Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

'Star Wars' invades Buzz Cafe Philly

Kensington cafe owner built an R2-D2 & schmoozed with George Lucas

Terrence Laragione, an artist who owns Buzz Cafe, and a sculpture of Han Solo frozen in carbonite.
Terrence Laragione, an artist who owns Buzz Cafe, and a sculpture of Han Solo frozen in carbonite.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

TERRENCE Laragione, the Philly streetscape artist who owns Buzz Café Philly in Kensington, has decorated it with his "Star Wars" paintings, his "Star Wars" memorabilia and his life-size sculpture of Han Solo frozen in carbonite from "Return of the Jedi."

He owns more than 100 "Star Wars" T-shirts and wears a different one to work every day.

And to honor the opening of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," Laragione brought his built-from-scratch, 200-pound R2-D2 robot to the café on Howard Street near Montgomery Avenue for a limited engagement.

Known for his luminous paintings of classic Philly streetcars rumbling down classic Philly streets, Laragione, 45, was hooked on "Star Wars" as a kid when his dad took him to the original movie in 1977.

"All my friends and I did after that movie came out was play 'Star Wars' across from my house in a big, barren field that looked like Luke Skywalker's home planet," Laragione said. "Today, that field is Franklin Mills Mall [now named Philadelphia Mills]."

Laragione's childhood landscape changed, but his love of "Star Wars" didn't. "As a kid, I was always Han Solo," he said. "I still am. I wear my Han Solo costume when I go to 'Star Wars' conventions."

At one of those conventions, he met 'Star Wars' creator George Lucas. "It took me two years of burning the midnight oil to build my R2-D2," Laragione said.

"I joined a R2-D2 builders club," he said, "and George Lucas always comes to conventions before the public [arrives] and mingles with the 100 nerdy guys who are R2-D2 builders.

"[Lucas] said the R2-D2 builders took the technology way further than what he had done," Laragione said. "He said they pulled the first R2 with a rope. All the R2's in the new film were built by R2-D2 builders in the clubs."

At home, Laragione said, his three children love their R2-D2. "To them, it's like a pet in the house," he said. "It's their height. They talk to it. You have a dog. I have an R2-D2."

As an artist, Laragione brings his "Star Wars" intensity to his trolley paintings.

"When I get obsessed with something, it's kind of all consuming," he said. "I lived in Kensington, and I'd drive around and follow the trolleys almost every night, taking photos. I felt like I was hunting animals.

"It was kind of dangerous trying to drive while photographing moving trolleys, but I was trying to capture the motion and the drama." He put that drama into his trolley paintings.

"The 15 trolley that runs along Girard Avenue is so art deco," he said. "It looks like the old spaceships in 'Flash Gordon' shows. The grille looks like a mouth. The windows look like eyes. I see faces on those trolleys."

And like "Star Wars," the trolleys give Laragione a feeling of nostalgia for his childhood years, when the field across from his house was Luke Skywalker's home planet.

On Twitter: @DanGeringer