Chris Palazzolo remembers Star Wars as it was……
I’m sure I’m not the first person to observe that internet search engines drag through our collective memories like trawl nets through the ocean. They crowd to the present aural and visual phenomena that would normally remain locked away in unconsciousness. If recollection is the mental labour of retrieving mnemonic traces (memories) from the unconscious, then the search engine, insofar as it is a memory technology, threatens to atrophy memory, in the same way that Marshall McLuhan observed a robot hand, made to extend the strength of the human hand weakens the human hand because all it has to do now is pull a lever and twiddle buttons.
Having said that, I can now declare that I love YouTube. Every day I’m trawling its lists for music I don’t have on record or cd, and never gets played on the radio. One item I turned up recently is the funk version of Star Wars, which is basically all the musical themes of the original movie given the old disco treatment. This instrumental came out in 1978 which was the year I saw Star Wars (I was 11 and saw it four times that year). Star Wars was entirely new, but disco had been around for a couple of years and operated like a kind of musical amoeba, absorbing and ‘discoising’ famous pieces of classical music as well as other popular motifs floating around. This disco version of Star Wars got a lot of radio play, but being a Star Wars purist I knew it wasn’t the ‘authentic’ music to the film. One of my friends, who had the piece on a 45 single, thought it was though, but I couldn’t prove him wrong because apart from this instrumental, and the film itself which was still screening at the cinema (it screened for a year in Perth) there was no other trace of the film around. Listening to the piece now, in relation to the franchised monster Star Wars has become nearly 40 years later, I’m struck by its charming naivety, in particular by its attempt to reproduce the sound effects from the film such as laser bolts and R2D2 chirps. It’s clear that the composer, like me at the time, only had his memory of the actual film to go on when reproducing these sounds; they sound hilariously unlike the ‘authentic’ sounds of Star Wars. These ‘authentic’ sounds, encased in the strictest and most ruthlessly guarded copyright Lucasfilm’s billions can buy, have since been disseminated via a media franchise of sequels, spin-offs and video games, of such incomparable global reach that they’ve become, to every inhabitant of the western world, even those uninterested in Star Wars, as familiar as their own mothers’ voices.
If 1978, the year Star Wars screened for the first time, is the big bang of the Star Wars phenomenon, revolutionising not just the aesthetics but the entire business model of Hollywood cinema, then the recent opening of Star Wars The Force Awakens means that we are still in the same expanding universe rushing outwards, inflating (the Death Star gets bigger every time it’s rebuilt) producing new media and merchandising formations to infiltrate even deeper into our collective memories, turning them out to a perpetual present, abolishing all past worlds when Star Wars did not exist. In other words we are on the same continuum of time (according to physicists time goes forward because the universe is expanding) as the original big bang but with the memory of a photon which, because it travels at the speed of light, has no sense of time at all; all the matter of our monstrous Star Wars universe was all there in the first movie at its first screening and is still with us, the same characters, the same music, the same sound effects. However, lodged right back there, right near the beginning of the big bang, is this disco version of Star Wars, with its ‘non-authentic’ sound effects. This is what my memory clings to, because paradoxically, as I get older, and my own memories become more precious and poignant, these ‘non-authentic’ sound effects connect me to a time in my childhood when Star Wars hadn’t happened, was not in the universe at all, and was never going to happen at all until it did happen. They enable me far more effectively than the infinite reproduction of the ‘authentic’ to recall just how I felt when I first saw this movie. This is why I will not see Star Wars Force Awakens. I’m sick of being in the same time 40 years later. It has long ceased to have an impact on me because every repetition of that music and sound effects keeps it perpetually dulled in the present. I want to retain my own memories of Star Wars, of me immediately before and after I saw it. And I want to concede to my friend of long ago with his 45 single of the funk version, that he was right after all; it is the authentic Star Wars soundtrack.
In memory of Andrew Ridewood
– Chris Palazzolo
Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and manager of one of the last video shops in the world – Network Video, Roleystone.
Of course there is an official Star Wars site http://www.starwars.com/