The Star Wars Holiday Special
Many of you Star Wars fans may remember or want to forget, The Star Wars Holiday Special that aired in the late 70’s. It has been talked about, laughed at, and disregarded for many years. Being a Star Wars fan myself, anything that has to do with the series I’ll always watch whether or not I heard bad things about it or I think looks bad from seeing previews of a new film or cartoon of it. The special is not a great moment for the Star Wars saga, but you have to watch it at least once just for a good laugh. Here are my thoughts and memories of this holiday event that took place a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
My first recollection of the special was back in 1978 when it aired. I was 5 years old and Star Wars was my whole world and a special on TV was real exciting. Only thing I can remember from the special was the cool cartoon that introduced Boba Fett and that Princess Leia and others were singing for some reason. The special didn’t leave a lasting impression on me but it didn’t turn me off of the saga, I was just happy to see something new of Star Wars. It wasn’t until years later I would watch the special again and discovered how ridiculous it really was.
In 1995, I was sending away for a lot of bootleg imported horror films from a number of catalogs I had. One of them had a copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special. I had to get it because at the time I have been waiting to see it again for the longest time for some reason. Just in time for the holidays that year, I got a VHS taped copy of the special, that I believed included commercials. I remember popping it in the VCR and watching and seeing how bad it was, but it still had a little Star Wars charm to it, well just a little. After watching it, the only thing that I liked was the cartoon, that I wished they made more of back then. It would have been cool if they had a Saturday morning cartoon of Star Wars back in the day, something I always wished for back then and the cartoon from the special could have been a great segway into an animated series.
Anyway, recently I was thinking of holiday topics for Growing Up Fanboy and decided to write about the special. I did some research and watched the special again, which at times was hard to watch but was still a good laugh. I found out that the special didn’t air around Christmas time, which I thought it did, it aired around Thanksgiving time on November 17, 1978 on CBS. George Lucas had limited involvement with the special and was disappointed with the final product. He has regrets that he ever agreed to let them make one. TV producer and director Steve Binder directed the special, but originally David Acomba, a former classmate of Lucas’ was going to direct, but quit early on in the project. The holiday special only aired once and has never been officially released on VHS or DVD.
The special is a typical 70’s variety show, with slapstick comedy and musical acts. This is something that doesn’t mix well with the Star Wars universe. The show features original actors from the film such as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker. It also featured James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader, but no new footage was shot of the dark lord, they just used footage of him from the film. There were lots a footage of the film mixed in with the new video footage of the special, mostly scenes of the space battles were used. Also they were known TV actors of the time in the special playing supporting roles such as Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, plus musical guests Diahann Carroll and Jefferson Starship. Two worlds colliding with this special, that’s for sure. Now the main stars of this special don’t even talk and they’re Chewbacca’s family, wife Malla, son, Lumpy, and Chewie’s father, Itchy, great names, huh. It’s so ridiculous and it gets better.
In the special, the story starts off with Han and Chewbacca in the Falcon dodging Imperial Fighters. Han is trying to get Chewie back to his home planet Kashyyyk to celebrate the Wookiee holiday, Life Day, with his family. This opens the show and finishes off with a classic 70’s TV open that introduces all the cast. Meanwhile his family waits for Chewbacca’s arrival. This scene just has the three entertaining each other and for several minutes they just stand around talking Wookiee, a thrilling scene. An Imperial video message pops up on their TV screen to warn everyone on the planet that they’re looking for rebels or anyone allied with them. So, the family is worried if Han and Chewie will make it to the planet without getting caught by the Empire.
The special mainly takes place inside the Wookiee’s home, with Lumpy entertaining himself with a hologram display, Ithcy sleepy, and there’s even a scene with Malla trying to cook something while watching a Julia Child type cooking show with Harvey Korman as a four armed female chef. They are also parts with other Star Wars cast members. One has the Wookiees contact Luke via video screen to find out where Chewbacca is. Luke is working on an X-Wing or another kind of ship with R2-D2. For the looks of it, they used way too much make-up on Luke’s face. He almost looks like a mime with that much make-up. There’s a part where Malla is holding up a picture of Chewie and Luke thinks it’s him for real at first and starts to talk to him then he realizes it’s only a picture and wonders where Chewie and Han are. Then towards the end of their conversation, Luke tries to cheer up or flirt with a depressed Malla and tells her to show him a big smile. The two trade googly-eyes for a moment before they sign-off, very strange. There’s also another scene later on where they contact Leia and C-3PO, but the scene is very forgettable.
Another main character in the special is Trader Saun Dann played by Art Carney. We first see him at his trade shop in town as an Imperial Officer is looking around his store. Carney is a typical used car salesman type and tries to sell anything to the officer. He gets a message from Malla and Carney, who is actually helping Han and Chewie get into the planet safe, talks in code for he doesn’t tip off the officer. He says some cheesy lines like “Your shipment of a brown carpet will be in soon, made by a little old lady you did it by hand and solo.” Later, Carney stops by the Wookiee’s place and gives them gifts for Life Day. One he gives to Itchy is a virtual-reality type of device that is almost a virtual porno machine. When Itchy starts watching, Diahann Carroll pops up and starts to sweet talk the Wookiee. She even moans to him like she’s having an orgasm. She then breaks into song and looks like Itchy is getting off to it.
Other musical segments are with Jefferson Starship, which are played from a portable TV device that Carney has. Starship is the only good musical act on the program. Bea Arthur even sings, which is God awful. She is in a segment on Tatooine where she’s the bartender in the Mos Eisley cantina. Then at the end Leia sings a song about Life Day to the Star Wars theme. All the musical acts are mostly terrible and very typical for the style of 70’s television. This is another element just like the slapstick comedy that is forced with the Star Wars universe and doesn’t glee well at all. It seemed like the producers were trying to please all audiences with mixing different elements throughout the show.
Now the best part of the whole special of course is the cartoon. I still enjoy this cartoon segment to this day and I wish there were more of it. How it is placed in the special is weird. As Imperial Troops are searching the Wookiee home, Lumpy keeps busy by putting on some headphones and watching TV. What he sees is the cartoon, which of course is about our Star Wars heroes. The cartoon has nothing to do with the story of the holiday special so it really doesn’t make any sense why Lumpy is watching it. All in all, it’s better than the special and the highlight of the whole thing. The animated segment is titled The Faithful Wookiee, and is about Luke and the droids chasing after Han and Chewie in the Falcon. They land on a strange planet and as Luke and the others try to find their friends, Luke meets a stranger who happens to rescue him, that stranger, of course, is Boba Fett. The Star Wars fans are introduce to Boba Fett a year and a half before his live action debut in The Empire Strikes Back. Boba Fett seems to be a friend and helps Luke and the droids find Han and Chewie. He helps them find them, but Han seems to be sick and soon after that the same type of virus that only infects humans eventually infects Luke. Chewie and Boba Fett go to town to get an antidote, but while in town it is reveled that Boba Fett is working for Darth Vader and helping him track down the rebels. C-3PO stumbles across a private message between the two and knows that he’s a traitor. When Chewie and Boba Fett get back, Han and Luke are cured, but Boba Fett is found out, but fees the ship. The cartoon ends with the group just flying back to the rebel base.
The segment almost seems to be all ready in progress when we cut to it. We don’t really know what got the characters where they are in the beginning of the cartoon and when it ends it seems like there’s more to come after Boba Fett escapes and the ship takes off. Nonetheless, it’s a well down cartoon for its time. The animation was done by a company called Nelvana based in Canada, which produced many different animated series through the 1970’s up until present day. The cartoon itself almost looks like the animated style of Heavy Metal in a way. Actually Nelvana was asked to work on Heavy Metal but declined and made their own animated rock ‘n’ roll feature film, Rock & Rule. I’m wondering if animators on Heavy Metal copied the style of the artists at Nelvana since they wanted the company to work on the film, but their styles do look a like.
At the end of the special, Han and Chewie finally make it to Kashyyyk and take out a Stormtrooper that was standing guard at their place. There’s a funny moment where Han hugs Lumpy and calls him sweetheart, I always thought that was odd for some reason. Then Han says some sappy lines like the Chewbacca’s family is like his own. Everything ends all well in the Star Wars universe. They even have a scene what looks like Wookiees walking in space holding candles to the sounds of Leia’s crappy song.
Love it or hate it (mostly everyone hates it) The Stars Wars Holiday Special is what it is. I doubt it will ever be on an official DVD and will always be available on bootleg DVD or you can just watch it on YouTube. I’m still debating if the holiday special is worse than The Phantom Menace, probably the special is. Not one of the shining moments in the Star Wars saga, but still after watching the special again I still feel the way I did when I watched it at the age of 5, most of it was forgettable and it had a really cool cartoon. Happy Life Day everyone!