Your Star Wars memories: Ray Virzi

Into the jaws of Star Wars

The ninth in our incredible series of Star Wars memories, written by you as a testament to the incredible power of the saga to transcend age, genre and cynicism. If this inspires you to submit your own, check out the details here!

My exposure to science fiction initially came by osmosis as I watched my dad’s favorite shows and movies with him on TV. But there is no doubt in my mind about the day I developed a love for a science fiction film on my own, and that was the day I first saw a trailer for Star Wars in 1977. I still remember it vividly, because it appeared during the commercial break while my siblings were watching a show in the next room. I remember looking up and seeing a myriad of alien looking beings which I would later learn went by names like Tusken Raider, Jawa, Wookie, Darth Vader, etc. I saw screaming space ships and glowing sword fights. I saw all manner of robots, vehicles, and other creatures accompanied by a mysterious musical backdrop that sounded like a grand opera hall. These images were so new at the time that it mesmerised my 11 year old mind, and although I had recently vowed to give up television, I still kept an eye out for those amazing trailers while waiting for the film to open.

I suppose 11 years old was the perfect age to get the full impact of such a film. It was during a short period of my life where I could easily dive into an interest with abandon. The year prior, I had done this with the movie Jaws. I have always had a passionate love for ocean life and at that time I had particular interest in sharks. The first full length novel I ever read was Peter Benchley’s book, and I had a large bulletin board in my room which I plastered with Jaws paraphernalia. I even read about the making of the movie in great detail in a book called the The Jaws Log before the exciting day came when my Dad surprised me and said he’d take me to see it. Becoming a film trivia expert was one of my ways of expressing my admiration.

I mention all that to emphasize the impact the original Star Wars had on me. All my shark pics and Jaws clippings came down and were replaced one year later by a full board of Star Wars stuff. In the middle was an original movie poster – you know the drawing of Luke Skywalker holding up the lightsaber with Leia at his side (It was not the more common Hildebrandt version, but the cooler one – above left). I then applied my trivia collecting efforts to this new film and it became my favorite for the rest of my high school years, and perhaps further on as well. I still remember all the beautiful full page original Ralph MacQuarrie movie concept drawings from a scrapbook publication I owned at the time (Here’s a link to the whole set for Episode IV).

It was an odd circumstance that I ended up seeing Star Wars in a theater on the other side of the country. My family spent the summer in New Jersey visiting relatives. After seeing the movie, I found a soundtrack in a record store on the beach. This was an old LP and was not the official soundtrack but an electronic jazz rendition of the score by an outfit called the Electric Moog Orchestra. I have always been into music and tend to re-live films through their musical scores, so I played the record over and over until my relatives were completely sick of it. I actually liked the electronic rendition better than the symphony performance at the time, but after finding some of the tracks again recently, it sounds a bit corny (This youtube video uses the Cantina Band number as background, and here’s a link to the Imperial Attack).

Fast forward three years when I lived a block away from Caltech in Pasadena and knew several older friends that went there. I still remember in 1980 when one of those friends got us tickets to a special pre-screening of The Empire Stikes Back to be shown a week before its release in Beckman auditorium on the Caltech campus. This is a beautiful circular theater that looks more like an opera house, and we had very good seats. Man, was that a treat! The AT-AT walker battle right in the beginning was just spectacular. The tekker’s were a good audience too, clapping and cheering at key moments. Because no one had seen it, we all got to experience the full effect of discovering that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, a line that would go down in film history from that point on. My friends at school had a hard time believing I had seen the movie before it opened until one asked me, “Is Darth Vader Luke’s father?” I dropped my jaw – “How did you know?” “It’s obvious”, he told me. I still think he must have gotten a tip.