May the Fourth be with you!
Yes, it’s Star Wars Day, an increasingly official date ever since someone realized May the Fourth sounded an awful lot like the beginning of “May the Force be with you,” the classic Star Wars greeting.
I first encountered “Star Wars” in 1997, with the 20-year anniversary re-release in theaters, and never looked back. I don’t know when I realized I was obsessed — when you show up at a Star Wars Convention speed-dating event in a Jabba the Hutt suit, that probably should set off some bells — but, fortunately, so is everyone else in this culture.
Lots of metaphorical ink has been spilled about how “Star Wars” is a multigenerational, modern-day myth, but that’s because it’s true. From the classic hero structure, the tricksters, the villains, the larger-than-life characters, to the random, real-world element of a “used future,” it was built to latch on to our consciousness and never let go.
It’s hard to move anywhere in political debate (let alone make it through a few days of newspaper headlines) without seeing Star Wars references everywhere. When the “Daily Show” writers have a slow week, they compare President Obama to Luke Skywalker. When “The Simpsons” writers have a regular week, they toss in a few snappy allusions to the series. And don’t get me started on “Family Guy.”
Star Wars has become a lens through which we glimpse our lives, both personal and public. “This deal is getting worse all the time!” we murmur on dates. “Do or do not, there is no try!” we murmur on other, more successful dates. We tried to make Admiral Ackbar the mascot of Ole Miss! And in politics, it’s more than just those bumper stickers comparing Dick Cheney unfavorably to Darth Sidious, or that AT-AT we’re trying to build. If we retained anything from the prequels, other than a vague distaste for Hayden Christensen, it was the glimpse of how quickly a republic can vanish, even if you give Samuel L. Jackson a light saber.
Sure, most people don’t have life-size cardboard figures of Darth Vader in their bedrooms, or replicas of the Millennium Falcon in their basements or attempt to use Yoda’s sayings as pick-up lines on a regular basis. But Star Wars has become one of our defining myths. It shows up in cartoons, in jokes, in politics, in those fake Twitter accounts with thousands of followers. It was the first foray of Geek Culture into the mainstream. And now it’s a common reference point that helps us see things more clearly, a way of forming analogies, a communal source of levity. And pretty much everything you need is in there if you look close enough, like the inside of a Tautaun, but a lot better smelling.