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May the 4th Be with You: The History of Star Wars Day, Explained

May the 4th be with You! Fans around the world are celebrating the annual Star Wars Day holiday. Originating as a pun “May the Fourth be with you” off of the iconic line “May the force be with you” from the Star Wars saga, the phrase and the holiday have now grown into worldwide celebrations of a galaxy far, far away. While in some circles the first weekend of May is a kickoff to the summer movie season with the first release of a Marvel movie, May the 4th has become an iconic day known by many over the world, even if they aren’t hardcore Star Wars fans.

Yet despite how obvious it is to turn May 4th into a play on words with an iconic Star Wars line, it was not until recently the day became known as Star Wars Day. While the origins of the term date back almost as far as the original film, it didn’t reach widespread popularity until a little over a decade ago. How and when did this happen? Here is a look at how May the 4th became a pop culture phenomenon and took the place of the previous Star Wars date.

The Day Has Unlikely Origins

20th Century Fox

It is hard to believe, but the first reference of May the 4th actually came from the United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The phrase was used in an ad in the London Evening News on May 4, 1979, that the U.K.’s Conservative Party took out to congratulate Thatcher on recently being elected Prime Minister. The broadcast read “May the 4th Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.” This was two years after the release of Star Wars and one year before The Empire Strikes Back would hit theaters.

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The holiday didn’t fully catch on until decades later. In 2011, Toronto Underground Cinema organized the first celebration of Star Wars Day. It was a celebration that include fan film festivals and special trivia as well as merchandise for fans. Shortly afterward, Major League Baseball started having Star Wars Day promotions held near May 4 where the teams would wear special Star Wars-themed merchandise. Lucasfilm did not create the holiday, but it instead was something created by the fans, one that Lucasfilm would begin to embrace in the future.

Disney Fully Embraces May the Fourth

Disney Star Wars logo with Death Star and castle
Walt Disney Studios

While Lucasfilm originally did not officially declare May 4th as a Star Wars holiday, ever since Disney acquired the company they have fully embraced it. In 2013, just seven months after buying Lucasfilm, the company embraced May the 4th as a Star Wars Day. The theme parks typically do special Star Wars-themed celebrations on the day, and they have used the day to promote upcoming Star Wars projects.

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Disney released the final episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on May 4, 2020, on Disney+. May 4, 2020, is also when they released Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on Disney+ alongside a behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Mandalorian titled Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian. In 2021, they premiered the first episode of The Bad Batch on May 4th. In 2022, they released the trailer for Obi-Wan Kenobi alongside Disney Gallery: The Book of Boba Fett. In 2023, they will premiere Season 2 of Star Wars: Visions and Star Wars: Young Jedi Adventures. This year there will also be a Simpson-themed Star Wars short titled Rogue Not Quiet One on Disney+ to celebrate the holiday.

The Original Star Wars Date and Other Important Dates

Han Solo and Chewbacca
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

May 25, 1977, was the release of Star Wars, and for years that was the day commonly associated with Star Wars. Return of the Jedi was released on May 25, 1983, and all three entries in the prequel trilogy were released the week before May 25, which also was Memorial Day weekend, to get a head start on the holiday weekend.

Even after Disney purchased Lucasfilm and began to embrace May 4th as Star Wars Day, they still recognized the importance of May 25. The studio released Solo: A Star Wars Story in theaters on May 25, 2018, and originally set Obi-Wan Kenobi to release on that day in 2022 before bumping the release date back two days. With Star Wars Day now being recognized as May 4, the original May 25 is now more commonly known as Geek Pride Day.

Fans have also adopted May 5th as Revenge of the Fifth, a play-off of Revenge of the Sith, and celebrate the various villains of the Star Wars franchise. Due to May 5th also being Cinco de Mayo, some have instead celebrated the villains on May 6th with the pun “Revenge of the Sixth” as a better substitute for Sith or “Return of the 6th” as a play on the sixth entry in the Skywalker Saga, Return of the Jedi.

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