I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

The Star Wars Holiday Special: It's Very... well... Special

by Johnathon Davis
Dec. 24, 2015
I can’t really think of a good place to begin with this so I might as well start at the beginning. When the first Star Wars film came out in the summer of 1977, it was a true smash hit and the movie-going public was hungry for more. Unfortunately for everyone, this is what they got. It only aired once in the US on November 17th 1978 (not even a holiday) but was shown internationally several times (1). George Lucas rarely says a thing about this because he is so damn embarrassed about how things turned out when his back was turned. After having watched this twice (once sober, which took four hours, the other while drinking, which went remarkably smoothly), I can now say I think I know how a cat feels when they are about to cough up a hair ball.  

The most frustrating thing about the history of the special is the conflicting accounts of who is to blame (sorry, I meant to say came up with the idea) for it in the first place. Through much digging and question asking I have come across two, or maybe three, accounts, none of which I can really get solidly authenticated, adding to my rampant displeasure with this program: Charles Lippincott, former Lucasfilm head of marketing and merchandising, claims CBS approached them with the idea (2), the co-executive producer, Gary Smith, thinks it came from 20th Century Fox (3), and apparently the co-writer Lenny Ripps thought it cam directly from Lucasfilm (a statement I cannot confirm, please regard it as hearsay). We could debate the origins of this telefarce until the end of time, but suffice to say that George Lucas - for one brief second of time - let his iron-fisted control over all things Star Wars slip, resulting in what basically amounts to a televised marathon of explosive diarrhea.

Somewhere along the way, it is said that Uncle Georgie sat down and gave the writers a basic idea of what he wanted. I’m kind of interested to know what that actually was, but I think it’s safe to say it was something having to do with Wookies. They are slathered all over this thing, and by all over it, I mean over the set of Chewbacca’s house, where a lot of the special is spent. We meet Chewbacca’s family: his wife, Malaa, his son, Lumpy (who shrieks like the chubby nerd you knew in elementary school and who looks like those things from Land of the Lost), and his father, Itchy. Creature effects wizard, Stan Winston (he created cool stuff like the costume for the Predator etc.) helped out with the Wookiee outfits for the family and I can’t help but speculate he might have done this on the side for some cash or work experience because he’s certainly done WAY better.

The cockamamey plot has something to do with a Wookie holiday called “Life Day” that Han Solo MUST get Chewie back on his planet in time for. The actual meaning of Life Day is left unexplained, but (if you actually make it to the end) you find out has something to do with Wookies wearing red capes and walking around near a fog machine. Also they eat dinner at the end. I can’t actually remember much more than that and I must apologize for losing the paddle.

Along the way there are various decidedly non Star Wars-y musical and comedy sketches that go way beyond cringe-worthy. I’d rather not recall them, but in the interest of informing you I’ll lay out what I can: Art Carney as a curio shop owner who later shows a Jefferson Starship video to an Imperial soldier on a TV shaped like a robot from Silent Running, Dihann Carroll appearing as a hologram in some futuristic Wookie jerk-off booth that Chewie’s dad uses, and Bea Arthur dancing with Greedo in the Mos Eisley Cantina. There’s (unfortunately) lots more than that, but those are the bits that really stuck out in my mind after so much horror. Oh, I almost forgot, the galaxy far, far away’s ultimate holiday treat: the “wookie-ookie”...

If this movie were a street-walker it would take the chrome off the trailer hitch, both bumpers, and the side trim. Look out for: Mark Hamill (who appears to be wearing eyeliner?) and Harrison Ford’s decidedly 70’s blow-dried hairmaybe’s, some Mos Eisley footage shot for the original film but never used, and the only saving grace in this detritus, which is a ten minute cartoon featuring the debut of infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett. The animation is pretty well done, and it’s a shame they didn’t make the special an hour long animated adventure instead. That would have been a much more fun and cool idea.

Network Awesome insisted I do this review as a drinking game and review what I remembered, and my original idea was to drink every time a Wookie roars. If I had gone that route I would have died of alcohol poisoning in less than ten minutes. Seriously, the opening sequence is Chewie’s fam roaring at one another without subtitles. The amount of roaring by the end roughly comes up to one full hour. Luckily a friend stepped in and suggested a much more sensible drinking game.

If you decide to do this (and God help you if you do), here’s what we drank to:

-Every time blaster goes off
-Every time there’s a guest star appearance
-Every time some “dun dun DUUUN” music and/or moment happens
-Probably a couple other things I forgot in my moonshine/whiskey/beer stupor

Please drink responsibly, as alcohol is the only thing I know of that makes this thing palatable. This special ranks pretty high on a vast number of “worst TV moments” lists and I can definitely see why. It does not even have a so bad it’s good vibe, just a really lame and unbelievable one. Even Shepard Smith from Fox News had talked some smack: “A 70’s TV car wreck of sorts combining the worst of Star Wars with the utter worst of variety television” (4). Universally panned in the decades since its release it will likely never be forgotten. Whether or not that is a good thing I leave purely up to you.

1. http://www.starwarsholidayspecial.com/versions.htm
2. http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/2008/12/star_wars_special200812
3. http://web.archive.org/web/20100118075010/http://www.starwars.com/movies/saga/20081117.html
4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnsnWSuWpiM (mark this link as the ONLY time I will ever agree with Fox News)
Johnathon lives in Portland, Oregon. He makes collages. He also writes things for Network Awesome, as well as his weekly movie review blog which can be found at http://fshomevideo.blogspot.com. You should read it, it's really terrific.