Community Columns

May the Fourth be with us: Modesto’s claim to intergalactic fame

At the end of this month, one of the biggest changes ever to Disneyland will open to the public. This is something so tectonic in Disney culture, let alone global entertainment, that nearly everyone is talking about it. And the origin of this galactic change came from a Modestan. Arguably, the greatest marketing mind ever was Walt Disney, but the land of the mouse now is being consumed by Star Wars, created by our own George Lucas. Pretty amazing.

It is nearly impossible to have missed that the new Star Wars land is opening soon in Disneyland. Global tourism traffic patterns are being rearranged and the promotions are inescapable. Something dreamed up by someone who grew up in Modesto is enveloping the world.

Modestans should be really proud. This is part of our heritage. For those struggling to find positive reasons to celebrate Modesto, this is something you can hang your hat on. We are the home of George Lucas and Star Wars. Many cities struggle to invent their histories or create festivals to add to their story, but Modesto already has one that is really amazing.

Just put aside for a moment that rockabilly, the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll, popped up in Modesto back in 1938 with the Maddox Brothers and Rose, or that Ernest and Julio Gallo built the largest winery in the world in Modesto, or Royal Robbins, a world-famous mountain climber, made Modesto his home, or that one of the top 100 films of all time, “American Graffiti,” was made about Modesto. Most cities would turn themselves inside out for just one of these claims to fame, but we have them all and more. Now add to this already amazing list our place in the Star Wars saga and history.

I attended the “lemonade premiere” of the very first Star Wars at the Briggsmore Theatre in 1977 and my friends and I were first in line. The minute the movie opened, you knew something special had happened. Forty-two years later, Star Wars stories have captured the earth.

This should be part of our everyday lexicon. These are the things that create civic pride.

Knowing that you live in a place with so much cool history can change any conversation at any time. When I meet people, they sometimes have a preconception about Modesto, and a quick change of subject to our hometown heroes can turn the tables on negativism . In my work and travels, I weave our local American Graffiti, Star Wars, Lucas, Robbins history into every conversation and sales pitch. My customers and friends who visit here leave as fans and have a new appreciation for our city. We can all do this and it will change our conversation and our sense of pride. Even if you don’t like classic cars or Darth Vader, it is something positive about our home.

May the Fourth is Star Wars Day and there is an official city proclamation of this designation. We will be celebrating our Star Wars and George Lucas history in Tenth Street Plaza from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. and we invite all of you to get your Jedi on, grab your lightsaber, or just bring your kids and friends downtown Saturday evening and celebrate our story.

This is Modesto USA.

May the Fourth Be With You.

Chris Murphy is a Modesto-based logistics executive and magazine publisher. Email:

This story was originally published May 3, 2019 12:24 PM.

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