One of the most amazing and downright oddest holiday specials ever conceived, this much heard about but seldom seen gem in the Star Wars universe is world-famous for being one of the worst pieces of entertainment ever put on film. Even the most die-hard Star Wars geek can’t defend it. Even Lucas himself has been quoted as saying:
If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.
Bold words from the director of The Phantom Menace but he’s right. It was broadcast only once on November 17, 1978 on CBS. The only way some
masochistic curious film fan can see it is through a bootleg which by years of VHS dubbing will be a grainy and shoddy transfer. Lucas had very little involvement with the production and has expressed that regret ever since. The only worthwhile clip of the holiday special is a decently done animated segment featuring the first appearance of bounty hunter Boba Fett. Interestingly enough it also features Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca. It also has guest appearances by Bea Arthur, Art Carney and Harvey Korman. Why? Because they had nothing better to do, I suppose.
While the principal Star Wars cast was involved it was far and beyond the quality of acting, production and awe-inspiring that we saw in A New Hope a year earlier. Imagine if they made a Dark Knight Holiday Special this year featuring Christian Bale and Tom Hardy playing Bane terrorizing Gotham during Christmas. I don’t know what kids in 1978 were hoping for or expecting but I can probably guess they were excited leading up to the special but were totally let-down that Friday night by the time The Incredible Hulk came on afterwards. How could something so epic and awesome like Star Wars make such a silly and a so-out-of-character TV special? It went from introducing us to Darth Vader and the Death Star, Lightsabers and the Force, X-Wings and TIE Fighters, and the infamous Cantina scene to Wookiees named Lumpy and Itchy, holographic musical scenes featuring Diahann Carroll and Jefferson Starship, weak comedy sketches featuring Harvey Korman that make current SNL sketches look like Masterpiece Theatre and Bea Arthur as a surly barmaid in Mos Eisley. Who had the wild idea that Star Wars could be made into a variety show?
I’m going to save you (and me) the time by skipping the play-by-plays of every segment but believe me this thing was hard to watch. The first ten minutes or so is nothing but grunting Wookiees (Chewbacca’s family on Kashyyyk) preparing for their pseudo-Christmas, Life Day and eagerly waiting for Chewie and Han to return. No subtitles for what the Wookiees are saying to each other but a viewer would have to use their imaginations to what they are saying and using the art of pantomime to follow the story. It isn’t until Art Carney playing a local human trader who is in cahoots with the rebellion gets involved that we get the proper interpreter. Kashyyyk is then invaded by Imperial forces and Chewie’s family must protect their secret of being rebel sympathizers and their son’s identity.
Even though Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are present in this poorly executed TV special, they are definitely phoning it in. And for some odd reason, Hamill is wearing the most ridiculous amount of make-up. I don’t know whose idea it was to have Carrie Fisher sing the ending Life Day song but I’m sure a large amount of recreational drugs were also involved. Her singing wasn’t the problem, mind you, but the fact that the tune was in the Star Wars main theme made it absurd.
Like I mentioned earlier, the animated segment featuring Boba Fett was the highlight (It is the only part of this monstrosity that Lucasfilm officially released as an easter egg on the Star Wars Blu-Ray). Its not AWESOME by any means but when comparing it to the rest of the special its like watching Empire. Fett is more or less a spy, than bounty hunter to Vader trying to make friends with the rebels to gain trust and then do his dastardly deeds. They figure out who is working for before anything happens and thats about it. To further sully the Fett legacy he is first seen riding a brontosaurus-like creature in the middle of a lake. Not exactly “Bad-Ass” like he’s known for. But all-in-all its the only thing worth seeing from the special. Take it or leave it fanboys.
The only other part I didn’t hate with a passion was surprisingly enough the Jefferson Starship song segment. To be honest I’m not a big Jefferson Starship fan and only know a handful of tunes, like Jane and Miracles before they became just Starship and wrote even crappier ’80s songs. But I must admit that the song they perform in the Holiday Special ain’t half bad. Maybe its my love for 70s classic rock or perhaps because in a era of terrible pop superstars like One Direction, Justin Beiber and Carly Rae Jepson anything with a guitar solo is like manna from heaven.
I also have to give some credit to Harvey Korman who tries his darndest to be the comedy wizard he’s known for. He actually plays three different characters, a Julia Child alien-like chef who Chewie’s mom watches on her TV to learn to make Bantha Surprise. The only laughs that are cooked up are Korman’s attempts to keep a straight face and try to make his two extra arms look less fake. His next appearance is just as silly and somewhat amusing as a malfunctioning android who again is on a TV screen instructing Chewie’s son who to fix some kind of device that the Stormtroopers broke. His final appearance is with Bea Arthur in the Mos Eisley bar, who professes his affection to her but she brushes him off in Arthur’s usual surly manner. Arthur than has a musical number about last call set to the tune of the Cantina music from A New Hope.
The finale is the only “Holiday” related aspect of this crummy and slow Holiday Special and its basically Chewbacca and his family walking into a star (yes, they are seen walking in space) and meeting other Wookiees in a giant space tree where Princess Leia sings her Life Day song accompanied by clips of the original film. Hallelujah! The special is over.
I totally understand why Lucasfilm disavowed this TV special for the fans. Its goofy, inane, poorly acted and executed both in its writing and production. It was solely geared for kids, sure, but this is one horrible Holiday special even from a kids point of view. I’m sure it was aimed to sell the much sought-after Star Wars Kenner toys that were just coming out that year since they were delayed in 1977 in time for the Holiday season. I give them credit for trying and for wrangling in the principal actors to take part instead of using all new characters and trying to pass this off as a Star Wars special. If Lucasfilm was more involved it could’ve been better since Lucas was in his prime in the late 70s. But in summation, Star Wars should never be funny (Jar Jar Binks) or cute (Ewoks) and should never have musical numbers (Jedi Rocks). As much as a pop culture “force” Star Wars was and still is, it is in its core, a space opera about an intergalactic civil war with good triumphing over evil using ageless themes and motifs to further tell the epic story. The less it veers from that core, the less impressive it gets.
Happy Life Day and May the Force Be With You!