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May the fourth be with you

At 14 years old, Chris Murphy was just the right age when “Star Wars” debuted in theaters 47 years ago. He was young enough to be mesmerized by the groundbreaking special effects and the galactic array of characters, but old to enough to understand the the movie’s themes of betrayal, revenge, and rebellion. Oh, and most importantly, the concept of light speed. That was crucial.

“There was a Modesto Bee photo of opening day at the Briggsmore (theater),” recalled Murphy. “Terry Allen, whose parents owned Bonanza Books, and Dave Ackerman, and I were the first three in line for that original premiere showing.”

Raised in Modesto, the hometown of “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, Murphy has always felt a special connection to the franchise.

“It’s just amazing to think that we own this,” said Murphy. “I’ll go to Disneyland and walk through Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and just feel superior. George Lucas cooked up something that consumed Disneyland. Our guy ate Disney.”

And somewhere along the way, May the Fourth — a play on the iconic line “May the Force be with you” — became the unofficial holiday of the Star Wars universe.

Technically, it’s the unofficial holiday, but in Modesto, where the city reads a special proclamation each year, it is indeed the official holiday — the first city this galaxy to make it so. And what’s a holiday without a celebration? On May 4, from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Tenth Street Plaza in downtown Modesto, “Star Wars” fans will come together to do just that — celebrate.

There will be a Death Star piñata to blow up and when the sun goes down (approximately 7:30 p.m.) a light-saber battle will commence. Folks can also take their pictures in front of numerous backdrops and adults can enjoy some blue bantha milk or some Jedi Juice. And, of course, cosplayers will attend as their favorite characters.

In addition to Baby Yoda, er, Din Grogu, legendary Jedi Obi-Wan will be there, too. Not Kenobi, but Alanis — Obi-Juan Alanis — Assemblymember Juan Alanis (R-Modesto), who represents the 22nd assembly district — will be on hand to show everyone the ways of the Force.

“It’s such a blast,” said Alanis, a native of Modesto. “A lot of people don’t know that George Lucas is from Modesto. It’s a day that we can celebrate George Lucas and be proud that we’re from Modesto.”

Alanis will have his very own custom-made light saber on hand.

“I used to have one of those little light sabers that, when you sort of throw it, it extends,” said Alanis. “Last year, I thought, ‘I’ve got to get a nice one. So I went online and ordered a really nice one … and it wasn’t cheap. But, man, it was worth it. I have it in my office in Sacramento. People come in and see it and say, ‘Man, that’s awesome!”

Event co-organizer Middagh Goodwin, a 1985 graduate of Downey High School — Lucas’ alma mater - remembers the impact “Star Wars” had on him as a 10-year-old.

“The next Halloween I convinced my mom to help me make a Darth Vader costume,” said Goodwin, who helped craft the proclamation that the city read to official make May the Fourth “Star Wars Day” in Modesto.

Goodwin said that Andrew C. Nelson will be on hand to greet fans. Nelson, a former employee at Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, wore the Darth Vader costume on the screen beginning in 1994 and spent more time in the costume than any other actor.

And if May the Fourth isn’t enough for “Star Wars” fans, well, there’s always Revenge of the Fifth.