May 4th is officially Star Wars Day, where fans of the famous franchise greet each other with the iconic greeting originally coined in a galaxy far, far away. Beyond the play on words (May the force vs. May the 4th), how did the day come about, and why is it connected with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher?
Star Wars became a sensation when the first movie, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, was released on May 25, 1977, to an unsuspecting planet. It was the global (galactic?) hit of the summer, with its characters and catchphrases (“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”), becoming an integral part of popular culture.
The May the 4th/May the Force connection came out two years later when Margaret Thatcher was first elected Prime Minister of Great Britain. As described on the official Star Wars website, Thatcher’s party celebrated their victory by taking a half page of advertising space in the London Evening News on May 4, 1979. This message, referring to the day of victory, was ‘May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations!’, further proof of the popularity of Star Wars (whether Thatcher understood the reference is unknown).
Once the Internet began to connect Star Wars fans, May the 4th became a grassroots tradition and became known as Star Wars Day. While it continues to be kind of a British tradition in politics, Disney’s purchase of LucasFilm cemented the half earnest celebration/half shameless marketing bonanza that it is today.
Over the years, Disney and Lucasfilm have done their best to keep Star Wars Day front and center with fans. In addition to offering discounts on Star Wars merchandise each year, sometimes Disney releases videos like a jokey “attack ” condemning May the Fourth from the perspective of the Empire, or R2-D2 teaming up with NASA to promote their movies and merchandise.
Star Wars Day is also celebrated on days besides May the 4th, especially if tickets to sporting events need to be sold. Professional sports like baseball, basketball, and hockey have included Star Wars theme nights during their seasons to entice fans to come to their stadiums.
Have you celebrated Star Wars Day, and if so, how? Which is your favorite Star Wars catchphrase? Share your thoughts with your classmates!