“If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.”
That was what George Lucas thinks of The Star Wars Holiday Special. Now, go back and read that last sentence again, and take into consideration the fact that the very same person who said that is the very person who later greenlighted the Ewoks, the Howard the Duck movie, and Jar Jar Binks. It’s no secret that Lucas hates it in a way which would qualify him for Sith Lord status. It aired just one time, ever, on November 17, 1978 as the entire prime time lineup that night on CBS. Then it presumably became one with The Force. Word of god says Harrison Ford spent a large chunk of his career denying its existence. It was never rebroadcast on any other stations or released on any home video mediums. Unfortunately, this valiant attempt at denouncement didn’t take into account the people who taped it and never erased the tapes, so it became something of an underground sensation until the internet came along and wiped out every bet on the issue.
Lucas himself had virtually nothing to do with the production. It was handed off to a group of people who were known for those campy variety TV shows that were all the rage in the early days on television, who proceeded to write in variety material and create things which lend validation to every bad stereotype about the 70’s that exists. Using those tacky aspects of the era culture and throwing in a grab bag on Star Wars characters, the creators then proceeded to create an excuse to jump between celebrity cameos, character cameos, and music videos. If it was anywhere in their heads to create a memorable holiday special, they certainly succeeded, but for all the wrong reasons. The Star Wars Holiday Special sucks. It sucks hard. It reaches a Masters of Teras Kasi level of suckitude, says “I can beat that!” and takes shovel and drill to the solid ground.
Lucas may have escaped, but the network folks managed to cop the top talent from the movie. Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and the others got forced into this thing. Even composer John Williams and James Earl Jones don’t get out unscathed. Jones, of course, is there voicing Darth Vader and Williams’s Star Wars Theme is there as the introduction. They should have just brought in Williams outright for the rest of the soundtrack which, without his input, comes off like a village side music in a bad 16-bit RPG. Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, but through the first ten minutes, it gets unbearable. The first ten minutes don’t have any dialogue. Just a lot of growling and roaring from Malla, Lumpy, and Itchy, who are the relatives of Chewbacca. Yeah, ten minutes of muted muppet speaking, and half the time, we can’t figure out exactly what’s going on in the scene because there’s not even a courtesy translation rolling along the bottom of the screen. At one point, the kid leaves the house and walks on top of a rail between the balcony and a nice long drop. Why? Search me!
They really do look just like muppets, by the way, since this is TV stuff and there was no way in hell the network was going to pay for special effects which still rank among the very best ever seen in movies. They actually intersperse it in with archival movie footage. There isn’t much to disguise the fact that everything is shot in a studio. Suspension of disbelief is clearly a foreign concept to variety show people.
When the Holiday Special begins, Han and Chewie are seen doing something which is quite distinctly Han-and-Chewie-like: They’re trying to bust through an Imperial blockade. Chewie is on his way home to his family for Life Day, a Wookiee holiday. On the planet surface, we meet his wife, father, and son. They’re worried because Han and Chewie are late. Still though, they manage to exchange a few gifts, prepare some food, and entertain themselves with a hologram TV. Ah, holograms. Remember when they were The Next Big Thing?
Most of the Special takes place right in the Wookiee household. While a lot of things do happen, it feels like one of those Saturday Night Live sketches from the show’s worst years: Stretched to unbearable length, going on for so long after the punchline that the punchline is forgotten, and meant solely to milk the show’s running time. In one scene, one of the wookiees tries to prepare some food following the directions of an overly excitable TV chef, with hilarious consequences! Another scene involves the assembly of a transmitter. Both are longer than they need to be. At least the latter is important to the plot of the Special. The former, not so much. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that there’s some kind of wookiee porno machine in this thing too, which produces another music video.
There are Imperials in this thing, but you can’t go into it expecting more of the blaster and lightsaber action that makes Star Wars Star Wars. While it has what very well should have been a decent -and very Star Wars-like – plot about Imperial occupation, the entire thing takes a lot of really bad sitcom twists. Yes, worse than the Ewoks. For all their high training, the Special takes a rather dim view of the Stormtroopers, who are apparently easily distracted by the Wookiee version of television. The wookiee family uses their entertainment device to distract the Stormtroopers while they literally do everything right behind the Stormtroopers’ backs. The device the wookiees are trying to build is meant to trick the Stormtroopers into returning to base by imitating the Commander’s voice. I can’t help but think of the Star Wars novel The Truce at Bakura, which says that six Stormtroopers against one armed wookiee would be a fight that’s just about even. Yeah, there are a couple of Commanders and a pair of Stormtroopers there that the wookiees, despite being really fucking strong, don’t do anything about.
That magic box Chewie’s family owns is responsible for every weird, absurd twist the Special takes. At one point, it shows a video of the old Mos Eisley Cantina, which the Empire has decided to shut down. Bea Arthur is the bartender there for the final party. Apparently this is a video being broadcast by the Empire as required viewing for some reason. The official reason is subversive forces. The real reason is to present Bea Arthur, who is approached by a character who misunderstood something she said. We don’t know anything about this new and sudden plot thread, and at the end of it, there’s another song. However, it’s also the TV set which produces the famed cartoon. The cartoon is easily the best part of the Special. It has a much more interesting plot and even a bit of acceptable suspense.
The most ridiculous and insane thing about The Star Wars Holiday Special is that it appears to actually be canon! Chewie’s family of Malla, Lumpy, and Itchy were later given real wookiee names – Mallatobuck, Lumpawarrump, and Attichituck, respectively – and have small roles in other, later Star Wars stories. The animated segment introduced fucking Boba Fett, who became one of the most popular and badass characters in the entire Star Wars universe. The canon has to be the work of fans, because we all know George Lucas hates this thing. Honestly, after watching it, I can’t blame him.