do, especially as they go for hours on end. It's like Yoda says in The Empire Strikes Back: "A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind."
Not all the Yodas are empty. On the western side of the square there is one lone Yoda entertaining tourists. At first he's mainly posing for photos with kids, resting his hand atop their heads and waving for the camera. He looks well practiced at the art, catching passers-by with a perfectly executed head swivel then an enticing hand gesture. From there they smile, take a picture and fling a few coins into his bucket beneath.
Suddenly the spell is broken. Yoda retreats from his costume to reveal a burly man, with a deep tan and shaved head. Two tourists stand mere metres away mouths agape, perhaps they weren't in on the trick or maybe they just wanted to believe it was real.
Sorry to ruin the illusion for everyone but — shocker — no one's actually floating. Instead they're sitting on a hidden metal plate. Read a more in-depth description here, but in short the pole hides a metal rod that goes up their sleeve and down to the plate.
The man who emerges is Nicolae. He's also reluctant to chat, because in his words: "my English is shit". However, after some flattery about his world class levitating, we coax him. He'd been up there for four hours or so, meaning he'd started at 7am. "I do another job before this one at night, so now I'm going home to bed."
He's made about £40 in this time. We're impressed, especially as it's a bit dead and we'd imagine it would be even quieter earlier in the morning. Nicolae is less positive: "when I started three years ago it was more like £70-£100 a day, now it's just £40-£50." He's moonlighting because he needs as much money as possible to support his family.
As we're chatting he's carefully deconstructing the apparatus that causes the illusion. We ask whether he bought this online? "No, I know the welder back home in Romania, he made it for me." Another performer who turned us down earlier comes over at this point and has words to Nicolae in Romanian. We can't be sure, but from the repeated glances we're pretty certain they're speaking about us. We infer interloper is attempting to end our conversation but Nicolae ends up shooing him away, undeterred.
The relationship between all the different floaters is complex. "They are my friends and we help each other, but we are also in competition." Part of that competition comes down to the spots they take up. Nicolae's friends at the eastern end of the square have the better spots. That's not just because of the increased footfall, Nicolae is in close proximity to some rowdy rough sleepers that frighten away some of the tourists.
Finally he packs his stuff away and puts it all on a metal trolley, heading home for some well earned sleep. We attempt to find a few more people to speak to, but they've finally begun floating. They won't let anything distract them from tempting tourists for a quick photo and some money in their bucket. So we trudge away from London's own little Dagobah.
All names in this article have been changed.