The choice to go as R2-D2 for Halloween is my father’s idea. In 1978—8 years old, 3-foot-7—I possess the perfect dimensions to play the cheeky garbage-can-of-a-droid, endearingly known to Star Wars geeks worldwide simply as “Artoo.”

Preparations for my Halloween transformation begin in early July largely in response to the “Alfred Gomez Factor.” Nine-year-old Alfred Gomez is my next-door neighbor, fellow Star Wars fanatic, best friend, and archenemy. The talk about town is that for Halloween, Gomez is planning something “spectacular” (his word) and I can’t afford to lose to him (again) at the Annual Bradley’s Shopping Mall Halloween Contest.

Assembling Artoo proves to be an elaborate process. To stay on schedule, my father devises a two-phase plan. Phase One: Frame out the droid in some heavily meshed metal fencing left over from the garden. Dad’s master’s degree in engineering is helpful in figuring out how much fencing we’ll need. Eyeing me up and down, “You’ve got to fit inside this costume, so the diameter of the cylinder will need to be approximately 2 and a half feet … times pi.” Staring into oblivion, he does the circumference calculation in his head. Phase Two: Dad and I papier-mâché Artoo, spray-paint the shell vanilla white, and install the major artwork. The resemblance to the real McCoy is uncanny.

It’s Halloween afternoon and the Bradley’s Shopping Mall is a mob scene. Hundreds of kids are ready to compete and eat free candy. Besides the trophy, first place receives a $50 Bradley’s gift certificate. I’ve already set aside my future winnings for Star Wars action figures.

“Princess Leia, before your execution, you will take part in an exercise that will make this battle station operational.” The British accent is genius. The voice is unmistakable. I spin around to greet Alfred Gomez.

His costume is dead-on, though the Star Wars character is so obscure that no judge will ever be able to tell. Alfred is dressed as Imperial Governor Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader’s right-hand man. He is decorated like a five-star general, and is sucking in his cheeks like the emaciated British actor who played Tarkin.

“Where’s yours?” he asks. I point him to the gargantuan birdcage next to Dad. I give my father the nod and he dramatically yanks the black garbage bag off Artoo. Alfred’s eyes light up, then narrow with envy. Before he can deal me a jab, a judge tells us to form a line—the competition is about to begin.

Alfred and I place a cowboy between us (we both know Artoo and Tarkin would never be caught dead standing next to one another). A judge dressed like Mr. Monopoly, complete with a mustache, monocle, and top hat, paces back and forth. Alfred stands at attention; then he salutes Mr. Monopoly. Without hesitation, the judge passes on Tarkin and then passes on the cowboy. Now it’s my turn. I give him my best Artoo waddle. Suddenly, he’s tapping my dome.

“Bleep! Bleep!” I scream and shuffle forward, the hulking costume severely obstructing my peripheral vision. “Third place,” the judge announces, “Genie on a Magic Carpet.” The 9-year-old girl in pigtails does appear to be floating on air. “Second place: Artoo-Detoo,” he says pointing to me. “And first place, the other Artoo-Detoo.”

The other what? I turn and there, in its entire splendor, is another life-size Artoo replica—this one far more sophisticated, complete with functional legs and a tinfoil dome. Who did this kid have for a father, George Lucas? The “Other Artoo” is rocking for joy and chirping authentic droid sounds à la a tape recorder inside its shell.

I keep the costume on long enough to regain my composure. My mother is comforting my father. Moments later, I accept my prize: a Bradley’s soft pretzel.

“Trick or treat,” Alfred Gomez says with the disdain of an Englishman. The Bradley’s competition is old history and now we’re simply cashing in on our costumes.

Next to Gomez is a 30-year-old man in dungarees and a brown flannel shirt. “See that Artoo-Detoo down there?” my father asks a puzzled neighbor as he points to an inert me at the end of the walkway. “That’s my son. Unfortunately, his costume prevents him from bending his legs and walking up your steps. Design flaw.”