A LONG TIME AGO IN A TACO BELL 2 MILES AWAY…

Many years ago, my brother and I spent a Saturday afternoon at the Windsor Theatre in our hometown, grabbing popcorn and Coke for the show. As the 20th Century Fox logo shimmered onto the screen and that now oh-so-familiar music blasted into my ears for the first time, the yellow scrolling text crawling slowly upwards, giving context to the film I was about to see, I was anticipating the blockbuster I’d heard so much about.

It was a dark time for the rebellion. The original Death Star had been famously destroyed by Luke Skywalker in his X-Wing fighter at the end of “A New Hope”. The remote probe soon blasted its way onto the surface of the ice planet Hoth. “The Empire Strikes Back” had begun, introducing me to the saga of the Star Wars universe.

Decades later, rumors of George Lucas filming prequels to the biggest film trilogy in history began to circulate. Although I was nearly 18 years older, the thought of delving back into the world of Star Wars was an unexpected gift.

To prepare for the release of the Star Wars Trilogy Special Editions to theatres in 1997, my 8-year-old daughter and I watched “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” on our trusty VHS machine, addressing my wife’s violence concerns with a comparison to “The Wizard of Oz” (one of her favorite movies of all time), explaining that blasters are pointed at adversaries, who fall down, bloodless. Plus, what better ass-kicking strong female role model was there than Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of Princess Leia?

Our best theatre in town in the late 90’s was known as River Hills, which featured the biggest screen in our state (before huge screens and IMAX theatres were the norm) with state-of-the-art sound. Before venturing to see the film, my daughter and I had tacos and churros at our local Taco Bell. The reason I mention this? The kid’s meal, plain and simple. The meal came with a little black box, emblazoned with both the Star Wars & Taco Bell logos. Small plastic mirrors gave you a look on one side of Yoda (representing the light side of the Force), with Darth Vader on the other side (representing the dark side).

When we arrived and parked at the theatre, we joined a queue line that stretched literally around the block. All I recall of watching “Return of the Jedi” was my daughter’s fingers digging deeper into my hand when the seemingly huge Darth Vader appeared for the first time onscreen and my leaning down to whisper to her to remember it’s just an actor in a costume.

We then made it a ritual to see each of the prequels together, which was a special time for me as a dad. It was our thing – or so I thought at the time.

If memory serves me well, I recall George Lucas stating years ago that he had no plans to film a third trilogy, so it came as a surprise when I heard rumors of J.J. Abrams at the helm of a sequel trilogy. What a thrill it was to see “The Force Awakens” with my married adult daughter. Then the craziest thing happened. When “The Force Awakens” was released, my daughter had a Star Wars fan husband who suddenly thought our time-honored father-daughter tradition was out the window. Thankfully, my girl and I attended the movie together (and came out thinking it was “A New Hope” all over again). When “The Last Jedi” and “The Rise of Skywalker” were released in later years, the three of us went together.

I can’t help but reminisce about the feeling of her tiny hand in mine outside River Hills, the two of us excited for Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of the rebels to come to the rescue once more. Perhaps one day I’ll be walking into Taco Bell with my grandson in tow to introduce him to a galaxy far, far away.

Happy Star Wars Day. May the 4th be with you!

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