Saturday, May 4, 2019

Star Wars Day

Happy Star Wars Day! May the 4th be with you. Star Wars Day is a day observed by Star Wars fans to honour the movie franchise. Here I must stress that May 4 is not the day Star Wars (1977) was released. Star Wars (1977) was released on May 25 1977 (what many of we fans consider to the be the Real Star Wars Day). As to why many observe May 4 as Star Wars Day, it would appear to be based around the pun "May the 4th be with you."

In fact, there is some evidence that the pun, "May the 4th be with you," actually came about before Star Wars Day. There is an apocryphal story that the phrase may have first been used on May 4 1979, when Margaret Thatcher assumed the office of Prime Minster of the United Kingdom. According to the story the Tories (Thatcher's party) placed an advert in The London Evening News that read, "May the Fourth Be with You, Maggie. Congratulations."

Whether or not this story is true, it was certainly used a debate over defence in the House of Commons on May 4 1994, as shown in the UK Parliament Hansard for that date. During the debate, Harry Cohen, the MP for Leyton, said, "May the Fourth is an appropriate date for a defence debate. My researcher, who is a bit of a wit, said that it should be called National Star Wars Day. He was talking about the film Star Wars rather than President Reagan's defence fantasy, and he added, 'May the fourth be with you.' That is a very bad joke; he deserves the sack for making it, but he is a good researcher."

In her 1999 book The Science of Star Wars, while discussing C-3PO's speech recognition capacity and the then current language technology project Verbmobil, former NASA astrophysicist Jeanne Cavales lists various phrases that are similar in sound to "May the Force be with you," including "May the fourth, be with you." While it seems unlikely that Star Wars fans would have paid attention to an ad placed in The London Evening News celebrating Margaret Thatcher or the UK Parliament Hansard, one can assume that a large number of them have read The Science of Star Wars. It seems possible, then, that some of those fans may have latched onto the phrase for their own.

Regardless, Star Wars Day appears to have emerged in the Naughts. An article from The Staten Island Real-Time News from 2007 reported that retailers in California were observing May 4 as Star Wars Day with discounts and giveaways. In 2008 a Facebook group called "Luke Skywalker Day: May the 4th" was created. It used the catchphrase, "May the 4th be with you."

It appears to have been in 2009 that Star Wars Day broke into the mainstream. The New York Daily News, KNBC in Los Angeles, and The Inquistr were among the outlets that did stories on Star Wars Day. In 2010 even more media outlets would cover Star Wars Day. ABC News, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Wired, and The Telegraph all did stories on Star Wars Day. KTLA in Los Angeles did a story on Star Wars Day for their evening news, on which they interviewed my dearest Vanessa Marquez, who was the biggest Star Wars fan I ever knew.

Since 2010 Star Wars Day has only grown, to the point that it is nearly ubiquitous on social media sites. The past many years, including this year, several news outlets have done stories on the day. California's legislature even declared May 4, Star Wars Day, this year.

Of course, as popular as Star Wars Day is, for many fans the real Star Wars Day remains May 25. As Vanessa explained in her interview with KTLA in 2010, it was on May 25 1977 that Star Wars was released. That having been said, neither Vanessa nor myself nor any other Star Wars fans I know object to May 4 being observed by many as "Star Wars Day." As I see it, it simply gives us another day to celebrate Star Wars!

Below is KTLA's story from May 4 2010, complete with the interview of my beloved Vanessa Marquez.

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