May The Fourth Be With You: How Margaret Thatcher launched the Star Wars ‘holiday’

Who would have thought Margaret Thatcher’s election would be the genesis of a worldwide, annual celebration of all things Star Wars? Yet that’s exactly how May The Fourth began.

In a 2014 episode of The Big Bang Theory, the Pasadena posse feverishly prepared to celebrate Star Wars Day, a day to celebrate all things relating to the Star Wars cinematic universe. The holiday fell on May 4, because there’s a built-in pun: “May the Fourth be with you.”

Darth wouldn’t have a (new) hope

By the time this episode aired, Star Wars Day had been a well-known quantity, at least among the more eager fans of the film franchise. But the pun that dictates the holiday’s place on the calendar – “May The 4th Be With You” – is actually almost as old as the franchise itself. 

May The Fourth Be With You first emerged in mainstream pop culture on May 4, 1979. The UK’s Conservative Party celebrated the landslide election of the first female Prime Minister of the western world, that indomitable Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher herself, by taking out a half-page ad in the London Evening News, which read…

“May The Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.”

Star Wars had been released two years earlier, and its cultural impact was enough that the pun on “May The Force Be With You,” one of the movie’s catchphrases, was universal enough to make sense in a British print ad. The Force was indeed with Thatcher, with the day inaugurating the longest premiership of the 20th century.

The pun has appeared in British politics and at least twice since then: once, in a 1994 House of Commons debate, by which time Thatcher’s milder and significantly meeker successor John Major had replaced her as premier; and in 2012, when the hideous oaf that is Boris Johnson MP mentioned the phrase in his acceptance speech after being re-elected as Mayor of London

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The phrase continued to be in use, and picked up steam after the Internet started to let people ‘socialise’ more in a short, pithy manner. But wouldn’t be directly linked with a Star Wars-themed holiday until 2008, when a Facebook group celebrating Luke Skywalker Day adopted the May the Fourth slogan. Since then, May 4 has been a consistent day for fandom celebration.

There had also been at least one organised Star Wars Day celebration: the Toronto Underground Cinema had first hosted an event back in 2011, celebrating the day with a costume contest, film festival and more. Other venues picked up on the idea, and it continued to gather momentum.

But the mainstream acceptance of this Star Wars Day malarkey as a holiday — or at least a gimmick — seems to have conveniently snowballed after Disney purchased Lucasfilm and the rights to Star Wars in 2012 for a staggering $4.05 billion. I wonder how many mouths that insane about of cash could have fed? Sorry, that was a bit Mother Teresa of me, wasn’t it?

Since then, the Disney conglomerate has taken advantage of the holiday (and the fans who celebrate it: Star Wars Day includes deals and discounts on Star Wars merchandise, as well as events at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The day also provides other companies the chance to market themselves to Star Wars fans.

DV about to try DP

And even the crew of the International Space Station celebrated SWD in 2015, watching the pretty dire Revenge of the Sith. In space. Apparently they were having trouble picking up Channel 5.

One could be tempted to say this ‘holiday’ was a shameless ploy that takes advantage of nerds. That’s a fair assessment. But then again, George Lucas and Lucasfilm have been taking money from nerds and Starwarstards for over forty years. And they’ve been happy to let it happen.

May the worth be with them.

Steve Pafford

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