May the Fourth Be With You!

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Star Wars fans celebrate their day

Jacob Carle says he remembers the exact moment when the Force awakened within him.

It was about six years ago, and the then four-year-old Jacob had just wandered downstairs in the middle of the night. His dad, John, was watching Star Wars: Episode One on TV, and the Gungans had just begun their climactic clash against the robots of the Trade Federation.

“I just looked at him and he nodded and pointed to the TV,” Jacob says. He sat down, watched, and was hooked for life.

“You seriously don’t remember this, dad?” he asks John of this formative moment in his son’s life. “Wow.”

“He was interrupting a movie!” John joked.

Jacob, a St. Albert student, is one of the thousands of young and old Star Wars fans that will no doubt raise their lightsabres today in celebration of Star Wars Day, which falls on May 4.

Star Wars Day is a fan-driven grassroots movement that was popularized through the Internet, reports the official Star Wars website.

The pun behind it (“May the Fourth be with you”) was first used in popular culture back on May 4, 1979, when the London Evening News ran an ad reading, “May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie,” in reference to Margaret Thatcher’s election as Britain’s prime minister.

While it has no doubt been celebrated in private for many years, the first organized Star Wars Day event happened at the Toronto Underground Cinema in 2011. Fans the world over now use the day as an excuse to geek out over their favourite science-fiction franchise.

John says he first saw Star Wars in theatres at the Westmount Shopping Centre back in 1980 in the form of The Empire Strikes Back. Prior to that, he wore out his family’s VHS copy of A New Hope with repeated viewings.

“It was larger than life,” he recalls, when asked about the film’s appeal to him, and its real actors and realistic special effects set it totally apart from other sci-fi films of the time.

“It really sucked me into the story, as if I was sitting in the Millennium Falcon with them running from the Empire.”

Seeing that same spaceship swoop down from the heavens in the 2015 teaser trailer of The Force Awakens made his spine tingle all over again, he recalls.

“I was a kid again … the magic had returned.”

Ironically, the trailer had come out just one day after he had told Jacob that he might never get to see a new Star Wars film in theatres in his lifetime.

Jacob describes seeing that film as “fun, exciting, and probably breathtaking.”

“I remember walking out of the theatre and asking, ‘Dad, so what was that about never seeing an original Star Wars movie?’”

While Jacob and John say they’ll probably celebrate today by re-watching some of the films, Edmonton’s Janine Waddell Hodder has a slightly bigger party in mind. She’s holding a free lightsabre training course in Churchill Square today on behalf of the Edmonton Arts Council.

Waddell Hodder says she’s been teaching the course for about four years now, having learned lightsabre combat from an apprentice of Bob Anderson – the man who played Darth Vader during the lightsabre fights of Empire and Return of the Jedi.

“You can’t actually get certified as a lightsabre instructor,” she noted (presumably because no one has the midi-chlorians for it) – instead, you base the moves off a fusion of German longsword and Japanese katana fighting.

Waddell Hodder says she remembers seeing The Return of the Jedi in theatres when she was seven.

“I was very afraid of the Ewoks,” she recalls, and thought it would be very cool to fly the Falcon. She says she was also fascinated by the fight scenes – a fascination that contributed to her current career as a fight choreographer.

Waddell Hodder says her whole family is fans of the series, with the kids regularly discussing the films’ plot points at the dinner table. On May 4, she makes sure to pack her kids Millennium Falcon-shaped sandwiches for lunch.

“Everyone in my family owns at least two lightsabres,” she says – she herself has a replica of the one used by the character Mace Windu that costs about $200.

St. Albert public works official David Kho has a few replica lightsabres as well, in addition to Star Wars blasters, helmets, spaceships, costumes, movie posters, and action figures – about 800 of the latter. He’s a die-hard sci-fi memorabilia collector, and has filled about four rooms of his small condo with Star Wars stuff.

“I guess it’s kind of an addiction,” he says, guessing that he’s probably put about $67,000 into his collection so far.

“You just keep looking for new stuff.”

Kho says he was really into science fiction as a kid – Star Wars, Star Trek, Space: 1999, you name it. When he saw A New Hope in theatres, the thing he says stuck with him the most was the snazzy costumes worn by the stormtroopers.

Thus presumably seduced by the Dark Side, Kho went on to become one of the founding members of the 501st Legion’s Badlands Garrison – a western Canadian group of Star Wars cosplayers that dress up like characters from the franchise for charity.

Waddell Hodder says it was a lot tougher to be open about Star Wars back when she was growing up.

“It wasn’t cool to be a Star Wars fan in 1992, especially as a girl,” she recalls – she had to hide it from others, and didn’t really talk about it out of embarrassment.

Nowadays, though, “being a geek has become chic,” as John puts it, and he and his sons can proudly wear Star Wars-themed shirts in public – something he says he wouldn’t have dared to do in high school.

Star Wars is pure entertainment unconnected to current events or political messaging, which is just how it should be, John says.

“It’s always a timeless story,” he says, giving it a cross-generational appeal – he likened it to this generation’s version of Shakespeare.

Waddell Hodder says the series taught her to embrace people’s differences and inspired her through strong female characters such as Princess Leia.

John says Star Wars, by showing people of many genders and races working together as equals, showed him how there shouldn’t be racism or sexism in the world. It’s also given him a great way to bond with his sons.

Waddell Hodder suggests that people celebrate Star Wars Day by watching the films, dressing up in costumes, or making Star Wars-inspired food (she’ll be baking Yoda cookies).

“As long as you’re having fun, that’s all that really matters.”

Also on May the Fourth

Padawans who don’t celebrate Star Wars Day may wish to look into other May 4-related holidays, most of which are described on nationaldaycalendar.com:
• Bird Day. Although there are multiple days dedicated to birds, including International Migratory Bird Day on May 14, the May 4 version was established in 1894 by Charles Almanzo Babcock, the superintendent of schools in Oil City, Pennsylvania.
• Bike to School Day. An offshoot of Walk to School Day, this event is meant to promote student fitness and was first celebrated in 2012. The actual date varies from year to year, but happens to fall on May 4 for 2016.
• National Candied Orange Peel Day. There’s no clear consensus on the origin of this day (or National Orange Juice Day, which is also on May 4), but it presumably has something to do with the sweet of that name.
Some fans reportedly also celebrate May 5 as Revenge of the Fifth (Sith) Day.

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About Author

Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.