As I sat in a booth at Denny’s and plowed my way through the diner’s new “Star Wars” meals, the wisdom of Yoda came to mind:
How you get so big, eating food of this kind?
After Luke crashes his X-Wing fighter on the swamp planet of Dagobah in “The Empire Strikes Back,” the tiny green Jedi scavenges through his trainee’s soggy luggage and locates an interstellar granola bar, takes a bite and spits it out. As I worked my way through Denny’s Two Moons Skillet — essentially a scramble, with a couple of eggs — I felt a somewhat similar sense of bewilderment and despair at the alien delicacy inside my mouth: How you NOT get so big, eating food of this kind? And shouldn’t the Two Moons Skillet —pictured on the menu with dueling sunny-side-up eggs — be renamed for the twin suns of Tatooine? And the ultra-rich, nacho-cheeselike Gouda sauce swimming between slimy spinach and mushrooms and diced cubes of pale ham — maybe we just rename this thing the Death Star Trash Compactor Skillet?
I still would have ordered it.
The menu says “Star Wars,” doesn’t it?
Besides, I was curious: The “Star Wars” meals at Denny’s are a three-month promotion tied to “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” the upcoming Han Solo flick, and this is a universe with a surprisingly strong, and strange, relationship to eating. For instance, after Yoda welcomes Luke to Dagobah, he gives his young Padawan a swamp-to-table stew, which Luke slurps from small miso bowls. Within the vast, decadeslong “Star Wars” mythology — meaning the books, TV series, toys, whatnots — there actually are two recipes for Yoda’s dish: The official “Star Wars” website offers a split-peas-and-carrots tootleaf stew from food writer Jenn Fujikawa; and in 1983, to celebrate a “Star Wars” radio serial on NPR, former New York Times restaurant critic Craig Claiborne invented a Yoda-themed root stew featuring ginger, turmeric and lamb.
In fact, there is so much food in the “Star Wars” universe that the online Wookieepedia — yes, this is a real thing — offers subcategories not only for soups and stews but sandwiches, baked goods and vegetarian options. Did you know Stormtroopers eat a “grayish gooey” ration from self-heating tins? (Did you know Stormtroopers eat?)
The best known “Star Wars” food is the blue Bantha milk from the original 1977 film, served on the farm owned by Luke’s Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. It looks suspiciously like Boo Berry cereal milk, and yet Bantha milk has a very long shelf life as the go-to comfort food in almost 40 years of “Star Wars” stories. In fact, most recently, in “The Last Jedi,” Luke switched, controversially, to a greenish dairy — he lives alone on an island, catches space fish for dinner and, whenever thirsty, he milks giant space sea cows.
I’m sure there is a proper name and species for these animals — there is a name for every bolt and screw in the wide “Star Wars” ecosystem — but I don’t think I want to know it. After my “Star Wars” dinner at Denny’s, I might relate a little too closely to those giant space sea cows.
Consider the Co-Reactor Pancake Breakfast.
It looks, in theory, like buttermilk pancakes, topped with fresh strawberries, strawberry sauce and whipped cream. It offers, in actuality, here on planet Earth, an additional sweet citrus sauce (on top of the strawberry sauce) and —Darth Vader himself wouldn’t have been so heartless — a small mountain of crackling Pop Rock-like hard candies. As culinary adaptations of science fiction go, it’s certainly otherworldly. As taste goes, it offers all the joy of rubbery pancakes combined with the off-putting sensation of having gaseous porgs snap their fingers inside your stomach. I believe the Co-Reactor pancakes were named after the metal guts of the Death Star, which tended to explode when pummeled with the right combination of ingredients.
The name is appropriate.
Among the four “Star Wars” dishes, the biggest pile of Sith on the menu — the Lightspeed Slam (egg whites, hard melon, wizened strips of turkey bacon, barely toasted English muffins) — might be too appropriately named: Remember how the lightspeed function on the Millennium Falcon, much-touted by Han Solo, promising to catapult its heroes in a rush of stars, generally fizzled out? Exactly.
The only true roguish, Solo-esque twist on the menu is the Blaster Fire Burger: It’s handsome, rough at the edges and at its core (via ghost-pepper sauce and chipotle-flavored Gouda), there’s a kick. (For 49 cents more, it also comes with bacon cheese tots — craggy, gooey brown rocks that occupy the plate, and stomach, like asteroids.)
If I sound harsh, it’s because there was a lot of inspiration here: Jabba the Hutt slurped live, screaming frog sushi from a bowl that sloshed with brandy; in “Last Jedi,” Chewbacca, by a campfire, barbecued a porg on a spit (only to stop eating in midchomp, at the sight of another porg, whimpering with large, doleful eyes); and in “The Force Awakens,” Rey makes an instant-rising green bread (which Fujikawa replicates on the “Star Wars” website, using matcha powder and a microwave set at 45 seconds).
Then again, the only real-world “Star Wars” food experience I recall fondly is digging for trading cards at the bottom of Wonder Bread bags, an act that invariably left every slice in the bag smushed. Perhaps adapting fiction into food is folly, a task that is best left not to chefs but licensing people — after all, the true attraction of Denny’s “Star Wars” menu is the trading cards and Millennium Falcon drinking cups, each sold separately.
But there is lost opportunity here. I have not yet seen “Solo,” so I can’t say for certain if Han Solo and Chewbacca swing the Falcon by Denny’s at 2 in the morning, but if they do, I imagine there’s also a scene where they go hunting for antacids at 3 in the morning. And nobody wants to watch that.