When tickets for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” went on sale weeks before it’s release, I spent hours after work refreshing different ticketing websites until I could secure tickets for opening night. I’m a huge fan, but that wouldn’t be without my dad.

Being the first generation American, my family emigrating from El Salvador in the 80s, a lot of American culture was not in my sphere growing up. As such, I didn’t see “Star Wars” until I was nearly in high school. The other kids would laugh when they talked about characters and I would say, “Who’s that?” But more on that in a sec.

My father is the single most straight-laced guy I’ve ever known. He never drank, never smoked, said his prayers, he is also a very firm believer that one should honor thy mother and thy father. But above all else, he pounded into our heads the importance of education. That we should work hard in school and never miss a day. There was a lot of perfect attendance in our house.

The only instance my father has ever copped to disobeying his parents was in 1977. A certain movie was tearing across the globe and people were going bananas for it. My dad lived about two hours from the closest movie theater at the time, but he knew that he HAD to see “Star Wars.” So he left home, made the trek on foot and bus to watch the movie with his friends, then made the trek back. Without permission. He showed up home very late, past curfew and, as is tradition, got the rough side of the belt across his hide for it. In the end, though, it was worth it for him. He recalls it as the best film experience of his life.

When I was in middle school, “Star Wars” was coming back to theaters on Friday, Jan. 31, 1997. I’d never seen it before and was excited at the thought of seeing the movies on the big screen. We made plans to go see it opening weekend.

My father dropped me off at school and I did the best to go about my day, knowing that it was the only thing that separated me from the weekend and seeing the movie. A couple of hours later I get called to the office and told to bring my things, I was going home. This was particularly peculiar, but when I got there, my father greeted me, happy to see me. Except he didn’t drive us home, but took us to the Pacific Theaters where we bought tickets for the very first showing at noon. Twenty years after he played hooky to go see Star Wars, he did the same thing with me.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Screen #1, we bought popcorn and sat near the front. We talked excitedly before the movie started. There were a few other parents with children in there, murmuring with excited questions. As the screen crawled we all cheered, and I was completely blown back by the Star Destroyer rumbling across the screen. I remember screaming “OH MAN!” not that anyone could hear me over the THX sound.

When Vader shows up for the first time, the audience did something I only ever heard about, but was never witness to: They hissed. Some booed. I joined in hissing and booing along with them, reveling in the group experience. Here began a true love of the experience of cinema for me. I smiled, I gasped, I soaked it all in.

When the end theme hit, we all clapped, some whistled and we all started our way out. A lady in front of me was wooing over Han Solo “Han Solo, come save me any day”. People were buzzing. There was the warm feeling behind my ears that I’m experiencing now as I type this. I had been indelibly marked for life.

When people asked me if I was excited for “Star Wars,” I couldn’t ever really frame my emotions in a meaningful way. I would mostly just say “yes” or “of course”. It’s more than just a movie for me. It’s a connection between a father and son, a bridge between my immigrant roots and my American being. A shared moment that means so, so much to me, that’s shaped me. Unsurprisingly, I left the theater on opening night saying the same thing I said as a young boy: “Let’s see it again!”

– Mauricio Machuca