Why Star Wars Day is the most successful fake holiday

A fan takes a selfie next to a model of Star Wars character C-3PO.
A fan takes a selfie next to a model of Star Wars character C-3PO.
Image: REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
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Today is Star Wars Day, also known as “May the fourth be with you” day, an annual celebration of all things Star Wars that plays on the space opera’s famous Jedi phrase, “May the force be with you,” as well as the first film’s release date of May 25, 1977. There’s no single date pegged to when fans began celebrating the unofficial commemorative holiday, but the May 4th pun has been in use in association with the franchise since the 1970s. 

In recent years, as Star Wars has given rise to numerous sequels and prequels, Disney and its subsidiary Lucasfilm have used the fan-driven day to promote the brand in a wide array of ways. 

“Lucasfilm cannot take credit for Star Wars Day. That belongs to the fans,” the company states on its site detailing the rise of the faux holiday. But what is clear is that Star Wars Day is the most widely promoted annual recognition of a Hollywood franchise, outshining competing brand-related days like Star Trek Day (Sept. 8) and Alien Day (April 26), whose studios have both promoted “holiday” dates commemorating their franchises, to much lesser effect. 

The purpose of a made-up holiday that almost no one can criticize  

One of the most market decline-proof aspects of society is the comfort food of entertainment, and during the inflation-riddled doldrums of the 1970s, Star Wars provided a much-needed escape from reality. Similarly, when season two of Disney+’s The Mandalorian debuted during the height of the pandemic in 2020, the dose of Star Wars fantasy gave many grateful fans a respite from the lockdowns and news of new variants. 

Now that many venues have opened and public gatherings are becoming more frequent, the franchise’s sci-fi balm isn’t as necessary, but still just as vital, and Disney is leveraging its property in myriad ways. The full-length trailer for the new Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney+ series debuted today ahead of its May 27 launch, with another series, Andor coming later this year, as well as season three of The Mandalorian. 

Why fans can expect more franchise-related “holidays” from Hollywood

Additionally, Spotify has launched its own elaborate streaming music tie-in with the day, and Apple used the occasion to post a mini-documentary called Behind the Mac: Skywalker Sound. The short film reveals the sound design process at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Ranch, where many of the iconic Star Wars sounds (lightsabers, Wookie roars, etc.) were and continue to be developed. 

Not counting the toys, games, and now television shows, the Star Wars film franchise has amassed over $10 billion in revenue. But unlike Valentine’s Day, Christmas, or even the somewhat obscure Pi Day, what distinguishes Star Wars Day is that a company owns it. Fans are free to bake Baby Yoda cakes and dress up as characters from the films, but only Disney can issue greeting cards, license toys, posters, and t-shirts for sale, as well as any other content associated with the Star Wars brand.

In that way, Star Wars Day is potentially the most lucrative holiday of all, because the real revenue earned is all going to one place—Disney.