If you’re a Star Wars fan, there’s one day of the year that happens to be extra special. Depending on your personal level of obsession, it can elicit a fond chuckle or an all-out day of intergalactic worship. Yes, we’re talking about May the Fourth – long recognized as an unofficial holiday for the Star Wars franchise. Whether you love or hate Star Wars, it’s hard to deny the power of May the Fourth. For starters, it’s a marketing team’s dream. It’s witty, just the right amount of silly and it hasn’t been manufactured (to a certain extent). We’ve always had May the Fourth. Now, it feels like May the Fourth was made for Star Wars; it’s a trick that shouldn’t really work, but it does. The magic of May the Fourth as a ‘fans holiday’ is mostly due to good luck. It’s just lucky that the franchise’s legendary catchphrase creates its own annual day of appreciation. However, it’s not say there wasn’t hard work required to turn it into a global phenomenon.
May the Fourth Be With You: The History of ‘Star Wars Day’
Today, May the Fourth is a highly commercialized holiday. For twenty four hours, everything from toys to candies, greeting cards, pizzas, sneakers, T-shirts and even toilet paper uses space themed marketing to sell products. Yet, the occasion started out very differently. It began as a grassroots idea spread by local fan communities. In 2011, we saw the first official gathering created for fans to appreciate and share their love of the Star Wars franchise. It happened in Toronto, at the Underground Cinema and featured costume contests, local radio hosts and a host of local TV stars (oh, and screenings of the movies, of course). Yet, by this point,
May the Fourth already had a long and curious history
Would you believe some of the most high profile mentions of May the Fourth have been in British politics? It sounds unlikely but it’s true. The first happened in 1979, two years after the original Star Wars movie hit theatres. Margaret Thatcher had just been elected as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (on May Fourth). And how did the Conservative Party celebrate? Rather remarkably – and it shows how influential the Star Wars franchise was from the beginning – the Tories took out a full page ad saying ‘May the Fourth Be with You, Maggie. Congratulations.’ And they science fiction movies are just for nerds.
When Star Wars Met British Politics
Even though Thatcher wasn’t the type to embrace such puns, it wouldn’t be the last time May the Fourth played a part in British politics. Fifteen years later, on May 4th 1994, politician Harry Cohen used ‘May the Fourth be with you’ in a Commons debate about national defense strategies. Sadly, the merging of science fiction and national security was frowned upon. Cohen would later apologize for what he called ‘a very bad joke.’ Never mind Harry, we think it’s a great joke (you just picked the wrong audience). Incredibly, Cohen wouldn’t be the last politician to evoke the phrase. British MPs just can’t get enough of Star Wars puns. In 2012, the shy and retiring Boris Johnson used it to end his May 4th mayoral election speech. Thankfully, it’s not just politicians responsible for spreading the phrase and turning May the Fourth into a day of worship. In 2013, the event began its rise as a commercial behemoth, with Disney studio taking pointedly charge of the pun. In 2012, it bought Lucasfilm and all rights to the Star Wars franchise. It would celebrate the merger with twenty four hours of shameless plugging (it’s a marketing team’s dream, remember?)
The Rise and Rise of May the Fourth
Each year, May the Fourth has grown in prominence and scale. It is now considered a semi-serious holiday for Star Wars fan communities – as in, every year, fans around the globe spend lots of time and money on themed trips, events, parties and screenings. While it’s true the event has become very commercial, its purpose remains simple. If you love Star Wars, this is the day you unleash your obsession. Star Wars fans of all ages flock to Disney theme parks to hang out with characters from the original and new franchises. There are Star Wars themed fireworks shows, dance parties, merch sales, quizzes, role play events, community meet ups, theatrical performances and so much more. Even NASA got in on the action. In 2014, a NASA astronaut on the International Space Station beamed a May the Fourth message back to Star Wars fans on Earth with the help of plucky droid R2-D2.
Perhaps the best thing about May the Fourth is, wherever you are in the world, there’s an opportunity to get involved. From Bangkok to London, Sydney to Prague, fans gather to share their love for a film franchise that keeps on giving. Yes, it’s been grasped by marketing executives and used to plug products of all shapes and sizes. But we can all agree, it’s still a little bit magic, right?