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May the Fourth Be With You: History of 'Star Wars' on the Internet

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, people had way too much time on their hands.
Jedi cat

As anyone with a Boba Fett action figure already knows, May 4 is Star Wars Day, as in, "May the Fourth be with you.” (Yeah, it’s kind of a stretch). It has become so big that even NASA celebrates it.

With Star Wars Day exploding across the Internet, it’s easy to forget that in 1977, when TIE Fighters first screeched across the big screen, the Web did not exist.

Grow, the fan base did, as kids snapped up action figures and eagerly awaited the release of the third film of the original trilogy, “Return of the Jedi,” in 1983.

It was not until a decade later that Mosaic, the first Web browser, was released. Before the birth of the Web, hardcore “Star Wars” fans were confined to creating ASCII art in the bulletin board systems (BBSes) of the 1980s and, later, discussing the finer parts of sarlacc physiology in AOL and CompuServe chatrooms.

Then came the GeoCities and Angelfire fan sites of the 1990s and early 2000s, which allowed people to express their love of "Star Wars" with help of advanced flaming counter and dancing baby technology.

Rogue Squadron
Rogue Squadron Central, built in 2000.

"Star Wars" geekdom spread over peer-to-peer file-sharing networks like Kazaa, where video of a Canadian teenager pretending to wield a double-bladed lightsaber was uploaded in 2002. It became one of the very first viral videos, with some estimates putting the number of views over 1 billion.

It was not so great for its star, Ghyslain Raza, who was ridiculed by classmates after becoming famous as "Star Wars Kid." (Now a law graduate from McGill University, he has spoken publicly about the dangers of cyberbullying).

Like the twin suns of Tatooine, Reddit and YouTube emerged in 2005 and 2006, respectively, and pretty much put the "Star Wars" meme-machine into hyperdrive.

Red Lobster Standing By
Know Your Meme
Star Wars Meme

The Web has been especially kind to minor characters with cult followings, like Rebel Alliance pilot Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar of the delicious-sounding Mon Calamari species.

The four-second clip above, by the way, has more than 1.75 million views on YouTube. The site has also proved fertile ground for "Star Wars" mash-ups, with the Internet's creative geniuses slapping it together with everything from "Game of Thrones" to the mall-friendly landscapes of Thomas Kinkade.

In 2011, the Internet answered the question that was on nobody's mind: What if Jean-Paul Sartre wrote "Star Wars"?

Of course, ad agencies could not stand idly by as unemployed philosophy majors created viral video hits. That same year at the Super Bowl, Volkswagen unveiled one of the most shared commercials of all time. Starring a little boy who desperately wants the powers of Darth Vader, "The Force" has been viewed nearly 60 million times on YouTube -- that is on top of the 111 million people who tuned into watch Super Bowl XLV.

Also on the Web: Jedi kittens! Nyan Cat racing Obi Wan! The "Star Wars" theme song, as sung by a cat! You get the idea.

The Internet's obsession with Star Wars is not going to stop anytime soon. A photo of the cast for "Star Wars: Episode VII," set 30 years after the original, recently made Twitter go crazy.

The fact that J.J. Abrams also directed the latest "Star Trek" movie should lead to some entertaining (at least to some people anyway) "Star Wars" versus "Star Trek" debates, which will hopefully result in more videos of Starfleet officers watching Han Solo shoot Greedo at the Mos Eisley Cantina.

Note: This article was written, for the most part, as if "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace", "Attack of the Clones", and "Revenge of the Sith" do not not exist, because midichlorians, Jar Jar Binks, and pod racing. Although the "Gungan Style" parody of a parody is pretty funny.