Today is May 4th, which means it’s Star Wars Day! This annual fan holiday has become almost universally recognized as fans worldwide gather to celebrate Star Wars with special sales, features, and puns galore. However, Star Wars Day hasn’t always been so widely known or accepted, and the history behind the holiday is as clear as a snowstorm on Hoth. So where did May the Fourth Be With You come from, anyway, and how have we gotten to the point we’re at today?
The History of “May the Fourth”
The answer to that question begins with the release of Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977. A year after that, the phrase “May the Fourth Be With You” – a punny spin on the series’ catchphrase “May The Force Be With You” – began being used to celebrate U.S. Independence Day celebrations in July. The holiday hadn’t moved over to May yet, and it wouldn’t for some time, but according to GamesRadar+, a more noteworthy use of “May The Fourth Be With You” came when Maggie Thatcher, Prime Minister of Britain, just so happened to take office on May 3 or 4, 1979. Following her ascension to office, Thatcher’s political party took out an ad in the London Evening News saying, “May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations!”
Following Thatcher’s entrance into office as the British Prime Minister, the phrase “May the Fourth Be With You” was next used on May 4, 1982, by Randy Thom. Thom, who is presently the director of Skywalker Sound, was working as a sound recordist on Revenge of the Jedi (later released in 1983 as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi) on location in a California redwood forest, which would double as Endor when he reportedly thought of the pun himself. Following this revelation, Thom would reportedly send out annual company emails with “May the Fourth Be With You” for years.
Throughout the rest of the 1980s and 90s, the trail of “May the Fourth Be With You” – as it wouldn’t become Star Wars Day for another decade or so – goes a bit fuzzy due to the decline in popularity of Star Wars as a franchise. This decline is primarily due to the gap between the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983 and The Phantom Menace in 1999. Simply put, there was a period where Star Wars wasn’t the new, hip thing anymore, and so it fell out of the mainstream; when it wasn’t in the mainstream, celebrating “May the Fourth Be With You” wasn’t seen as a badge of pride any longer.
Star Wars Day and the Eventual Climb Back Into Stardom
“May the Fourth” wouldn’t begin to see an increase in popularity until 2005, which isn’t terribly surprising when you consider the general reception of the prequel films released between 1999 and 2005. Following the release of Revenge of the Sith in May 2005, theaters hoped to pull in a bit more box office revenue by using the pun on a movie poster that featured Yoda backed by red, white, and blue fireworks and the tagline “May The Fourth Be With You!” along with a “buy three, get the fourth free” deal on tickets for the movie.
Following the 2005 reemergence of the holiday, “May the Fourth Be With You” would truly become “Star Wars Day” as fans gravitated towards the date for all Star Wars-themed parties and events. May 4th would gradually join the ranks of fan holidays, which already included “Blow Up the Death Star” watch parties on New Year’s Eve, where the whole goal was to time the Death Star explosion perfectly with the ball dropping in Times Square. According to a blog post on StarWars.com, a large part of the cultural impact of Star Wars Day is due to the fact that “Lucasfilm cannot take credit for Star Wars Day.” That belongs to the fans, along with the irresistible attraction of using the phrase to evoke laughter (or even an eye-roll) from bemused friends, relatives, colleagues, or even strangers on the street!”
The resurgence of May the Fourth saw one goal of your average Star Wars fan achieved: it was no longer widely looked down upon to admit liking the Star Wars franchise or to make a clever pun using an otherwise unassuming day at the beginning of May. But just because something isn’t sneered at doesn’t make it mainstream, and mainstream popularity wouldn’t come for Star Wars Day in 2013 when Disneyland California began celebrating the holiday as an official event in the park.
Disneyland began celebrating Star Wars Day as an official holiday with many in-park events in 2013, following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012. Walt Disney World and Disneyland California continue to celebrate Star Wars Day with the construction of the Star Wars-themed area, Galaxy’s Edge, and official events like “Star Wars Nite” to this day.
May 4th: Presently Permanently Popular
Aside from official in-person events, Disney has largely celebrated Star Wars Day by historically using it as a catch-all for Star Wars-related media releases. The company has been doing this for at least a few years, beginning with the finale of Star Wars: The Clone Wars dropping on Disney+ on May 4, 2020. In addition to this, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) and the documentary series Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian (2020) were also released to Disney+ on Star Wars Day 2020. Star Wars: The Bad Batch, a limited series spin-off of The Clone Wars, was released on May 4, 2021. Most recently, a trailer for the latest Star Wars installment, the limited Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi, was revealed on Star Wars Day 2022.
By this point, it’s safe to say that Star Wars Day is officially mainstream – a far cry from the historically shy, underground celebrations of the late-eighties, the nineties, and’00s. “May the Fourth Be With You” is even so popular that it’s begun to generate spin-off holidays, including May 5th, or “Revenge of the Fifth” (or the Sixth, depending on who you ask) and May 7th, or “I am the Seventh,” a punny spin on Palpatine’s infamous “I am the Senate” line from Revenge of the Sith.
Looking forward, it’s hard to imagine Star Wars Day going anywhere anytime soon, so here’s to many more to come. May the Fourth be with you, Star Wars fans!