Every year, the Star Wars fandom gathers together in unity to celebrate one day in particular: May the 4th. If you hear, "May the 4th be with you" tomorrow, don't worry - it's just Star Wars things.
A play on a famous in-movie phrase, "may the force be with you," May the 4th has rapidly become a cultural celebration of all things Star Wars. Whether you're a lukewarm fan and do nothing more than make mention in a social media status or you're a diehard and plan to dress up and make themed snacks, Star Wars Day is for everyone - and it's an excuse to let loose and be silly.
The Universe Grows Ever Larger
One thing makes this year's May the 4th extra special: the Star Wars Universe is bigger than ever, and it's getting bigger by the year.
Once upon a time, Star Wars was almost exclusively a movie series; except for brief cartoon series like Droids and Ewoks, to be a Star Wars fan meant loving a movie franchise.
The rise of Disney Plus brought the movie franchise into people's home more accessibly than ever, and it also did something extraordinary: it introduced the Star Wars TV series that had previously been accessed by only niche fans. Now instead of having to hunt down a way to watch Star Wars: Rebels, those interested in the story could just click on their favorite streaming service.
In addition, one little green alien skyrocketed the Star Wars TV series into superstardom all on his own, finding his way into homes that previously had no interest in Star Wars and sudden fans who realized that maybe all that lightsaber nonsense is kinda cool after all - something lifelong fans will tell you they've been screaming from the rooftops for over forty years.
Whether you've been in the fandom from that first fateful day in 1977 or it was big-eared Grogu who won you over (or maybe you find Mando to be the silent and sexy type) - there's room for all in the Star Wars fandom. Here's a look at how it's grown and changed over the years, with each addition in chronological order (to the best of our ability):
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
- Episode I: The Phantom Menace: This movie was released in 1999, and it brought the series back from near-death. Although diehard fans never really abandoned the original trilogy, recruiting new generations was facing the uphill battle of outdated graphics and acting that left a little to be desired. The Phantom Menace brought it all: extraordinary special effects, a killer soundtrack, and the kind of characters it's easy to love - except of course for Jar Jar Binks. Although critics of The Phantom Menace love to bandy about the theory that Jar Jar is actually a Sith Lord, for the most part the first movie in the series revival was met with lukewarm enthusiasm from diehards - but wild enthusiasm from a new generation of fans who found themselves inundated with the genius that is Lucas marketing. The Phantom Menace started the whole story - introduced us to characters before they were in the original trilogy, and helped set the stage for the movies and shows to come. Jedi Qui Gon Jinn and padawan Obi Wan Kenobi discover little Anakin Skywalker, an anomaly in the force they believe is prophesied to bring balance to the Force - an all-encompassing power that flows through all living things and binds the universe together. The Trade Federation launches an invasion of a peaceful planet called Naboo, and it's revealed that hidden bad guys have been pulling the strings behind the scenes - the Sith.
- Episode II: Attack of the Clones: Released in 2002, this movie may have the most canonically hated-upon name out of all of them. It continued the story of young Anakin Skywalker as he trained to be a jedi with Obi Wan Kenobi (famous OG from the first trilogy) and navigated his forbidden relationship with Naboo's former queen and now senator, Amidala aka Padme. Everyone's favorite Jar Jar returned and it became clear that the Jedi Temple wasn't the bastion of peace and unity it pretended to be. Politics got heavy and Senator Palpatine pushed for control of the Republic. A clone army was created in secret and the Republic used the clones to fight against the Trade Federation's robotic army.
- Star Wars: Clone Wars: A cartoon series that ran from 2003-2005, the Clone Wars details the exploits of now-Jedi Knights Kenobi and Skywalker, Skywalker's padawan Ahsoka, and their experience fighting the Trade Federation alongside the clone trooper soldiers.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars: A movie released in 2008, this was essentially a pilot episode for the animated series that would follow.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Begun with the movie in 2008, this series ran from 2008 to 2020 and followed the development of Skywalker, Kenobi, Jedis Macu Windu, Yoda and more - and introduced several clone troopers who later appeared in and got their own series.
- Episode III: Revenge of the Sith: Released in 2005, Revenge is considered one of the most well-received of the newer trilogy at the time. It followed Skywalker's descent into darkness as the Jedi temple fractured and was later attacked and scoured by forces under the control of now-Emperor Palpatine. Palpatine used the clone army previously under the control of the Republic to turn on the Jedi and their allies with the famous "Order 66." This destroyed almost all resistance to the emperor's climb to power and scattered Jedi and their democracy-loving allies to all corners of the universe in hiding. Skywalker turns fully to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader - lapdog and sidekick of Palpatine, who is in reality a Sith Lord known as Darth Sidious. Amidala dies giving birth to twins Luke and Leia.
- The Bad Batch: Released in 2021 and currently ongoing, this series starts immediately on the heels of Order 66. The Bad Batch follows a small group of clone soldiers who don't follow the order and turn mercenary instead of fighting on the side of their siblings and the Emperor's plans to subjugate the universe with his fascist regime.
- Droids: This animated series ran from 1985-1986 and may or may not be canon. It follows droids R2D2 and C3PO after they're abandoned by Skywalker.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story: Released in 2018, this follows a young Han Solo as he meets his future co-pilot wookie Chewbacca and becomes the scoundrel and mercenary rogue he is known as in the original trilogy.
- Kenobi: Due to be released May 27, 2022, this series will follow self-imposed exile of Kenobi on the planet of Tatooine as he oversees the young twin Luke's childhood from afar. Fans expect Anakin's original actor - Hayden Christensen - to return in some capacity through the series.
- Star Wars: Rebels: This 2014-2018 animated series follows the story of the Empire taking over the galaxy and the foundation of what we now know as the Rebel movement. Characters like Jedi Kanan Jarrus and his apprentice Ezra Bridger navigate the post-Republic world and the chaos of the Empire's rise to power as planets succumb to the Emperor's all-reaching influence. It features characters from both the movies and previous series, bringing the worlds together.
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Released in 2016, it tells the story of Jyn Erso - a young woman looking for her father, who is employed by the Empire to create the ultimate weapon: the Death Star. Erso steals the blueprints for the Death Star and passes them to twin Leia - influential force in the growing Rebel armies. In the end of the movie, Leia is seen passing the blueprints to droid R2D2 - moments before Darth Vader boards the ship looking for the plans.
- Episode IV: A New Hope: This original trilogy first was released in 1977 and stars immediately where Rogue One leaves off. In the beginning, Leia passes the Death Star plans to R2 before being captured by Darth Vader - who, remember, is her father - but she does not know that yet. Young Luke is being a typical teenage boy on Tatooine while Leia is off becoming a rebel leader - and Luke is in for a bit of a culture shock when his adoptive parents are killed and Obi-Wan shows up to take him to Alderaan. Until that moment, Luke was unaware he was anything other than a normal boy - and is in for a world of surprise as the movie introduces him to the idea that he is something special. Luke meets up with Han Solo and Leia, trains briefly with Obi-Wan, and he helps the Rebels destroy the now-complete Death Star weapon.
- Star Wars: The Holiday Special: This 1978 special is not spoken of in Star Wars circles.
- Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: Picking up after the destruction of the original Death Star, this 1980 movie follows Luke as he seeks training from hiding-in-exile Master Yoda. Leia becomes a leader in the Rebellion, and together they rally their forces to try to take down the Empire. Unfortunately, things take a sideways turn as Han is captured by a bounty hunter named Boba Fett, separating him from the growing object of his affection, Leia. Things get worse when Darth Vader reveals to Luke that he is in fact his father. Luke begins to grapple with the fear that he will turn to the darkness like his father as his power as a Jedi grows.
- Ewoks: This animated series was released from 1985-1987 and follows the adorable fuzzy aliens who live on Endor - a planet which is the key to the last movie.
- Episode VI: Return of the Jedi: In this 1983 film, Luke returns more powerful and determined than ever. Comfortable now in his strength but still worried about falling to darkness, Luke rescues Han from mob boss Jabba the Hutt and returns to his Rebel friends after the death of Master Yoda. Yoda reveals that Luke has a twin sister - and he works out that it's Leia. Leia is sensitive to the Force - and their connection plays a role in what's to come. The Empire has rebuilt the Death Star, although it's not complete, and Palpatine's power grows stronger than ever as he hopes to tempt Luke to the dark side as he did his father. In the end, Darth Vader can't watch Palpatine kill his son and turns on his master - saving Luke. Vader is redeemed in the moments before his death, and Luke realizes that he is not doomed to follow his father's dark footsteps. The empire falls as the Rebels seek to restore democracy.
- The Mandalorian: Released in 2019, this ongoing series follows a character called Mando - short for Mandalorian - as he works as a bounty hunter during the downfall of the empire. Mando - real name Din Djarin - gets caught up in imperial plans to kidnap a young alien named Grogu - of the same species as former Master Yoda. The species is notoriously long-lived and powerful in the Force and plays a role in the plans of former imperial leaders who are playing with cloning technology.
- The Book of Boba Fett: This ongoing 2021 series follows the bounty hunter who captured Han, after he is jetted into the sarlaac pit by the actions of a vengeful Luke and Han. Fett establishes power on Tatooine, kicking out several Hutt mob bosses, and restoring peace to inhabitants of his region.
- Star Wars: Resistance: Starting in 2018, this animated series follows a New Republic pilot named Kaz, who was recruited by Resistance Commander Poe Dameron. It follows Kaz, Poe, and their droids - including the beloved BB8 - as they seek to bring down the infant rumblings of the newest iteration of the Empire, known as the First Order.
- Episode VII: The Force Awakens: Released in 2015, this movie follows young Rey, an orphan abandoned on a junk desert planed called Jakku, a First Order deserter Finn, and droid BB8 as they seek to return the droid to his human - Resistance leader Poe Dameron. They meet Han and Chewbacca on the way to return BB8 and his priceless information to the Rebel forces, and Rey discovers that she's more than just an orphan who's good with a staff. It is revealed that the son of Han and Leia - who calls himself Kylo Ren - is in service to the bad guys, ostensibly led by Supreme Leader Snoke. First Order forces try to track down BB8 and Ren is shocked to meet Rey and find that she is extraordinarily powerful in the Force - and they are connected in some as yet not understood way. Rey, Finn, Han and Chewie go on a commando mission into the awe-inspiring and terrifying new version of the Death Star, known as the Starkiller Base. Ren confronts and kills his father, and Rey and Finn complete their mission - leaving the Starkiller Base destroyed. Rebel forces are looking for Luke and BB8 provides them with a map to seek him out - which Rey does at the end of the movie.
- Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: This 2017 movie follows Rey as she trains under the reluctant and grumpy Luke, who has been hiding from his past. It's revealed that Luke drove Kylo Ren - his nephew Ben - into the arms of the First Order when his fears about Ren's growing power led him to betray his young apprentice. The connection between Rey and Ren grows as the Rebel forces are harried from planet to planet by First Order forces. Luke sacrifices his life as he gives the Rebels time to escape during a confrontation on a salt planet and Rey shows the Rebels that there is hope as she displays her growing Force powers. It's clear Finn is hiding something from his friends, but he holds it close to his chest and focuses on supporting Rey. The Rebels feel increasingly isolated as their pleas for help go unanswered and the movie ends with the diminished Rebel forces in hiding - and Rey training to be the last great hope of the galaxy.
- Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker: This 2019 movie shows Rey struggling to train as self-doubt prevents her progress. Palpatine's voice is heard again, sending a shockwave of terror through the galaxy as it's now revealed that somehow the old and supposedly-dead former Emperor is at the head of the First Order. Palpatine has been rebuilding his forces on a hidden planet known as Exegol. The Rebels race against time to ground his new fleet of Star Destroyers before they can launch to devastate the galaxy. It's revealed to Rey that she is in fact the granddaughter of Palpatine - and she nearly walks away from it all until the Force ghost of Luke scolds her out of her growing ennui. Rey - locked in a feverish race against time - is confronted by Kylo Ren. She is able to mortally wound him as his mother uses the force to distract him, sacrificing her life for the chance for Rey to triumph. Rey feels the death of her mentor and friend, confronts the fact that she just fatally wounded Ben, and heals him. Ben is confronted by a memory of his father who encourages him to do what he knows he has to do - which is to abandon the path of Kylo Ren and become again Ben, Jedi apprentice and good guy. In the end, Rey and Ben face Palpatine together on Exegol as desperately outnumbered Rebel forces fight a last-ditch effort to stall the New Order's rise. Rebels are heartened when thousands of allies answer their desperate plea for aid - turning the tide and helping to ground the New Order's ships before they can launch. Rey sacrifices her life to kill Palpatine, and Ben then saves her - which in turn saps his own life force. The movie ends with the Rebels celebrating their unlikely victory, and Rey bringing the lightsabers of Luke and Leia to bury in the sands of Tatooine as the twins' Force ghosts look on approvingly. When asked who she is - Rey responds that she is "Rey Skywalker" and the movie ends, promising more to come.
Although the universe has expanded greatly, it's not done yet. With several series ongoing, and a few more yet to launch but that have been promised - it will continue to grow. When the next movies come out is anyone's guess, but for now fans keep their appetite whetted with the TV series and the answers they provide.
How to Celebrate
Maybe all the Star Wars talk has you ready to grab your apprentice robe and turn on your lightsaber - is it blue, red, purple, or something else? - but you just need to know how to make the day special.
Although there's no single starting point for Star Wars Day, it all comes down to a single pun: May the 4th (Force) be with you.
The official Star Wars website tracks the first use of the phrase all the way back to 1978, just one year after the release of the first movie.
It quickly gained traction and became a wink-wink-nudge-nudge handshake between fans, but it grew into a holiday of its own over the decades. Celebrations vary from household to household, but here are some creative ways to make the day special:
- A watch party. Whether you gather your friends together in person or use Disney+'s Group Watch feature to connect with far-off friends, making it a movie marathon day. If you have the time, all the movies one after the other take just over 25 hours to watch, so it's actually a day-and-an-hour marathon. For a shorter session, consider one of the three trilogies or a TV series.
- Themed snacks: The Star Wars site suggests, "We’ve never passed on the popcorn and traditional movie snacks, but May the 4th calls for an extra-special menu. No one celebrates quite like the Ewoks, which is why these rice balls are the perfect treat for the festivities. Return to Tatooine with a healthy and tasty recipe for Jabbacado toast, and serve up a good batch of Lula donuts from Star Wars: The Bad Batch for something sweet. For a splash of on-theme decor, outside of the kitchen you can get creative with a DIY Star Wars craft. Stay on target with a festive X-wing helmet suncatcher, keep your hands safe with a reusable cup sleeve, and find a new way to display your favorite action figures with this seeing stone stand."
- Pass on the tradition: Get the kids involved. Star Wars is for all ages, and whether your kids are into the movies or too young to care, themed crafts, art activities, or even watching the Star Wars Galactic Pal microseries might be a quick way to ease the little ones into the fandom.
- Crack open a book: Don't forget, the Star Wars universe includes myriad books and comics, many of which are considered canon.
- Take me out to the ballgame: The Star Wars site adds, "Baseball fans can hit a home run with special Star Wars events at Major and Minor League Baseball games scheduled for May the 4th, including the Philadelphia Phillies, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the New York Mets, the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Toronto Blue Jays."
Time-honored traditions include dressing up, decorating the house, and sharing your love of the franchise with those who matter most to you.
So today and every day, May the 4th be with you - and get ready for the Revenge of the 5th.