Aired on November 17, 1978 on CBS, the now infamous Star Wars Holiday Special was the first official spin-off of the series, following the release of Star Wars: A New Hope film. It aired only once, mainly because it’s jaw-droppingly terrible. The special was instantly reviled by fans and has since been all but disowned by everyone involved with its production. It’s never received an official release in any form, and George Lucas himself has commented about how embarrassed he is by the entire thing, choosing to forget it ever existed. And come on, you’ve seen some of the things that man has done to the series; that’s saying a lot.
For years, I’d heard rumors about the awesome levels of suck that the special was able to reach, and was a little intrigued by them, but I always stayed away. So when Chance suggested I write something about it for the holidays, I finally had my excuse. Despite repeated warnings from friends (several of whom are diehard Star Wars fans), I couldn’t say no.
I don’t know if I’ve ever regretted anything more in my life.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is essentially a variety show, with a very loose framing plot that revolves around Chewbacca and Han Solo attempting to get Chewie back to his home planet of Kashyyyk in time for the annual Life Day celebration. But the majority of the running time is spent with Chewie’s family: his wife Malla; son Lumpy; and father Itchy, as they eagerly await his return.
Maybe all those years of expectations had gotten the best of me, but I expected the Holiday Special to be chock full of off-the-wall crazy insanity: Musical numbers! Wacky alien rituals! Bea Arthur! What I didn’t expect was for the entire thing to be so mind-numbingly boring. Once I had watched Chewie’s family putter around their home for roughly FIVE HOURS with nary a word being spoken aside from a lot of Wookie barking and grunting, I knew I was in trouble and had to try another tactic if I had any hope of making it through.
I promptly began
threatening rounding up my roommates and forced
invited them to watch with me. Perhaps some good company and copious amounts of wine would improve the situation. It didn’t, but hey, at least I didn’t have to suffer alone.
I’m not sure where to even begin. The framing device is incredibly ill-conceived. On one hand, I do have to give the people responsible a little bit of credit for having the presence of mind (even in the drug-addled 70s) to recognize that not every creature, especially those in a galaxy far, far away, would celebrate Christmas. But I don’t think it’s asking too much to wish that they had come up with a holiday slightly less idiotic and dull than Life Day. (Which appears to involve glowing balls beaming you into space. Once there, you march into the sun and then… stand around for a while.) Or maybe if they had chosen to center the entire thing on any species other than the Wookies, because, you know what? Listening to 20 minutes of grunting without even the benefit of subtitles is the definition of dull. Also, there’s the fact that Lumpy and Itchy’s costumes are effin’ terrifying. “I’m already embarrassed for everyone involved with this,” one of my roommates exclaimed, the second “adorable” little Lumpy scampered his way down the stairs, not 30 seconds in.
Then there’s the awful 70s-tastic musical performances by Jefferson Starship and Diahann Carroll. Jefferson Starship’s number isn’t even interesting enough to mention, but Carroll’s is sort of spectacular (and when I say “spectacular” please assume I mean “most gloriously, jaw-droppingly awful”). Appearing as a holographic fantasy conjured up by a virtual-reality machine given as a Life Day gift to Itchy by Art Carney, Diahann shows up (in a costume, of which my boyfriend remarked: “I can’t decide if she’s going to star in the ice-capades, lure Edmund into her sleigh with some Turkish delight, or attack Mila Kunis for trying to steal her role in Swan Lake.”) moaning and cooing about how she’s Itchy’s fantasy and pleading with him to “experience” her. So, essentially, the audience is left to infer that Grandpa Itchy is pleasuring himself in the family living room. Then she sings a song about how we need to “extend this minute,” which was met with cries of “NOOOOO!!!” in OUR living room.
There are several comedic skits, mostly starring Harvey Korman in various roles, the “best” of which is as Chef Gormanda, the host of a cooking show that Malla watches while preparing the Life Day feast. This skit inspired debate among our group over whether Korman was appearing in black-face. Eventually we settled on it looking as though “someone originally suggested black-face, but then they decided that would be too offensive, so they scrambled and called it ‘purple… ALIEN face!’”
There’s also an animated segment which is generally the only thing fans admit to enjoying from the Holiday Special, since it introduced the beloved character Boba Fett. And while the segment is good in theory, it really doesn’t make sense in context, since it means that Lumpy is watching a cartoon about the real-life adventures his father is having around the universe.
There’s also a musical number with Bea Arthur as the bartender at the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine, which is most notable for allowing us the pleasure of watching Dorothy Zbornak sing a ballad (backed by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, of course) to a giant rat.
And of course, all the other major characters from Star Wars (Luke, Leia, Darth Vader, R2-D2, and C-3PO) make appearances, though none make much of an impression, aside from the fact that Mark Hamill looks remarkably girlish and orange (several of my viewing companions literally screamed when his face showed up in the opening credits), and Carrie Fisher appearing as though she hasn’t a clue where she is (though she does eventually sing an atrocious song to the tune of John Williams’ Star Wars theme).
I really can’t say any of us found any redeeming value in The Star Wars Holiday Special, though, in all fairness, 2/3 of our group had fallen asleep well before it ended. We did, however, decide that it does somewhat entertainingly re-contextualize Chewbacca as sort of a deadbeat dad, gallivanting across the universe with his pal Han Solo while leaving his poor wife at home to slave away, taking care of their autistic child and Chewie’s senile, chronically masturbating father.
I should note that there is a Rifftrax commentary to go along with the Holiday Special, and it’s probably your best option should you decide that you need to watch this travesty yourself. Just make sure to load up on the alcoholic beverages before you begin. And if you (smartly) decide that you’ve done nothing to deserve the punishment that an actual viewing entails, you can save yourself the pain and watch this alternate version put together by the good people at Gamervision.
Happy Life Day everybody!