Entertainment

The story behind Star Wars Day

They are the six words that make up one of the most famous lines in pop-culture history: May the Force be with you. But they represent so much more than that. A way of life. A philosophy. And, a holiday.

Each year on May 4, Star Wars fans raise their lightsabers to toast May the Fourth be with you en masse. What started as a fan celebration is now embraced by Disney, which announced that they'd commemorate 2020's May 4 with an eight-episode documentary on the making of "The Mandalorian," as well as the series finale of "The Clone Wars," their seven-season animated television show. But when exactly did May the Force become the punny May the Fourth?

A long time ago … in 1979

Person standing in rocky cave with red light
Credit: caderoberts432/ Unsplash

Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (actor Alec Guinness) first uttered this blessing on a young Luke Skywalker in 1977's "Star Wars" (now known as "Episode IV: A New Hope"), and it didn't take long for the popular line to morph into one of the most beloved puns ever.

The first known example in writing of the phrase was, interestingly, political. On May 4, 1979, Margaret Thatcher was elected the first female prime minister in the United Kingdom. Her political party, the conservatives, celebrated with a newspaper ad that read: “May The Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.”

Still, the idea of celebrating every May 4 as an unofficial Star Wars Day didn’t take hold until 2011, when Canadian superfans Sean Ward and Alice Quinn put on a festival at the now-shuttered Toronto Underground Cinema. The event featured trivia, costume contests, and fan-made videos. In 2013, Disney, which now owns the franchise, began hosting Star Wars Day events at Disneyland and Disney World.

Using the Force for good

The annual event has generated far more than a gold rush. It’s been embraced by the saga's actors as an occasion for doing good. In 2016, Luke Skywalker (er, actor Mark Hamill) spent part of the day with children in a London hospital. Afterward he tweeted, "May The 4th Be With My New Best Friends at Guy Hospital Sharing stories, laughs & #Ep8 Spoilers!" and in an editorial, Hamill added "It’s an honour to be able to visit them and see the joy something as simple as a movie can bring them. In contrast, my day job of acting seems so trivial."

That same year, Daisy Ridley, who stars as Rey in the more recent movies, posted a video reminding fans to support the charitable arm of the Star Wars empire, Force For Change. That organization raises funds for UNICEF Kid Power, American Red Cross, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, among others. Ridley helped Force for Change raise over $2.2 million.

A Sith sense

Two rows of storm troopers standing uniformly at Disney World
Credit: sushioutlaw/ Unsplash

With the rise of the internet and social media, May the Fourth has become more powerful than any of us could’ve possibly imagined. Every year actors, athletes, and keyboard jockeys of all stripes go online to bond over their shared love of the Star Wars universe and apparent fondness for dad puns. Companies as diverse as LEGO, Build-a-Bear, and eBay offer deals and discounts to customers in celebration of Star Wars Day. A recent Etsy search for “May the 4th” crafts yielded more than 1,300 results, from T-shirts to leggings, toilet seat decals, and a crocheted Space Baby hand sanitizer case.

In fact, there is so much social media activity that it’s become common practice for media outlets to round up the best May the Fourth quips. Not to be outdone, brands both big and small have leapt into the pun-y fun with both feet. But if those aren't the memes you're looking for, the Force is strong with the rest of these.