41 years ago, we saw the biggest travesty to hit American airwaves. The Friday before Thanksgiving, 1978, THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL (1978) made its one and only official US airing. It was a well-publicized event, meant to help audiences stay in love with the Star Wars property until the second film in the series could be made. The end product was so bad that we’re lucky Lucas was still allowed to make THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK afterwards.
On paper it could have been a good idea. Scratch that. It never was. Combining the grand spectacle that was STAR WARS with a 70s musical variety special was the first bad idea. Disco and Stormtroopers go together about as well as pizza and bananas.
Let’s start at the beginning. There is minimal plot to the SWHS. That’s to be expected–all of the holiday specials have the bare minimum of story to tie together vaudevillian variety acts. This time it’s centered around Chewbacca trying to get home to his Wookie family for “Life Day.” That in and of itself wouldn’t be so bad if the whole species didn’t talk like Chewie. And with no subtitles. You don’t get much in the way of tone of voice to gauge emotions with, or facial expressions behind the masks. All you have is general pantomime. That gets old fast.
Chewie and Han Solo are doing their best to get home in time to Chewie’s family, Mala, Itchy and Lumpy. To pass the time, they watch a holographic trapeze act and and engage in broadcast television’s equivalent of virtual reality cybersex. When the Imperial Guard invade the home they’re distracted by a Jefferson Starship music video.
There’s a cartoon interlude animated by Nelvana to break up the monotony. It’s famous among fanatics for being the introduction of the Boba Fett character. Lucas reportedly demanded it be done in the style of French artist Moebius, which explains why it looks nothing like the actors playing those roles. It also adds nothing to the story.
Bea Arthur makes an appearance as the bartender in the infamous Cantina, where she sings about rebuking the advancement of a patron. Harvey Korman has multiple roles, including a four-armed robotic Julia Child spoof. Art Carney shows up as the prototype for Lando Calrissian. Diahann Carroll performs the cybersex song and dance number. Most of the main cast members of the original STAR WARS make appearances. Only a fraction of this serves any purpose to the story.
What purpose does this show serve? Carrie Fisher said she would show this at parties when she wanted the guests to leave. Personally, I find it helps me put my own mistakes into perspecitve; there is little I can do in my life that will be worse than the SWHS.
Yet, there is love for this out there. Jon Favreau, one of the writers behind The Mandalorian, is petitioning Disney to let him remake the special. It has a fan page. And, despite the fact it only aired once*, the special is considered cannon.
*While the entire special was never officially released, the animated section appears as an Easter Egg on the Blu Ray box set of the original trilogy.
Here it is, the special in its entirety. Do with it what you will:
QUESTION OF THE NIGHT–What’s the worst idea George Lucas ever came up with?