On May 4, 1994, a groan-inducing moment on the floor of U.K. Parliament includes the first recorded use of a pun that will spawn its own holiday. Harry Cohen, Member of Parliament from Leyton, quotes his researcher as saying, “May the Fourth be with you,” a play on the date and the tagline “May the Force be with you” from the Star Wars series. The pun has been repeated countless times since, to the extent that May 4 is now recognized as Star Wars day by Lucasfilm, Disney and fans around the world.
A likely apocryphal story holds that the first use of the phrase in British politics came in 1979, in a congratulatory advertisement that the Conservative Party took out in a paper to honor Margaret Thatcher as she took office on May 4. The first recorded instance, however, came from Cohen, who rose to speak about a defense bill and made the following joke in reference to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s infamous “Star Wars” initiative:
“May the 4th is an appropriate date for a defense debate. My researcher, who is a bit of a wit, said that it should be called ‘National Star Wars Day.’ He was talking about the film Star Wars rather than President Reagan’s defense fantasy, and he added, ‘May the fourth be with you.’ That is a very bad joke. He deserves the sack for making it, but he is a good researcher.”
Cohen’s researcher escaped persecution for the pun, and a few decades later, his facetious suggestion had become a global phenomenon. With the advent of the internet, the pun rose in popularity and became a recurring meme, and fans began organizing “Star Wars Day” events in the 2010s—the first appears to have been at the Toronto Underground Cinema in 2011. Having acquired the rights to the Star Wars franchise in 2012, Disney began observing Star Wars Day the following year, with special events and releases marking the occasion. 2015 marked the first known celebration of Star Wars Day in space, when astronauts aboard the International Space Station watched Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Rather than limit their celebration to just one day, fans may choose to observe “Revenge of the Fifth” the day after Star Wars Day, although many hold that “Revenge of the Sixth” is a better pun.
READ MORE: The Real History That Inspired “Star Wars”