The Circle Is Complete: The History Of May The 4th Be With You

It all began once upon a long time ago, in a land far, far away (unless you are reading this in the United Kingdom) land when – according to the Danish Broadcasting Network who record the anecdotal origin story of the paraphrase in a 2011 article – in 1979 the Conservative Party took a full-page ad out in the London Evening News, a popular newspaper at the time, to congratulate Margaret Thatcher for winning the General Election and becoming the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

The date was May 4th and the message read “May the Fourth Be with You, Maggie. Congratulations.” It took a whole 32 years before anyone would think to revisit the phrase.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the inspiration particle which was committed to keeping the May The 4th Be With You meme alive passed through two early social media influencers from Canada – Sean Ward and Alice Quinn – and motivated them to organize a grassroots Star Wars Day celebration which is (again anecdotally) reputed to be the first-ever to make a hat tip to the auspicious date.

Whether or not this event was the inspiration for that May The 4th Be With You bandwagon that nearly every Star Wars licensee participates in nowadays will probably never be known.

The Early Years (2009 – 2011)

Most fans of the LEGO Star Wars theme remember that the first large-scale tie-in under the May The 4th Be With You branding was aimed at bringing customers into their bricks & mortar and online footprints was in 2012 when the Danish construction toy company formalized the date by promoting the release of 10225 R2-D2 – the original Ultimate Collector Series astromech droid.

However, the earliest promotion recorded at the start of May took place in three years before, in 2009, when LEGO discounted the +5000 piece 10179 Millennium Falcon by a whopping 25% for customers in the United States and Canada.

Running concurrently on May 3rd and 4th was one of the first-ever gift with purchase (GWP) offers – a free poster that celebrated the 10th anniversary of the theme and promoted the upcoming release of the LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary guide book – as well as a sweepstake for a first-edition version of the Ultimate Collector Series Millennium Falcon (10179). Both were open to US and Canadian customers who placed orders on May 3rd or 4th.

Jump forward a year to 2010 and the bandwagon that eventually transformed into the modern May The 4th Be With You juggernaut had still to be tethered to a team of draft horses.

Similar to the year before and running over the same two dates (May 3rd and 4th), LEGO ran another sweepstake for a first-edition version of the Ultimate Collector Series Millennium Falcon, which was – again – only open to North American customers.

Expanding the sphere of the promotion to Europe, LEGO gave away an exclusive sticker sheet with all online orders of LEGO Star Wars products and automatically entered North American customers into a draw for a specially cast bronze Boba Fett minifigure, of which there were only two in existence.

By the turn of 2011 the May The 4th Be With You promotion we know today was starting to take place and the first-ever made-for-May-The-4th minifigure was rolled out of the stables – the much loved and occasionally maligned 2856197 Shadow ARF Trooper promotion – and a largely hated and constantly maligned poster that celebrated 10 years of Ultimate Collector Series sets.

On top of these two exclusives LEGO, for the first time, discounted multiple sets for the two day sales event and North American customers were automatically entered into a draw for a first edition 10179 Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon, a set that had retired 6 months earlier.

Billed as a limited edition, a total of 35,520 posters were printed and as notorious as it has become in recent years, it was the minifigure that most collectors remember.

Made available exclusively through LEGO.com with a suitable LEGO Star Wars purchases between May 3rd and 4th, the Shadow ARF Trooper polybagged minifigure sold out within 6 hours of the offer starting, prompting LEGO.com to post an announcement on their website.

“Due to extremely high demand, we have unfortunately run out of stock of the Star Wars™ ARF Shadow Trooper Minifigure. You can still get the Limited Edition, Numbered LEGO® Star Wars™ poster free with all purchases and free shipping! May the Force be with you!™”

Later that year a warehouse find prompted LEGO.com to offer a limited quantity to those ordering $99 of LEGO Star Wars products between November 7th and 21st (for North American customers only). Further stocks were found in March 2012 and LEGO ran a second gift-with-purchase offer between March 15th and 31st for orders over $99 for their US customers.

The First MT4BWY Event (2012)

The following year saw the currents of causality stirred up by the butterfly wings of the previous year’s Star Wars Day convention in Toronto come into effect when Lucasfilm and LEGO combined forces to launch their first officially (and properly branded) May The 4th be With You co-promotion ever.

Announced at the end of April 2012, the event’s main focus was the May 1st release of the new 10225 UCS R2-D2 which had been officially announced a few days before the big MT4BWY celebration reveal took place. The special offer included an exclusive TC-14 minifigure and a limited edition poster of the new UCS R2-D2 set (that was available to all LEGO Star Wars customers and not just those who purchased the UCS R2-D2 set), an online community project, and a large range of discounted sets.

In another first, LEGO and Lucasfilm added another day – May 5th – which they dubbed Revenge Of The 5th – to the festivities. As well as carrying over the previous day’s offers, this date was used to reveal the digital mosaic project that customers in the United States were able to participate in.

And in a fan relations coup LEGO retroactively applied the MT4BWY gift with purchase offers to those who bought the UCS R2-D2 when it was released on May 1st – a full four days before that start of the promotion and effectively pre-extended the start date for those early bird shoppers who wanted their new UCS R2-D2 sets fast.

The Minifig Years (2013 – 2016)

May warmed up quickly in 2013, and LEGO released their first big-ticket item of the year: the revamped 10240 Red Five X-wing Starfighter which was added to the Ultimate Collector Series subtheme on May 1st.

Though the tradition of running a Star Wars Day promotion had been running for 4 years, the second official May The 4th Be With You event took place on May 4th and 5th. Unlike the previous year, LEGO – who was joined by a number of other Star Wars licensees for the first time – extended the promotion to Europe and didn’t host any special festivities on the following day.

Despite the seasons turning from Spring to Summer, the year’s May The 4th Be With You gift with purchase was a Han Solo (Hoth) minifigure, which was given away with an appropriate purchase of LEGO Star Wars products at LEGO.com and brand stores. Additionally, anyone making a LEGO Star Wars buy via the website or an official LEGO store was given a free The Yoda Chronicles poster with their purchase.

Split between two different date ranges in 2014, the next May The 4th Be With You began on April 28th and ended on May 4th in Europe and Australia-Pacific regions while in North America it ran from May 3rd to 5th; why these two regions had separate calendars is anyone’s guess.

The new LEGO Star Wars high-end 75059 Sandcrawler set had a release that was timed with this promotion, and members of the LEGO VIP rewards program got a chance to win it.

To enter, simply make a LEGO Star Wars™ purchase as a registered LEGO VIP in a LEGO Store or via LEGO.com/shop, 28th April to 4th May. If you are not yet a LEGO VIP, learn more about how you can join, and secure an entry with your first purchase!

With the Old Republic collection, a range of Expanded Universe sets that LEGO produced from the end of 2012 and into 2014, coming to an end the decision was made to go out with a bang and fan-favorite/good guy-turned-bad-turned-good-again Darth Revan was transformed into a minifigure, given the polybag treatment and made available as a gift with purchase with LEGO Star Wars orders. In addition, anyone making a LEGO Star Wars purchase (regardless of the amount spent) received a free poster.

Choosing to extend the occasion, LEGO brand stores in the United States ran a longer campaign:

  • Build a Starship and Choose Your Side (May 3 – June 15) – Come to the LEGO store and build a Star Wars starship for the light side or the dark side. Then take a picture of your creation and share it with the gallery on LEGO.com! Your creation will count as a vote for the winning side. On June 15, visit LEGO.com/starwars to find out what happens to the losing side!
  • Droid Search and Find (May 19 to 31) – Star Wars droids are hidden around the LEGO store! Find all the hidden droids and enter to win a LEGO Star Wars set! See a Brick Specialist for details. One winner per store.
  • LEGO Club Star Wars Meeting (May 24 & 31) – Build a Jedi vehicle to help Anakin fight the Droid army! This exclusive event has limited space and availability varies by store, so sign up early. Registration is $25 per child or just $20 per child for VIP members, and includes a limited edition LEGO Club T-shirt. Registration begins April 1st. Ages 6 – 14 only.

The first in-store event was designed to coincide with Father’s Day (June 15) in the United States, and LEGO elected to tease their I Am Your Father’s Day/LEGO Star Wars 15th Anniversary celebration campaign as part of the May The 4th Be With You promotion.

Following hot on the heels of the tenth official Star Wars Celebration (April 16 – 19), held at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, the word about the May The 4th be With You event (which was co-branded as Star Wars Day for the first time) in 2015 started when VIP Rewards members received promotional flyers in the mail outlining the details of the upcoming event which started on May 3rd – matching the release of 75095 UCS TIE Fighter – the promotion ran until May 4th in North America and the 9th in the rest of the world (Europe and Australia/New Zealand).

Starting on the opening day of sales for 75095 UCS TIE Fighter, which had been revealed at the International Toy Fair in New York earlier that year, and bolstered by the polybagged Admiral Yularen minifigure (a free gift with a LEGO Star Wars purchase) and a free movie-style poster (specially commissioned by LEGO for Celebration Anaheim to mark the digital release of the all six of the Star Wars movies) with any LEGO Star Wars purchase, the LEGO MT4BWY event clearly had a very A New Hope focus that year.

Photo Credit: The Brick Blogger

Lasting from April 30th to May 9th, the May The 4th Be With You held in 2016, which was enjoyed by North American and European customers, was the longest to date. Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, had a 10% flash sale on selected sets on May 4th. Standard operating procedure prevailed with the inclusion of a polybagged minifigure, a LEGOized The Force Awakens theatrical release movie poster, a selection of discounted sets and double VIP Rewards points for the duration of the promotion.

Instead of getting a new and unique minifigure as a gift with purchase, LEGO provided a First Order Stormtrooper. It was largely panned as being the most disappointing May The 4th Be With You gift with purchase ever. Likewise, the annual Ultimate Collector Series release – 75098 Assault on Hoth – failed to overwhelm collectors.

In an odd public relations twist, LEGO created an invitation-only exclusive this year when they produced the Escape The Slace Slug (6176782) vignette set. It was awarded to selected members of LEGO User Groups invited to attend a special event at participating LEGO brand stores in Europe and the United States on April 30th. Attendees were given the specially designed diorama (which was a limited run of 3500 sets) of the Millennium Falcon escaping the mouth of the space slug if they completed a qualifying LEGO Star Wars purchase.

Unbeknownst to the LEGO Star Wars community this was a secret trial to test the market to see how micro-scale scenes would be accepted.

The Brick-Built Years (2017/18)

The run up to May The Fourth Be With You in 2017 was all about the new 75144 UCS Snowspeeder, which LEGO opted to release on May 4th – but gave VIP Rewards members the chance to pre-order it on April 29th. So well did LEGO market the set that it sold out the day before the start of the annual Star Wars Day promotion!

Available globally, the yearly gift with purchase was a 70-piece model of R2-D2 (which ended the six year run of minifigures that fans had come to take for granted) that was free with a qualifying purchase of LEGO Star Wars products between in May 4th and May 7th in North America, and between April 29th and May 6th in Europe, Australia-Pacific and the Middle East. As there was no free poster this year the double VIP points offer rounded out the promotion.

LEGO brand stores customers (aged 6 to 14 years) in North America got to enjoy three special in-store events. The first (which actually started on April 24 and wrapped on June 25th) had them building vehicles, spaceships or droids for the LEGO Star Wars Rebel Base Camp. Those taking a photo and uploading it to the LEGO Life mobile phone app were rewarded with a pair of wearable foam Yoda ears.

Additionally, children could take part in a LEGO Star Wars-inspired treasure hunt to earn a pair of wearable foam Yoda ears, and a minifigure speed building contest was held at 5pm in participating stores, with the winner of each race getting to choose a LEGO Star Wars minifigure to keep.

At the start of April 2018 word about the year’s May The 4th Be With You promotion began to spread when the month’s LEGO catalogue started arriving. Not content with promoting the new 75181 UCS Y-wing Starfighter, which was pre-sold to VIPs, LEGO also ran a promotion to encourage LEGO Star Wars sales in the run up to their MT4BWY when they gave away Darth Vader Pod (5005376) with qualifying purchases between April 13th and May 3rd.

Running globally from May 4 to May 6, customers who spent a qualifying amount on LEGO Star Wars products in an official LEGO store or through the LEGO.com website would receive a free brick-built BB-8 (40288) model, which was similar to the previous year’s R2-D2.

With the traditional free poster having been dropped, LEGO awarded those who invested early in 75192 UCS Millennium Falcon with the chance to enjoy a blueprint of the new 75181 UCS Y-wing Starfighter set when they purchased it via the LEGO website or in one of the brand stores. Black VIP card holders could also enter into a draw to win a solid gold R2-D2 minifigure as well.

Double VIP Rewards points and up to 20% off selected LEGO Star Wars items closed out the retail portion of the promotion, while in-store activities included an exclusive porg make and take build event, special stamps for their LEGO passport and a Kessel Run Adventure participation event (taking place between April 23rd and June 24th) that was similar to the previous year’s Rebel Base Camp promotion to encourage the use of the LEGO Life app.

The Micro-Scene Years (2019 – Present)

Revealed during a special LEGO presentation at Star Wars Celebration Chicago in April 2019, the new big set of the year – and timed for a May 4th release – was the revamped 75244 Tantive IV blockade runner from A New Hope, which VIP Rewards members got an early bird opportunity to pre-order on May 3rd.

Starting on May 3rd and ending on May 5th, the LEGO website and brand stores around the world participated in the annual Star Wars Day with a free gift with purchase, discounts on selected sets and double VIP Reward points. Fans making the trip to a LEGO brand store in Europe and North America got to take part in a make and take mini-scale Tantive IV event, while shoppers in the United Kingdom got a poster with an appropriate LEGO Star Wars purchase.

Emboldened by the reaction that their Escape The Space Slug set garnered, LEGO changed the format of their May The 4th Be With You gift with purchase in 2019. Available globally as a free gift with purchase the Battle of Hoth – 20th Anniversary Edition (40333) vignette that captured the Imperial attack on Echo Base was an immediate hit.

Meanwhile, down in Australia, vistors to the Westfield Chatswood in Sydney got to take part in a group build to construct the largest LEGO Star Wars set in the world, meet team leader Jens Kronvold Frederiksen, make and take home a mini-scale X-wing, enjoy costume contests and check out the latest 20th Anniversary sets. Members of the LEGO Ambassador Network and social media influencers in Germany were treated to a special event that included a showcase of the 20th anniversary sets and an exclusive build.

Recognising that the Ultimate Collectors Series fleet wasn’t complete, LEGO debuted 75275 A-wing Starfighter in 2020, again timing its release for May The 4th Be With You, which ran from May 1st through to the 5th. Expectations were piqued when the LEGO brand store calendar for May was shared and fans realised the closure of most LEGO stores around the world due to COVID-19 meant that there would be no in-store events.

Tieing into the very Return of the Jedi nature of the new A-wing Starfighter set, the gift with purchase was 40407 Death Star II Battle, a vignette of the battle to destroy the second Death Star. Completing the festivities was a LEGO Star Wars sale and double VIP Rewards points.

The circle came to a close in 2021 when LEGO selected 75308 R2-D2 as the focus product for the tenth (since its official beginning in 2012) May The 4th Be With You promotion. Fans noted that the primary set in the first official Star Wars Day event was 10225 UCS R2-D2 (even though the new version isn’t part of the Ultimate Collectore Series subtheme) and that the concurrent community photo project echoed the Revenge of the Fifth project, also run in 2012. 

Marking the most restrained May The 4th be With You promotion ever is the latest micro-scene build, 40451 Tatooine Homestead, a small-scale diorama of the Lars family’s moisture farm which captures the moment that Uncle Owen purchase C-3PO and R5-D4 R2-D2 from the Jawas who recovered the two droids after their escape from the Tantive IV. Like all the others, it will be a free gift with an appropriate LEGO Star Wars purchase made between the promotion dates.

Do you have any special Star Wars Day memories? What do you think of the micro-build GWPs? Do you want to see minifigures come back? When do you think the May The 4th Be With You promotion will return to its former levels of activity? Share your thoughts in the comment section – because you never know who might be reading them!

Entertainment Earth

2 Comments

  1. I started with LEGO Star Wars only a couple years ago, so it’s great to read the history of past promos; thank you for the wonderful article. I love all the micro-build scenes so far, and hope they continue the line so long as they stay within the original trilogy.

    • Thanks Ed – glad you got something out of it! It was a blast researching this, and I got to fill in some of the gaps in my own LSW knowledge banks.

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