The weekend marked an unfortunate anniversary for me. Six years ago a friend of mine tragically lost his life in s motorcycle accident. He and I bonded over Star Wars so I thought I'd share a short Star Wars memory with you...
Ashley Clark and I met when we worked together in the 1990's. The world was different then. The Star Wars special editions hadn't been released, there was no sign of the prequels and Star Wars fandom was pretty much dormant. To me, Star Wars was a fond childhood memory which awoke infrequently when I'd watch the movies on VHS, or I'd find myself looking for something in my parents loft and an action figure would appear. I rarely discussed Star Wars with friends, and never discussed Star Wars at work. Like I said, different world.
Maybe it was when whispers started about Star Wars returning to cinemas, perhaps it was another VHS rerelease, but something caused Star Wars to pop into conversation whilst Ashley and I were in the same space, and suddenly we had a connection. Like two members of a secret society we began sizing each other up, what's your favourite of the three movies? How many copies do you own on video? How many times have you seen "the trilogy?" Suddenly I had a new Star Wars friend and that was that. Everyday was an exchange of "melon twisters", trivia questions designed to catch the other out, see who new more about Star Wars and thusly which of us was a more worthy fan. Remember there was no internet, so a simple question like, "what was Princess Leia's cell number?" required a mental scrub through the movie. Now an iPhone provides that answer in the blink of an eye, but let's be honest, if you don't know that answer, you may as well hang up your fandom. You can tweet your answers to me @TalkStarWars.
Together Ashley and I started looking forward to the Special Editions, and later we would be counting down the days to Star Wars Episode I The Phanthom Menace. It's the Special Edition of Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back that is the subject of this particular memory though. Ashley, our mutual friend Muzz, and I all arranged to head to the local cinema to see Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back the Special Edition together. We booked the day off. Reserved our tickets in the most amazing screen, it had a silver screen, a bar, tables where you could gave snacks, BIG seats and a balcony. In the 90's this kind of luxury was rare in cinemas. So we stumped up the extra cash and got balcony seats, front row. We were basically looking directly into the middle of the screen, it was awesome. We went for a pre-show meal (probably McDonalds) and did a round of "what's your favourite?" I remember telling them both that Empire was my favourite Star Wars movie, and the Emperor Hologram scene was my favourite moment in all of Star Wars. Ashley and Muzz dutifully gave their answers and we ate up, eager to get into the film...
We took our seats and waded through the advertisements and movie trailers, I think they may have been a trailer for Star Wars Episode VI The Return Of The Jedi which got the juices flowing. Then we were off. The opening horns, the scrolling text, the three of us were like kids again, I couldn't take my eyes of the screen.
Then, when Vader gets news that he has the Emperor is on the line and issues the order, "move the fleet out of the asteroid field, so that we can send a clear transmission" I turned to Muzz to whisper, "This is it, my favourite moment." What I found was Muzz, head rolled back, eyes closed, fast asleep, with just the faint sound of snoring. I couldn't believe it, what an epic fail, falling asleep during a Star Wars movie! I immediately turned to nudge Ashley so that he could join me in my disgust, only to find he too was sound asleep, head tilted back, snoring. Two failures! I couldn't believe it.
I would not allow Ashley to forget this, taunting him when we inevitably went to see Star Wars Episode VI The Return Of The Jedi and later Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace, "You'll be able to stay awake right?"
It saddens me that Ashley missed the news that new movies were coming. That he never got to look forward to The Force Awakens. I know he would be beside himself with excitement about now, with the movie just days away.
When Ashley died, we hadn't seen each other for many years. Real life got in the way and we both took other jobs and moved on. If facebook had been a bigger part of my life before then, maybe we'd have stayed in touch. When I got the news of his passing from a mutual friend, just days after it happened, I was devastated. Ashley was simply one of the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, and I knew him all to briefly. I think of Ashley every year on the anniversary of his passing, but this year seems especially significant. I'm sure, had things gone differently Ashley would have his tickets booked and would be counting down the days to The Force Awakens.
So in a few days, when I settle down to enjoy Star Wars The Force Awakens, i'll think of Ashley and how he would have been so excited to be there, and I'll cast a glance to my right, just in case I need to wake a weary Star Wars fan from their slumber...
Thank you for reading,