May 4 is perhaps best known as “the day before Cinco de Mayo” — unless you’re a Star Wars fan. In that case, you might be accustomed to thinking of the date as May the Fourth ... as in, “May the Force be with you.”
Certainly that’s how Disney wants us to think of this otherwise average date. Ever since it acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, Disney has celebrated Star Wars Day on May 4, with the first officially organized celebration taking place on May 4, 2013. What Star Wars diehards have come to expect from the annual event are tons of sales on franchise merch and live spectacles at Disney’s theme parks, as well as independent events at bars, bowling alleys, and movie theaters that invite fans to share in the joy of their favorite movie series.
As the coronavirus pandemic hampers the 2020 edition of the “holiday,” Disney is focusing on the opportunity to market its Disney+ streaming service by expanding the service’s catalog of Star Wars content. Anyone anticipating this fall’s release of season two of The Mandalorian may appreciate a new behind-the-scenes look at the Star Wars drama, debuting Monday. The first episode of Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, an eight-installment making-of series, is now streaming. Hopefully the show will provide new Baby Yoda content to coo at.
But that’s small potatoes compared to May 4’s biggest release: the Disney+ arrival of December’s Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker, the capper to the franchise’s far-reaching Skywalker Saga. The movie is now available on the streaming platform as a special May the Fourth gift; it was reportedly expected to arrive on Disney+ in July, but Disney bumped up its streaming release date by two months amid the pandemic, as it has done with other tentpole films’ Disney+ debuts.
Your mileage may vary on how good a gift this is, considering The Rise of Skywalker was roundly disparaged by critics. Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson awarded the film just 1.5 stars (out of 5) in her review, writing:
Is this what audiences demand from franchise movies? Films that cater to what’s comfortable and capitulates to the most unimaginative fans? That feel as if they’re just ticking boxes on a checklist? You could say I’m taking this too seriously, but I think a series as important to movies — and to millions of people — as Star Wars deserves to be taken seriously.
And Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff similarly wrote that the movie “feels like a checklist that director and co-writer J.J. Abrams is systematically working through.” She noted that The Rise of Skywalker suffers both from fan-courting moments that neglect established plot lines and character motivations and the unshakable feeling that it was “reverse-engineered” to be a mainstream hit.
The Rise of Skywalker ended up with a 52 percent “rotten” score from Rotten Tomatoes, a big drop from its more well-liked predecessors. That makes it the most derided Star Wars film of the decade, but that’s no skin off Disney’s nose, since the movie still made beaucoup bucks: The Rise of Skywalker grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, and finished 2019 as the sixth-biggest film of the year. (Also, for what it’s worth, the fan service did delight at least some. I liked it!)
On the plus side for Star Wars fans who consider the ninth movie to be a colossal waste of time, there’s another Star Wars finale dropping on Disney+ for Star Wars Day. The long-running animated TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, whose story is set between Episode II and Episode III, will air its series finale on May 4.
Reviews leading into the conclusion have been strong. “The Clone Wars’ final episodes have been escalating levels of excellence in all aspects: score, animation, writing, blocking, voice acting, directing and visuals,” wrote Kevin Johnson of the A.V. Club after the series’ penultimate episode.
The Clone Wars began with a theatrical film in summer 2008, followed by a companion TV series later that same year. The show aired on Cartoon Network until Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm resulted in its sudden cancellation in early 2013, during its fifth season. Disney was newly in control of the expansive Star Wars canon, and one of its first public efforts was to pare that canon way down. The Clone Wars, it seemed, became a casualty of the Star Wars expanded universe reset.
When The Clone Wars was canceled, a sixth and then-final season had already finished production. Disney dropped the season on Netflix in 2014 — but as it was not conceived as The Clone Wars’ last, it left the series without a proper conclusion. After fan outcry, Disney announced in 2018 that it would bring The Clone Wars back for one final season on its then-unnamed streaming service. This long history makes the show’s May 4 finale probably this year’s most significant, or at least unique, Star Wars Day event. (All six previous seasons are available on Disney+ as well, for newcomers to check out.)