"Toll due, bad dream come true, I lie dead gone under red sky." -Alice in Chains, "Them Bones"

What May the Fourth Means to Me

Today, May the Fourth, is Star Wars Day — you know, as in “May the Fourth be with you”?

Prior to all this “May the Fourth” stuff, the day I most closely associated with Star Wars was Memorial Day. After all, the first six films were all released on Memorial Day weekend (1977, 1980, 1983, 1999, 2002, and 2005). The only other date that remotely reminds me of Star Wars is Christmas, which is when I got the majority of my Star Wars toys. But nobody likes it when I show up for Memorial Day cookouts or Christmas family gatherings wearing my Darth Vader helmet and swinging a lightsaber, so this May the Fourth thing works out better for everybody.

(I am aware of “Revenge of the Fifth,” but May 5th is already Cinco de Mayo, and a day of Star Wars followed by a day of tacos and cerveza is okay with me.)

Two week sago in my Theories of Professional Writing class, we watched the original Star Wars film (the “mostly” unaltered version from the 2008 DVD release). It’s been a while since I sat down and watched any Star Wars film on DVD, without commercials or interruptions. Having studied story structure for the past two years, I watched the 40-year-old film with fresh eyes, holding the story’s structure up to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, James Scott Bell’s Super Structure and the Four Act Film Structure. Forty years after it was originally released, I watched the entire film in a dark room on a big screen, and you know what? It still holds up. It’s a great movie; damn near perfect, from a plotting point of view. The beats are where they’re supposed to be. The characters do what they’re supposed to do. The story, regardless of what else Lucas had in mind, had a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I was disappointed to discover many of my younger classmates did not share my opinion. Although a couple of students vehemently defended the film, the overwhelming class consensus was that the film was simply “meh.” Once a few drops of criticism leaked through, the dam broke. The effects were dated. The story moves too slow. Luke whines too much. They’re spending too much time in the desert. This film is no Harry Potter.

I never thought of Star Wars as being a film you “had to be there” for, but maybe it was. In 1978 by the age of five, I already had a TIE Fighter, an X-Wing Fighter, a Land Speeder, and all of the action figures Kenner had released to date. Every one of those toys — every single one of them — are sitting on shelves ten feet away from me right now. And that makes it hard for me to to disassociate myself from Star Wars “stuff” and simply discuss Star Wars “the movie.” It’s hard to extract the nostalgia associated with the franchise and discuss the film rationally when you have a mini-museum in your home and had a Star Wars-themed groom’s cake at your wedding.

In the long run, what made Star Wars really great is also what ruined it for a lot of people. If you were born in 1990s, you didn’t experience that fifteen year Star Wars drought, the years where Star Wars was largely referred to in past tense. When new toys began appearing in stores in the mid-1990s, it was exciting, especially to those of us who remember seeing rows of Star Wars action figures hanging on pegs in toy stores the first time around. Unfortunately, those toys led to more toys, which lead to more more more toys. After a while it didn’t feel like we were being rewarded; it felt like we were being marketed to, and in some cases, being taken advantage of.

But that viewing of Star Wars a couple of weeks ago took me back. There were no toys, no magazines, and no memorabilia nearby. It was just me, and the movie, and a few students who had to suffer through me whispering every single line of dialogue in the film. (I’m not talking about lines like “May the Force be with you” — I’m talking about lines like “Oonta goota, Solo?” and “”Ukle nyuma. cheskopokuta klees ka tlanko… ya oska,” Greedo’s first and last lines. I may have seen that film one too many times.)

For me, the fun thing about May the Fourth is that it’s one of the few things that wasn’t created by LucasFilm as a way to market something to fans of the franchise. There’s no limited edition May the Fourth figure (yet), or thing you have to buy to participate. There’s nothing corporate about it at all. It was created by fans, for fans — not just to share their love of the Star Wars, but to share what Star Wars means to them.

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