The James Clayton Column: May the fourth be with you

Since today is officially Star Wars day, James takes a moment to salute George Lucas’ rich universe, which still deserves our love in spite of its flaws…

Happy Star Wars Day! “May the Fourth be with you.” See what they did there? If you say “May the Force be with you” with a lisp you get today’s date and, thus, today is decreed to be Star Wars Day. Speech impediments are brilliant.

So May 4th is Star Wars Day, and why not? The saga deserves an annual celebration. We live in a society that marks nonsense holidays that mean very little and are only really about lauding spurious saints, selling products or encouraging people to drink excessively.

Pancake Day is over-rated. April Fools’ Day is irritating. Bonfire Night is dubious and full of hazards and Valentine’s Day is a tacky guilt-trip masterminded by greeting card and condom companies. Those and other inconsequential ‘celebration’ days and pseudo-religious occasions are fundamentally lacking in fun, cultural resonance and genuine human feeling. Star Wars Day, however, is still in touch with mythology and the original essence of an enthused sacred love.

People take the aforementioned holidays too seriously and spend serious amounts of money and energy on them, which is why it’s refreshing when off-the-wall oddities like International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Towel Day (for Douglas Adams fans) and 4/20 (for smoking copious amounts of cannabis) pop up and make things more interesting. Star Wars Day is the ultimate though because, obviously, it’s all about Star Wars. I contend that Star Wars is better than marijuana and better than pirates. It’s also healthier than those two and more hygienic than a wet towel as well.

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To further belabour the point and eulogise George Lucas’ franchise, I contend that Star Wars is the greatest pop cultural icon of the modern age. It’s brilliant, and a day devoted to acknowledging just how joyous and awe-inspiring the movies and extended multimedia are is the very least that Star Wars deserves.

If you’ll allow me to get personal – because commemorative holidays are all about individual anecdotes and sentimental memories – Star Wars means a lot to me, and May 4th sends me spiralling into nostalgia’s Sarlacc sinkhole. I remember childhood days of watching The Empire Strikes Back from under the cover of my Rebel base canopy (a picnic blanket propped up on some chairs) with a model Millennium Falcon between my fingers. My brother and I spent afternoons waving sticks around in a forest patch that functioned as an ersatz Endor moon for mock lightsaber battles.

When The Phantom Menace was released I spent all my spare pocket money on action figures, and still find myself eyeing up Star Wars Lego. There were many sweet moments, which highlighted the franchise’s universal appeal and ability to transcend language barriers, when Star Wars seeped into the time I spent teaching English at Italian kids’ summer camps last year.

One of my students/Padawan learners made a papier mâché lightsabre, and the kids got a huge thrill out of the daily doodles of Darth Vader I did on the paper placemats in the canteen. My inner child also had a chance to come out and play when the little boy of the family I was living with let me disassemble and rebuild his Lego TIE-Fighter.

A few years ago, I constructed my own homemade R2-D2 head and a cardboard C-3PO torso, intending to contribute to the Star Wars Uncut fan-film. I never got around to filming it, partly because of the apathy of others I tried to rope in to assist me. As a hardcore Star Wars fan with his heart on his sleeve, this upset me a lot. That’s another thing that love of this franchise does for you – it exposes you to a lot of hurt and heartache.

People get hung up on the murky aspects of George Lucas’ megabrand and all the money-grabbing and myth-mixing. It is upsetting to see Yoda selling mobile phones, Darth Vader selling automobiles and hear that Han Solo is dancing on someone’s Xbox. It’s also easy to get riled up when you reflect on the re-edits and retconning of each new re-release or remaster and dwell on the worst horrors of the prequels (midi-chlorians, Jar Jar Binks, Threepio’s decline into becoming a walking bad punchline, etc).

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Ultimately, though, it all amounts to picking at scabs and missing the bigger picture. These ugly, unfortunate bits are merely blemishes on something expansive and immense in scale and ambition. I have unconditional love for the multiverse that George Lucas has masterminded, but that love is built on reason. Take a step back for a moment, open your eyes and mind, and you can appreciate just how outstanding the Star Wars world is.

Lucas is a visionary, and that was clear from the first film, which combined classical storytelling, sci-fi aesthetics, old-school adventure serial beats and film school nous to create a fresh blockbuster experience for a new age of cinema. From there, a multimedia pop culture phenomenon spawned and took lasting hold on global consciousness, but Star Wars’ ultimate achievement is in its prevailing human resonance.

Star Wars is timeless because it operates “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. Removed from our contemporary reality, its themes and stories last, but most of all, it’s the characters, locations and environments that continue to appeal. This extended universe that has evolved is awe-inspiring, and unlimited in its escapist possibility. What Lucas gave us was an incredibly immersive and exciting space opera sandbox. That spacebox contains concepts like podracing, characters like Boba Fett and Yoda and alien destinations like Tatooine and the Death Star. The saga should be lauded for providing these ideas and the endless enjoyment and imaginative escapism that come with them.

May 4th gives you a reason to remember all this. I’d urge you to acknowledge the date and take the opportunity to celebrate the saga, even if it’s only for a fleeting moment. Go all-out to sprinkle Star Wars quotes through everyday conversation (it’s as easy as “I have a bad feeling about this”).

If you can find time, watch one of the movies or The Clone Wars TV series. Play on a Star Wars videogame for a bit or crank John Williams’ scores. Surf across some saga fan-art on the web or answer the phone with Wookiee growls. If you’re feeling even bolder, get in the cosplay spirit and dress up as Princess Leia or a Stormtrooper. If there’s a day you were meant to do it, then today is that day.

Whatever you do today, just take a moment to celebrate Star Wars and crack a Han Solo smile as you do so. Friends, May the Fourth be with you.

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James Clayton is a stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder who’s a little short to be a Stormtrooper. You can see all his links here or follow him on Twitter.

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