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What is Star Wars Day and how did it begin?

The fourth is strong with this particular day - but why?

Star Wars Day: Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. (Lucasfilm)
Star Wars Day: Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. (Lucasfilm)

Star Wars Day — AKA May the Fourth — is the one day on the calendar guaranteed to get the midi-chlorians buzzing for every Star Wars fan from young Padawans to elder Jedis strong with the Force.

In recent years, this Force-strong date has become synonymous with celebrating a galaxy far, far away and everything that comes with it, both on social media and in real life.

While originating from humble fan-made beginnings, this punny date has gone on to be widely recognised by Star Wars originators Lucasfilm, with TV show releases and trailer debuts focused around 4 May alongside special events hosted by franchise owners Disney at Disneyland.

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It’s enough recognition of this faux-holy date to make even the most hardened Sith a little misty-eyed — but what is the story behind the origins of Star Wars Day and how did it begin?

What is Star Wars Day?

Star Wars Day is celebrated by fans around the world. (Photo by Daniel Knighton/FilmMagic)
Star Wars Day is celebrated by fans around the world. (Photo by Daniel Knighton/FilmMagic)

May the Fourth — or Star Wars Day as it’s more commonly known — is celebrated every 4 May thanks to the date’s similarities to every Jedi’s favourite saying: “may the Force be with you.”

Despite not being linked to the original release date of George Lucas’ franchise starter Star Wars which was premiered on 25 May, 1977, the date has grown popular among its dedicated fanbase.

The celebration essentially began from this date-based pun and was primarily used among Jedi enthusiasts before it started being picked up by other, more unlikely outlets.

Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucas’ Star Wars property in 2012, May the fourth has been officially recognised and celebrated by the company via a variety of special events.

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In the past, Disney parks have hosted special meet-and-greets with familiar Star Wars characters alongside the release of limited-edition Star Wars merch available only on 4 May.

Meanwhile, a host of official Star Wars projects have made Star Wars Day their launch date, with the finale of 2020’s The Clone Wars, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Star Wars: The Bad Batch and the second trailer for Ewan McGregor’s stand-alone Obi-Wan Kenobi series all made available on Disney+ on May the fourth.

What are the origins of Star Wars Day?

Mark Hamill in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Lucasfilm)
Mark Hamill in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Credit: Lucasfilm)

As you might expect, Star Wars Day originates with Star Wars, Lucas’s pop-culture game-changer that combines laser swords and intergalactic dogfights with more family-based TV soap drama than an episode of Hollyoaks.

As such, the phrase “May the Fourth be with you” was initially started by fans of the series and used among Star Wars communities before it began being picked up by media outlets.

Originally, the date was used as an opportunity to celebrate Lucas’ much-loved saga, with Star Wars fansite Wookipedia explaining things to Fox News back in 2010 by saying: "Typical festivities consist of inviting fellow Star Wars-obsessed friends to stay over, and then watching the series in succession.

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“Lots of snacks, bring lightsabers and 'Star Wars'-themed toys. Lightsaber fights in the early morning hours optional."

While Lucasfilm was hesitant to officially recognise the date within its own canon, it did commend the event, saying: "It's nice that this particular date seems to observe and celebrate the power of the Force, and we're thrilled that Star Wars fans continue to find new ways to connect with a galaxy far, far away.”

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker and Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in a publicity still for Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. (20th Century Fox)
Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker and Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in a publicity still for Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. (20th Century Fox)

Meanwhile, the use of the phrase in popular culture can be traced back even further, linking itself to quite an unexpected person. On 4 May, 1979, the Conservative party used the saying in an advert placed in the London Evening Standard congratulating former leader Margaret Thatcher on her recent government win.

It was the media’s first acknowledgement of the phrase, with the advert reading: “May the Fourth Be with You, Maggie. Congratulations."

In the years following, the idiom popped up in a number of other areas — both in government and in popular TV shows like Count Duckula — while its popularity among fans continued to grow.

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Eventually, on Star Wars lover took it upon themselves to start a Facebook group in 2008 celebrating ‘Luke Skywalker Day: May the 4th’ and just a few years later, Disney bought Lucasfilm and begin using the date as part of the official Star Wars conversation.

Cut to today, and May the Fourth is a date that’s celebrated each and every year as an opportunity to embrace this colourful, epic and accepting fantasy world.

However, not to be outdone by their heroic counterparts, the saga’s baddies have claimed a date of their own, with May fifth also recognised as Sith-celebration ‘Revenge of the Sith.’

Watch: 10 Star Wars facts for Star Wars Day