May the 4th Be With You: All About the Star Wars Holiday

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Not all that long ago, in this very galaxy, Star Wars fans found a really good excuse to celebrate their obsession.

“May the 4th be with you.”

It’s the famous Star Wars pun that launched a holiday, and for good reason. It’s clever, it’s catchy, and, well, everyone loves Star Wars. Even if you’re not a die-hard fan, it’s nearly impossible not to smile just a little bit at this play on Obi-Wan Kenobi’s memorable line in A New Hope, which has become one of the most famous Star Wars quotes of all time: “May the Force be with you.”

But just how did that clever turn of phrase turn into a bona fide Star Wars holiday that fans celebrate on the fourth of May every year by sharing May the 4th Be with You memes, rewatching the movies, and unabashedly celebrating all things Jedi? We decided to investigate. By the way, if this inspires you to have a little movie marathon of your own, here’s how to watch the Star Wars movies in order (which isn’t necessarily the order you might assume).

The unlikely origins of Star Wars Day

If you thought this phrase came from George Lucas or a really smart marketing team, you’d be wrong. So, it must be the day that the first movie premiered way back in 1977, right? Wrong, again! (For the record, it premiered on May 25 of that year.) No, credit for that pun goes to England’s conservative party, the Tories, after Margaret Thatcher won the election to become the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom on May 4, 1979. The group took out a newspaper ad that stated, “May the Fourth be with you, Maggie. Congratulations,” according to Newsweek. Here are some Star Wars facts everyone gets wrong about the movies, too.

While the pun stuck and became popular with Star Wars fans, it didn’t cross over into mainstream pop culture for another 20 years, says Dan Madsen, founder of the Official Lucasfilm/Star Wars Fan Club and founder and former publisher of Star Wars Insider magazine. “It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the Star Wars holiday became much more in the public eye due to the fact that fans were using it constantly on social media,” he explains. Giving things an extra boost, the Toronto Underground Cinema hosted the first big organized event to celebrate the day in 2011, complete with screenings of the movies and a celebrity-judged costume contest.

When Star Wars Day became an actual holiday

Once Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, things got serious. May the Fourth got the Disney treatment and became, as TheVerge.com aptly describes, “half earnest celebration, half shameless marketing bonanza” in 2013. It suddenly involved official events and a May the 4th Be with You logo, calls to dress up on the big day at the Disney parks, movie screenings, fireworks shows, dance parties, merchandising deals, and so much more.

While cynics may scoff at this blatant day of branding, there’s a reason why fans still embrace it as a Star Wars holiday. “It began by the fans, for the fans. Unlike Valentine’s Day or National Enchilada Day, it didn’t begin as a corporate cash grab. It was started as a way for the Star Wars community to bask in their shared love of all things Jedi,” says Mike Avila, author and host of SYFY WIRE’s Behind the Panel podcast. “Once Disney bought Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise, it made perfect sense for them to embrace it. The marketing plan was already built for them.”

Still, it was more of an unofficial holiday than an actual holiday—until the California legislature voted in 2019 to officially turn May 4 into Star Wars Day. The resolution was prompted by the creation of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, which could bring an estimated $14 million in tax revenue to the Southern California city every year, and the recognition of Disney’s “decades-long record of enhancing the quality of life for people in California and beyond,” according to Democratic Assemblyman Tom Daly.

RELATED: 25 Star Wars Facts Only True Fans Know

Star Wars Day, May the Force Be With YouGallo Images/Getty Images

How fans celebrate May the 4th

Star Wars fans don’t mess around. Oh, sure, there are the simple “May the 4th be with you” wishes on social media and the shared Star Wars trivia posts, but then there are the Star Wars parties, the themed food, the movie marathons (and the heated debates over the best Star Wars movies), the new product releases, and the charity events.

One of Madsen’s favorite May the Fourth events involves the Star Wars costume group the 501st, which makes appearances at children’s hospitals. (The group’s name, by the way, refers to the 501st Legion, Darth Vader’s elite group of stormtroopers.) “The 501st doesn’t just do this on May the Fourth. They make appearances all year round, but May the Fourth is special,” Madsen says. “You can imagine how the kids’ eyes light up when Darth Vader and his stormtroopers come walking into their room!”

Of course, this year’s celebrations will be a little different because of the pandemic. Still, fans will be celebrating online, having Zoom Star Wars parties, reading Star Wars books, and wishing other fans “May the 4th be with you” from a distance. Avila adds that the product releases and purchases will still be going strong, too. “The merchandise is just as important to the ongoing success of Star Wars as the movies,” he says. “Buying T-shirts, mugs, bedsheets, and remote control R2-D2s and BB-8s are as much a part of being part of ‘Star Wars culture’ as quoting every line of dialogue from The Empire Strikes Back.”

What’s next for Star Wars

Worried because the Skywalker saga has come to an end? Don’t be. Star Wars is still strong with the Force…of Disney. There are a slew of new Star Wars movies and TV shows slated for the very near future, and the next one will be released on—you guessed it—May 4. The animated Disney+ series The Bad Batch follows a squad of genetically enhanced clones from The Clone Wars as they deal with their changing galaxy.

Other highlights include The Book of Boba Fett in December 2021, Season 3 of The Mandalorian in 2022, and a Rogue One prequel series. But fans may be most excited about Obi-Wan, starring Ewan McGregor. While details are under lock and key, here’s what we do know: “It’s set in the years after Revenge of the Sith and before A New Hope,” reveals Avila. “Most fans feel like McGregor was the best thing about the prequels. Another aspect that has fans thrilled? Hayden Christensen is returning as Darth Vader!”

You’ll notice a recurring theme in the aforementioned lineup: They’re all TV series. “I believe television is the future for the franchise,” Avila says. Still, Disney isn’t giving up on traditional movies…though we’re going to be waiting a little while for one to hit the big screen. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, helmed by Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, won’t be out until 2023. After that, Oscar winner Taika Waititi will be directing and co-writing the next installment for 2025 or even 2027.

We know, it’s a long time to wait! To tide you over, you might want to check out Disney World’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, the so-called “Star Wars hotel” that’s set to open sometime this year (but may be delayed because of the pandemic). All we have to say is: Buckle up. “This is far from your ordinary hotel,” says Avila. “It’s a two-night, fully immersive experience that lets you and your family have your own adventure in the Star Wars universe. When this hotel opens, it will be the toughest ticket in Orlando—guaranteed.” And superfans, take note: When life gets back to normal, you can also visit these 20 Star Wars filming locations.

Sources:

  • Newsweek: “Star Wars Day 2019: How Margaret Thatcher Launched ‘May the Fourth Be With You’ Holiday”
  • Dan Madsen, founder of the Official Lucasfilm/Star Wars Fan Club and founder and former publisher of Star Wars Insider magazine
  • TheVerge.com: “Star Wars Day 2019: How Margaret Thatcher Launched ‘May the Fourth Be With You’ Holiday”
  • Mike Avila, author and host of SYFY WIRE’s Behind the Panel podcast
  • The Hollywood Reporter: “California Makes It Official, Votes to Declare May 4 ‘Star Wars Day'”
  • GamesRadar: “Every new Star Wars movie and TV show confirmed so far”

Dawn Yanek
Dawn Yanek is a professional writer, editor, and on-air personality with a strong pop-culture and marketing background who has appeared on more than 2,500 live and taped TV segments. She lives in New York with her husband and their two very sweet, insanely energetic kids.