May the Fourth Be With You: A History of Star Wars Day


For the devoted Star Wars fan no single day deserves more Star Wars love than any other. But then again, those of us who buy into distant intergalactic battles happening "a long time ago," and a mystical energy field wielded by robe-wearing warriors also appreciate a genuinely good pun. This is at the heart of celebrating May the 4th, or Star Wars Day as it's now recognized, a semi-official holiday that dates back much further than social media. In fact, it may be the longest running and most recognized fan-initiated pop-culture holiday.

But despite advertisers and Star Wars licensees exploiting the popularity of the date, Star Wars Day is first and foremost a day of celebration for fans of the franchise, and its grassroots beginnings prove its staying power.

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May the 4th — a play on "May the Force be with you" — has served as Star Wars Day in a more official capacity since 2013, when Disney started acknowledging the holiday a year after it acquired Lucasfilm. Building off of fan spirit and established events for the pun-tacular date, Disney took double advantage of the play on words and the annual anniversary date of Star Wars: A New Hope's May release. However, the saying "May the 4th be with you" has been used as far back as 1979, two years after Star Wars: A New Hope was released.

Alan Arnold, author of Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of the Making of The Empire Strikes Back, wrote that in 1979 Britain’s Conservative Party celebrated the election of British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, by taking out a full-page ad in the London Evening News. The ad read, "May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations." This was for Thatcher's inauguration date as Prime Minister: May 4, 1979. In only two years, Star Wars' Jedi catchphrase was recognizable enough to be used colloquially.

It turns out British politicians are rather fond of the May the 4th pun, most likely because their general elections often fall on dates in early May. In 1994, UK politician Harry Cohen used the pun in a meeting of the House of Commons, quipping that it was "a very bad joke." In 2012, London Mayor Boris Johnson used the phrase in his acceptance speech.

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The Toronto Underground Cinema started its annual festival, Star Wars Day Toronto, in 2011, marking the largest organized event for the unofficial holiday at the time. These days, there are events held all over the world. Disneyland does several days worth of Star Wars nighttime events. Bars and clubs everywhere throw themed May 4 events, especially Star Wars-themed bars. This year, LEGO enthusiasts can even swing by their local LEGO stores between May 4 and May 6 to build a free Porg.

May the 4th Festivals are held all over, it's just a matter of checking your local listings for something nearby.

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