They happened. Not long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, either, but in 2005, in the seat-backs of Virgin Atlantic.
It’s hard to credit it now but, back in 2005, we were all quite excited about Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith. The previous two prequels to the original Episode IV (released way back in 1977) hadn’t set fans or critics — or anybody much, really — alight. Still, we were looking forward to another helping of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader), plus a bit of Yoda. All that zooming around in space, too. Rockets. Explosions. On a big screen, obviously.
There were many fans. In the UK, in the 2001 census, around 390,000 people declared themselves Jedi, with 2.6 per cent of the population of Brighton and Hove stating that their religious affiliation was being a Jedi Knight. So there was definitely an audience.
In fact, Revenge Of The Sith did well. Worldwide, the only other film that was more popular that year (took more money at the box office: the gold standard of popularity) was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Naturally, therefore, Virgin Atlantic was quite keen to show Revenge Of The Sith on their In Flight Entertainment system.
One snag. George Lucas wouldn’t let them. We know this because they explained the situation in their press release:
“Unfortunately George Lucas wouldn’t allow us to show the new Star Wars movie on our planes, but we’ve decided to join in with the Star Wars mania anyway.”
How did they join in with the Star Wars mania?
By manufacturing and distributing 100,000 Star Wars sick bags. Who looked around the plane and decided this was a good idea, we may never know. Or whether there was any deeper, more subtle message being implied that went beyond a mere wish to join in the mania.
There were four designs, each with a print-run of 25,000. One — the one I have — contained instructions on the right way to hold a light saber (without cutting off your head). The second showed Jedi combat instructions; the third a diagram of a light saber; the fourth — the one I wish I had — shows how Star Wars passengers are seated on a flight. (Obi-Wan Kenobi always gets an upgrade to Upper Class on Virgin, apparently.)
Every airline carries them: small waterproof bags for passengers experiencing motion sickness; if overcome, you can vomit into this plastic-lined receptacle. A thoughtful touch. Kinder for everyone involved. We don’t get sick so much while travelling on aeroplanes any more: larger aircraft, improved design, pressurised cabins. All allow planes to take higher, smoother routes thus alleviating our in-flight nausea. We tend to keep our chunks to ourselves these days. I mean, when’s the last time you saw someone actually be sick in a sick bag?
Still, there’s always one, so you have to be prepared. Therefore, sick bags are on every airline to this day.
The original Virgin Atlantic page heralding the Star Wars sick bags is still online (as of 2016). There is also a flourishing ebay market in airline sick bags as aeronautical memorabilia. Unused, thankfully. People collect them. Who knew?
Me obviously. I have this total of one sick bag in my collection. I picked it up simply because I thought it one of the strangest mash-ups I had ever seen. Now, I realise, people cruise through airline cabins picking up sleepsuits, salt and pepper shakers, and amenity kits as well as the sick bags to flog on auction sites later. Who knew?
Not me. I missed a trick there.