Star Wars Holiday Special
30 years on, can we forget? Is it at least worth a try?
Just the other week saw the thirtieth anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special, originally broadcast in the US (it was never shown here in the UK despite what some faux geekoids may claim) to celebrate Thanksgiving. So thirty years on, the two hour spectacular seems ripe for reappraisal and, ultimately, I want to address the question, “Does it really stink that bad?”
But before I answer positively to that conundrum, I better inform those of you who may not know anything about this wildly unnerving entry into the Star Wars franchise. An entry that Georgey-boy has disavowed himself of, claiming it will never see the light of day again (officially). I should state, for the record, that Lucas and his production team had little to almost no involvement in this production created by the CBS network.
The two hour (well, it’s an American ‘two hours’ so it's actually only 97 minutes) Jedi fest stars all the big hitters who survived A New Hope (yes, that’s the first one; keep up, grandad) including Harrison Ford! Yup, at that point he was still pretty much a nobody. The ‘plot’, and forgive me for using such a highbrow phrase for such a light premise, concerns Life Day with Chewbacca’s family. Han is trying to get Chewie back in time to celebrate it but gets held up by the Empire. Chuck in some video conferencing with Luke, some communication with Leia and Threepio, a visit from the friendly neighbourhood Imperial patrol, some songs; and a cartoon introduction to Boba Fett and you’ve got yourself a special. And it is ‘special’… But, more interesting is the myth of this actual project.
Back in the day (a more civilized time), before the evil internet came along, The Star Wars Holiday Special was rarely mentioned and impossible to get hold of (in the UK anyway). As a keen enthusiast of the trilogy, my introduction to the special came in the form of some stickers I bought in Belarus (I said I was an enthusiast). One of the stickers featured Princess Leia and See Threepio in a pose I had never seen (and like Patrick Stewart in Extras, I had seen everything) and this got my midichlorians jumping.
My research was answered in the Star Wars Chronicles (an official release, no less) that featured two pages, with stills, of the ill fated installment. From then on I made it my mission to track down this piece of, erm, ‘art’. I did so a couple of years later in a New York comic shop, and how eager I was to return to my home to watch it.
How quickly my ‘eagerness’ turned to ‘WTF?-ness’….
It starts off pretty innocuously with Solo and Chewie (and footage nicked from the film) in the Millenium Falcon evading Imperial ships but we are quickly introduced to the Wookie’s family: his wife, Malla (he kept pretty quiet about that!), dad, Itchy, and son, Lumpy. Itchy and Lumpy, two symptoms of a disease I’d rather forget. Much like the Holiday Special itself.
Sadly, much of the ‘action’ takes place in Chewie’s home but, due to their inability to speak English, we’re instead subjected to their favourite TV shows such as “How To Cook A Bantha” and a rather prescient Big Brother style effort entitled, “Life On Tatooine.” The latter featured Golden Girl, Bea Arthur, in charge of the Cantina offering everyone “drinks on the house” and battling off erotic advances from the clientele. And to top it off, she starts to sing.
Throw in Lumpy’s ‘board’ game’, an imitation of the Dijarik chess game on the Falcon where we witness a circus troupe that would have looked anachronistic on Crackerjack (or right at home on Harry Hill’s TV Burp), and his video unit where he watches an animated story (featuring his dad!) and you’ve got yourself a real Sixties style nightmare/trip. Of course, this was the Seventies so there’s really no excuse.
As a side note, that animated sequence stars a certain Boba Fett making his very first appearance in the Star Wars franchise. Here he displays all his charm, referring to everyone as “friend”, and deception. Some say the cartoon renders the Holiday Special meaningful, not me. The voices and animation are as mind-bendingly awful as the rest of the atrocities on display.
But these are not the worst offences committed in The Star Wars Holiday Special, by no means. Stand up Diahann Carroll who purrs orgasmically to Lumpy whilst he is attached to, what looks like, a Seventies style boutique hairdryer. The songstress heaves, “We’re gonna have a good time” and “feel my creation.” Cripes! Getting in on the song action are the very futuristic Jefferson Starship and Carrie Fisher.
This denouement, where Princess Leia sings Life Day over the main Star Wars theme, marks the nadir in a nadir filled project. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Fisher’s voice (think Cheryl Cole, then think of someone who can actually sing) but the sight, not to mention sounds, of her warbling away may affect your bikini-clad fantasies of her in the future. The only thing more tit-tuggingly bewildering is the makeup job on Mark Hammill – he’s not a woman, you know!
Speaking with Peter “Chewbacca” Mayhew in 1997, he told me that the whole project was designed by Lucas as a precursor for the Ewoks – a test to see if the animatronics in Chewbacca’s family would work. Of course, as we now know, the new tech was less than successful and the inhabitants of Endor were put on hold for a few more years, with new tech for the furry cuties being employed in Return Of The Jedi.
So, if I may return to my initial question: The Star Wars Holiday Special, does it really stink? The answer, as I have alluded to, is a resounding 'yes', but like the ‘worst film ever’ Plan 9 From Outer Space, it is well worth a watch. A fascinating record of the time and an even more perplexing mesh of television and film. My advice is get some friends round, have a couple of drinks, sit back and enjoy. Don’t watch it alone, though; your disbelief at what you witness may make you think you’re in the latest Michel Gondry flick and you’ll only start to doubt your own existence…
You can find out more about The Star Wars Holiday Special at starwars.com
You can view images from the special to the right (click to enlarge each). And you can read more about the special and its music here - The Crawling Ear: The Musical Crimes of the Star Wars Holiday Special