May the fourth be with you: Portsmouth professor - and member of the World Star Wars Project - talks about the importance of Star Wars Day

Youngsters at Mayville School in Portsmouth dressed up for World Star Wars Day today
Youngsters at Mayville School in Portsmouth dressed up for World Star Wars Day today
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In the social media age, it would be hard to open up Facebook or Twitter today and ignore a series of six words plastered across your news feeds over and over again: ‘MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU’.

For some, it’s just a rehashing of some impressive Star Wars-related pun work, but for people like Dr Lincoln Geraghty, it’s a commemoration of what is arguably the greatest sci-fi saga to hit screens, shelves and beyond.

Dr Lincoln Geraghty from the University of Portsmouth

Dr Lincoln Geraghty from the University of Portsmouth

‘It was The Empire Strikes Back for me,’ explains Dr Geraghty on his introduction to the film series. ‘It was the first one I remember watching. I was born the year that the first Star Wars film came out, so a few years later I was able to recognise moving images, and watching that for the first time I was blown away by the [ice planet] Hoth battle scene and [Jedi master] Yoda’s appearance.

‘I just had to have all of the toys and figures when I was a kid, and Empire... still remains my favourite film, I think.’

Jump through hyperspace to present day, and Dr Geraghty – now a professor in media fan cultures at the University of Portsmouth – found himself sought to apply his expertise to further study of the saga.

As a committee member of the World Star Wars Project, Dr Geraghty has joined academics from universities around the UK to examine Star Wars, particularly how it has evolved after its controversial takeover by The Walt Disney Company in 2013.

Star Wars Day is a chance for fans to celebrate without the fear of stigmatisation and stereotyping

Dr Lincoln Geraghty, University of Portsmouth

This mission took Dr Geraghty to the Star Wars Celebration event in London last year, where he took the opportunity to interview fellow fans about their thoughts on the franchise in its current state of flux.

‘It was a wonderful event to get to know people and why they like Star Wars so much,’ he says. ‘We were quite interested and surprised to see that after the whole thing about Disney.

‘Despite initial fears that Star Wars would be ruined, a lot of fans had welcomed and appreciated what was happening with the franchise.

‘At the time, they were really looking forward to [2016 spin-off movie] Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and they were really praising [the saga’s seventh episode] The Force Awakens.

‘A lot of older fans were really quite touched about the portrayal of female characters, and talked about how they took their kids to see The Force Awakens and how it brought them closer to their kids. It was a real chance for them to pass the baton on.’

Whether it’s through the continuation of the film series, the animated Rebels TV series, or even the age-old industry failsafe of merchandising, scores of fans barely old enough to even remember the premiere of The Phantom Menace are still reaching for the lightsabers.

It’s a level of avid fascination which Dr Geraghty pins down to the ‘premise of myth’ which forms the narrative for the sci-fi opera.

‘The saga is a mythic story,’ he explains. ‘It taps into the fundamentals of familiar stories that culturally resonate on a global level: the myth of the hero overcoming adversity, the fight against evil and tyranny; these are all universal stories.

‘Whether you were born when the [original films] first came out, or you get to them much later in life, these things connect with people.’

Besides the chance to dust off the ‘May the fourth...’ pun and tweet countless memes of dogs dressed as Yoda, why is Star Wars Day treated by fans as some sort of religious holiday? As Dr Geraghty sees it, it’s an annual moment for them to band together – much like the Rebel Alliance – shake off the shackles of derogatory words like ‘nerd’ and ‘dork’ and stand by the saga with pride.

‘I think Star Wars Day is a chance for fans to celebrate without the fear of stigmatisation and stereotyping. It’s a day where everyone can show that this franchise has had an enormous impact globally and culturally.

‘Yes, it’s a financial behemoth but it also touches people on a very personal, one-to-one level, and fans use that to come together on days like this and celebrate.

‘It’s a chance for revealing new stories and promos and new toy releases, but it’s also just a chance to say ‘you know what? I like this and I’m not scared or embarrassed to admit it.’

Of all the years since it was ordained an annual celebration of a galaxy far, far away, 2017’s Star Wars Day carries with it an extra milestone, 40 years since the release of the first film, A New Hope.

‘The 40th anniversary [of A New Hope] is a chance for people to say that it’s had 40 years of heritage,’ says Dr Geraghty. ‘It’s not a franchise that often comes and goes quite quickly.’

‘The industry can obviously tap into that and sell that as a story, but for fans who have grown up with it, it’s almost like a personal historic landmark. It helps define their interests, who they are, and maybe some of the decisions in their life.’