The Crawling Ear: The Musical Crimes of the Star Wars Holiday Special
James commemorates the anniversary of one of the most ill-advised spin-offs in movie/TV history...
You know, between the election of Barack Obama and the release of Twilight and the first successful trachea transplant using a tissue-engineered organ, people totally forgot that last month marked the 30th anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special. That’s right, friends: on November 17, 1978, CBS turned two hours of its airwaves over to dancing Wookiees, decidedly non-ILM special effects, and the unbearable comedy of Harvey Korman. It was a moment in sci-fi entertainment history no one would ever forget. Some people have JFK. Others have the Beatles. For the nerd class of ’78, everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they found out Chewbacca had a son named Lumpy.
There’s a ton (and I mean a ton) of unbelievable shit in the once-lost-but-now-all-over-YouTube Star Wars Holiday Special, including interpretive dance troupes, Art Carney, and soft core Wookiee pornography (no joke). However, the show’s biggest crime (aside from neutering Han Solo’s ferocious co-pilot by giving him a stock family pulled right out of suburbia’s dullest sitcom) is the utter destruction of the two best pieces of music from that galaxy far, far away. The fact John Williams didn’t immediately firebomb the brain trust behind this lo-fi disaster after they playfully smeared his wonderful creations about like so much Bantha dung, is a testament to Williams’ mountain-sized restraint and intestinal fortitude.
They’ll diss the clunky dialogue, the wooden performances, and the snail-paced first act, but even the most hard-boiled Star Wars haters have to admit “Cantina Band,” the peppy space jazz that plays during the infamous Mos Eisley bar sequence, is just as toe-tappin’ and finger-snappin’ as anything Cab Calloway’s band put to wax. Everything about that song is perfect: the speed, the arrangement, the dark undercurrent that flows seamlessly beneath that unmistakably upbeat melody…the whole thing is just tits. Realizing he had achieved musical perfection, John Williams stepped away from “Cantina Band” and left it an instrumental. Did “Rumble” or “Sleepwalk” need lyrics to help convey the sonic portraits they painted? Nay. Sometimes a vocal only serves to derail what could have been a piece of musical genius (much of Pantera’s catalog comes to mind here).
Clearly there were no Santo & Johnny fans working behind the scenes on “The Holiday Special,” because those mother truckers jammed a bunch of unnecessary words into “Cantina Band” quicker’n Al Bundy. On top of that, those bastages also messed with the tempo and transformed our beloved alien flapper anthem into some kind of Fiddler On The Roof b.s. torch song. “Just one more round, friends!” guest star Bea Arthur lovingly warbles to the bizarre denizens of the Mos Eisley cantina, which she apparently owns (don’t remember that in any of the Expanded Universe literature). Golden Girl moans and mourns her establishment’s closing in the most maudlin of ways; she twirls around teasing the aliens, even stopping for a moment to cut a rug with Ponda Baba (Greedo eventually cuts in – continuity error!). This musical atrocity gave me a serious case of heartburn the first time it assaulted my ears. After two bottles of Kaopectate, I felt better, but I still haven’t been able to look at Bea Arthur since without tasting a little bile.
But lo, as I mentioned, the addition of lyrics to “Cantina Band” is not The Star Wars Holiday Special’s only musical atrocity. Nay, the diseased minds what created sci-fi’s most infamous waste of 120 prime time minutes also sprinkled a few unnecessary verses into the main Star Wars theme, which Carrie Fisher soullessly sings off-key and (presumably) on coke. Carrie carries on about Life Day in this abomination, the Wookiee holiday that’s equal parts Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Arbor Day. Luckily, Fisher’s tuneless Wook racket lasts less than a minute. That clears up plenty of room for a guest shot from Jefferson Starship, whose "Light Up The Sky” is most assuredly not the same kick-ass heavy metal fretboard workout Van Halen recorded around the same time. The Starship’s “Sky” is a chunk of half-baked arena rock that sounds like something that dribbled down Elton John’s leg in the early seventies. This website has a recording of it, as well as the beyond creepy chunk of easy listening space porn Diahann Carroll contributed to The Star Wars Holiday Special.
StarWars.com supposedly did some retrospective honoring the fattest pre-prequel turkey in their closet last month, but I wouldn’t know about that because I refuse to support giant faceless corporations who don’t care about the general consumer. I can almost guarantee you, though, that The Star Wars Holiday Special will one day be fully restored and released on DVD/Blu-Ray/the weird liquid my sixth grade history teacher swore all media would be encoded into in the future. Lucasfilm is running out of unreleased bonus material to include with the Star Wars box sets they seem to release every six months. I’m certain The Holiday Special will be the next big ticket extra, which is sad because treating that two hour endurance test like it’s the Princess Leia topless reel will only encourage future music abuse.
How long before we have to hear Hasselhoff’s sexy German take on the Knight Rider theme? Half past never, I hope (although it should be noted I have heard a Christmas rap song based on the Knight Rider theme featuring the voice of KITT that’s actually kind of awesome, so I guess the door can swing both ways).
Check out the Crawling Ear every Wednesday at Den Of Geek. The last Crawling Ear can be found here.
And read more about The Star Wars Holiday Special, right here on our site, with images!