Mutant Viewing: The Star Wars Holiday Special [retro feature]

I feel a great disturbance in The Force...

In 1978, George Lucas gave the go-ahead to capitalize on his enormously successful Star Wars and basically feed it a mountain of drugs, then produce it for network TV. They got the original cast, plus a bevy of then-famous guest stars, plus a halfway-decent budget (including props and clips from the movie). The result became the most infamous piece of Star Wars legend: The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Shown only once on November 17, 1978 — and never again.

Why? It was about the biggest waste of network TV and viewers’ time, a dump all over Lucas’ creation that wouldn’t see its equal until Jar-Jar and Skin-That-Is-Not-Rough-Like-Sand. That Lucas greenlit it is delicious; that he actually paid off (or so the rumor goes) all network stations never to broadcast it again, refuses to ever release it from the LucasArts vaults (even though it would make a TON of moolah, from the brand name alone), and declines discussing it even now is practically a triple-dog-dare that we must partake. Wouldn’t you agree?

Happily for us weird nerds who find pleasure in the absolute worst of science fiction, a few people did record this back in the day, and pirated copies abound, finally making their way to the internet and eternal life. There’s even a website devoted to this piece of Bantha poop, and if that isn’t fan love, I don’t know what is.

So here we go! Buckle up, strap on a ball gag (so as not to wake your loved ones with your screams), and let’s jump to hyperspace and beyond!

OH NO! The Millenium Falcon is under attack by a pair of Star Destroyers! Han Solo, ever the heroic individual who spits in the face of death, shakes from the two laser blasts and says that they’re going to turn around, even though Chewbacca’s family is waiting for him. It’s an “important day”, apparently. Chewie growls a bit, Han mulls it over, and acknowledges that his life isn’t worth much anyway. What a stud. Chewie mews happily. “That’s the spirit,” Han says. “You’ll be celebrating Life Day before you know it!”

Erm, Life Day? What’s all the other days in the Wookiee calendar filled with — Backhair Day, Morbid Hobbies Day, Trash Day? Oh yes, this is gonna suck.

Malla & Itchy. What a Wookiees.

Both Chewie’s costume and Harrison Ford look fairly authentic here, even if the Falcon’s cockpit seems a bit cramped. Insert stock footage of the Falcon jumping into hyperspace, dissolving to the stars and the stirring John Williams score. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” appears on screen, although in a pretty generic font.

Then: “STAR WARS”.

Then: “The STAR WARS Holiday Special”, which is quickly voiced over by a used car salesman. The salesman introduces each of the cast, including Mark Hamill in a wig and a Tammy Faye-level of makeup (this was right after his accident, which cut his face up pretty bad), Carrie Fisher looking stoned, and “R2D2 as R2D2″. He’s so clever. Then, “Introducing Chewbacca’s family”, which are apparently Muppets with hair extensions glued on — but at least they seem more animated than Chewie, I’ll give them that. “His wife Malla” — WIFE? The Falcon is pretty big, you think Chewie could take his spouse along for these adventures.

But the best is next, and I’d dare anyone not to hear this line and see a jovial Wookiee waving without laughing: “And his father Itchy!” Now, Lucas might be a huge target for some undeserving slights, but I’d have to say it’s fair that the boy didn’t come up with the best names I’ve ever heard of. Many Star Wars names — Boba, Chewie, Jabba, Jar-Jar, Porkins — I’m guessing he came up with when he was about three years old. Still… Itchy? And then, “his son, Lumpy!”

Lumpy. Named after a stool sample.

Must… take… wrench… to… brain pan…

Lumpy looks like an Ewok going through puberty, by the way, and I bet he gets teased ALL the time. Good. I’m glad.

We also get our lineup of guest stars: Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Diahann Carroll, Jefferson Starship (who they show rocking out, while the Star Wars theme plays on… guess they’re stashing an orchestra in them there guitars), and Harvey Korman, who turns into a huge black woman for some reason. They also promise a special cartoon in the show, flashing an animated Boba Fett there for now-slavering fanboys to whimper over, and people back then to go “Why’s that guy wearing a medieval knight’s helm?”

We begin our Special on the planet Kashyyyk, which most current Star Wars fans would recognize from the brief yet completely irrelevant scene in Revenge of the Sith where a Wookiee attacks with a Tarzan yell and Yoda boards the E.T. pod. The establishing shot is a very fake-looking matte painting, which quickly dissolves to a 70’s-style living room with some overly hairy guests. Itchy (Chewie’s pop, remember) is working on a wooden model of an X-Wing. Lumpy’s off to the side, jumping around with his toy and generally acting like a fresh post-op brain surgery patient. He’s special.

I can’t believe people ever thought Wookiees were cool after this came out. While the Wookiees are alone on screen, they obviously don’t speak English and just do their roars/sheep bleetings instead… but there’s also absolutely NO SUBTITLES. Chewie could get away with his lack of meaningful dialogue in the series, because he always had Han there who pretended like he knew what the hairy beast said:

CHEWIE: “Rrrargh!”

HAN: “That’s right, Chewie! It’s time to renew my subscription to Entertainment Weekly and save 56% off the cover price if I act now!”

However, this sort of growling nonsense doesn’t fly on its own, so the Wookiee family here — with a VERY human house and appliances — need to resort to a load of gestures and body language to make up for the idiocy on the part of the producers.

GUH?!?

You really wouldn’t accept this as true without seeing it how long this gibberish continues. Nothing happens for at least five minutes, leading me to believe that the producers just let the actors improv in the furry suits to their hearts’ content. Lumpy steals a cookie and goes outside. Itchy and Malla look fondly at Chewie’s picture and wonder when the hell his child support will come in. Finally, the family flicks on the holographic chessboard last seen on the Falcon, which triggers a very dumb sequence of holographic circus performers trooping around. Why would Wookiees be watching humans in their entertainment, by the way? This all goes on for an insufferably long time as well, while Lumpy stirs himself into an epileptic fit. What does any of this have to do with, I don’t know, STAR WARS, anyway?

It’s now been about ten minutes without a single English word, and I’m starving for some. Ack.

Yes, that really IS Mark Hamill.

Finally, the Wookiees use a hidden console to spy in on Luke and R2D2. Luke doesn’t seem very surprised that without accepting a call or anything, two hairy monsters are looking at him through a camera. Luke has one of those human-Wookiee one-sided conversations where the Wookiees spaz out and he pretends to know what in Shazbot they’re talking about. He also fiddles with some smoking machinery — guess the Alliance didn’t really need him that day to fly down any trenches. R2D2 tries once again to tell Luke how he used to help his father out in the old days, but Luke ain’t hearing any of that. With all of Luke’s makeup and his smiling, deep-eyed expressions, I’m getting the uncomfortable feeling he’s coming on to me. Luke figures out that Chewie’s overdue, but the only advice he can give is for the Wookies to smile and stop being rightly concerned for a family member’s absence. Luke out.

How much for that doggy in the window?

The Wookiees then hack into another security camera on “Wookie Trading Planet C”. Hey, it’s better than “Tatooine”, as I see it. It’s a shop run by Art Carney (The Muppets Take Manhatten) who gets a low key visit from a moody Imperial Guard. The guard’s moustache and massive black helmet belay any real threatening presence (“Did you go over my helmet?”); I think it’s the guy who greets people at Wal-Mart these days. Carney picks up the phone call from Malla and gives her some not-so-subtle clues that Chewie’s on his way with Han Solo. Oh good. My whole world is revolving around this plotline right now. The guard rips the shopkeeper off, who ends up alone and babbling to himself.

Meanwhile! Unused footage from A New Hope shows up as Darth Vader and Choke-Free Cronie march down a Star Destroyer/Death Star hallway, talking about setting up blockades and searching homes for the rebels. Well, that was enlightening. That is the full extent of Darth Vander in this show, barring the cartoon. Hope you lived it up!

Hey! Think Futurama cribbed this character?

Back on Kashyyyk, Malla turns on the TV to the food network, where the black alien woman version of Harvey Korman is teaching how to cook Bantha loins. This isn’t just padding the special, oh no; it’s like a college student trying to stretch a paragraph into a full-fledged term paper by increasing the margins to five inches and triple-spacing. Korman goes into a bizarre cooking chant and shows that he has a third and fourth arm. Terrific.

Once that droll scene ends, we’re back to the Falcon and more reused footage from ANH, with Tie Fighters swooping and shooting at nothing. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire, huh pal?” Han bemoans, as the exact same battle happens from ANH.

I think he's the Dean of the Rebel Academy (boo, hiss!)

The Wookiees receive a message on their tele-screen (or whatever you call it) from an Imperial guy who calls Kashyyyk “Kazook” and informs them they’re all under Martial Law until the Rebels are found. Not that I’m a huge Star Wars know-it-all or anything, but I thought Kashyyyk’s kind of been under Imperial control for a long, long time at this point? Erm, sorry, Kazook. The Wookiees freak out. Well, even more than before, I guess. They could use some calming drugs.

Art Carney, arriving fresh from his shop on “Wookiee Trading Planet C” since leaving about five minutes prior — and getting past the blockade just peachy, I noticed — arrives to bring the family a “proton pack” and other goodies. Because they’re fighting ghosts later on, duh. Carney demands a Wookie kiss (!) from Malla before giving her present to her. That’s kind of sick, there, Carney. Itchy uses a machine that looks suspiciously like those hairdryers you see in beauty salons to experience an LSD trip. He eventually hallucinates up Diahann Carroll, a lady with an appalling pink wig who blatantly comes on to Itchy and keeps making sexual innuendo while Itchy moans happily. I’m not even joking.

Time for some Wookiee cybersex!

“I’ll tell you a secret,” she says. “I find you adorable.” What is it with Wookiees needing humans for their fantasies and entertainment, I ask again! “I am your pleasure, enjoy me!” she says, as the porno music goes on. Dude. Not cool. Carroll starts singing a long song, which I’m not sure is better or worse than the flirtation. It goes… and goes… and goes… So very glad the 70’s are over.

As Itchy is shuddering in what we can only hope is not post-orgasmic bliss, Malla takes the time to bother more important Rebel figures: Princess Leia and C3PO. They don’t seem to mind being called up out of the blue, though. At least Threepio is there to translate the Wookie moans into English, and Leia is there to act horribly to no one in particular. Carrie Fisher, who comes out the worse out of all of the walk-ons, reprises her classic Side Buns™ to my delight. Leia tells Carney to watch after the Wookiee family, and that is that.

Back to the Falcon, still flying. Han begins foreshadowing his love of Chewie and his family with a small yet disturbing comment and a hand on Chewie’s arm. More stock footage from ANH as the Falcon lands on Kashyyyk. They land far away from the house to avoid detection, but still fly right over it so that everyone knows they’re here. The Wookiees get all excited and throw open the door… to the drawn guns of Stormtroopers! Ahh!

Commercial break.  The 70’s commercials are ten kinds of awesome. One of them has an army of Union Women Dressmakers marching and singing a shrill patriotic tune.

Even Stormtroopers celebrate Life Day!

The Stormtroopers, well, storm inside the house. No soup for you. A couple other Imperial dudes stroll in as well. They walk around, establishing their evilness by appraising the furniture and letting the bombastic music play on. Art Carney tries to cover for Chewie’s absence, babbling on while the officer asks for his ID and a Stormtrooper puts a blaster in his face. Lumpy does try to bite one of the Imperials, and almost gets a smack down… but Carney intervenes. He also doesn’t stop talking, which isn’t suspicious or anything. I don’t know what these Wookiees are so afraid of the Imperials finding, anyway. Carney starts a device to impress the Imperial officer — it’s another holographic device that makes Jefferson Starship appear for their song cameo. Subtlety: it’s the backbone of the Rebel Alliance. The officer sits there watching with a stupid grin on his face. Personally, I have a stupid grimace on. It’s not a terrible song, but it is very out of place in a “special” that really has no place.

The Stormtroopers keep pointing guns in Carney’s face, I guess as a comedy bit for him to react to. The one Stormtrooper easily tosses aside a full-grown Wookiee. He’s been working out at the gym, good for him.

It's all a secret plot to steal tuning forks...

As the Imperials continue their overly long stay in the house, Lumpy pulls out his portable DVD player and watches a cartoon based on the adventures of Han Solo. I suppose amid his blockade running and Alliance sympathies, Solo had time to sell the rights of his character to the nearest animation studio. Thus begins the animated portion of SWHS, widely acknowledged as the only good part of the show. We shall see.

It actually isn’t too bad, particularly for 70’s animation (and is rumored to be the only segment of this show to have had the direct approval of Lucas). Luke gets to fly a Y-fighter, which can detach the cockpit from the engine section in a nifty bit. He, C3PO and R2D2 are trying to follow Chewie and the Falcon, after receiving a mysterious message which showed Han being hung upside down inside the ship. Crashlanding on a “watery planet”, they encounter no

..and he would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids!

less than the Star Wars fan boy’s wet dream, Boba Fett — in his first official Star Wars appearance. Boba befriends (?) Luke and helps him find the Falcon. In the ship, a “sleeping virus” knocks out Luke, but Boba’s spiffy mask helps him stay out of trouble. Boba and Chewie go to a city to find the cure. Boba keeps calling everyone “friend” for no reason. He’s a doll, really. Oh wait! Boba’s actually evil and secretly reports to Darth Vader that he’s got the rebels under his control! R2 taps into the broadcast, so the two droids find out what’s going on, which helps nobody. Chewie and Boba return to the ship and wake up Luke and a really deranged-looking Han. They discover Boba’s badness, and Boba merely leaves instead of taking the good guys hostage. And… that’s it. Short, enjoyable, but definitely lacking there at the end except as a hint to the events in the upcoming Empire Strikes Back.

Man, this guy's got ISSUES.

Meanwhile in the house, the Imperials trash Lumpy’s room (woohoo!), and one guy even goes as far as tearing off the head of Lumpy’s stuffed Bantha doll (haha!). Lumpy holds the head and cries. I’m loving it. Lumpy watches a video with more Korman instructing him how to reconstruct his toys. It’s another unfunny and lame bit, unless you’re a huge fan of watching people try to make jokes out of “insert slot A into tab B” instructions. The real “comedy” comes as Korman pretends he’s a robot that keeps running out of power and talks slowly like a tape player running down. Ack.

While the Stormtroopers keep lounging around this (apparently) one-house planet, the Wookiees watch TV so that the producers could awkwardly interject a Tatooine segment to popularize off of the Cantina Bar scene in ANH. Stock footage abounds. Hey, it’s the Wolfman, my favorite Mos Eisley resident who got cut in the Special Editions! I missed ya, pal!

And if you’re jonesing for the good old days of Golden Girls, Bea Arthur appears as the bartender here! Bea Arthur! I’m frightened! A customer pours a drink into the top of his head for no reason. He then horribly flirts with Bea. It’s worse than any junior high dance you may remember. Without express permission, he starts spooning her from behind. And here you thought the Wookie fantasy machine was bad! As Egon said in Ghostbusters 2, that was short but pointless.

Back in the Wookie hut (do we ever escape this horrid two-room hell?) Stormtrooper and Wookiee alike are sharing munchies and watch on as Imperial TV Guy comes on to tell everyone that the Tatooine system has some curfew in effect. The whole system? How do you enforce a strict bedtime policy like that for an entire system?

Song... after song... after SONG! ARGH!

Bea Arthur ain’t having that. She dismisses the band… why? Dunno. This is probably the most Star Wars-y set so far, but I can’t say whether they reused parts of the original sets or not. Bea starts whining about the Empire and telling all the aliens to leave. They don’t seem to want to go. They start beating their glasses on the tables. Bea gives in for “one more round on the house.” Life goes on! Well… not really. As the band kicks up, Bea starts singing a goodbye song to a slowed version of the Cantina theme. She hugs and dances with the aliens. Where’s those lovable Imperials imposing their curfew now that we need it? At least it gets the aliens out and ends this travesty.

SUMO TIME!

Back in Wookieville, the Imperial troops get a call that finally gets them off their butts and out of there — all except one measly Stormtrooper. Yeah, like that’s an imposing threat. I think we find out that Lumpy’s the one who sent the message, as the Stormtrooper marches into his room. The meanie takes Lumpy’s machine and trashes it, as Lumpy runs away bleating like a wounded lamb. The Stormtrooper runs out to encounter… could it be? Yes! CHEWIE! Chewie does a dumb distraction thing while Han gets the drop on the Stormtrooper (all three of whom have weapons, but since that would require special effects, none fire squat. The ‘trooper is faked out and falls through the flimsiest wooden railing on Kashyyyk to his demise. We’ll miss you pal — you were mean to Lumpy for us!

What can we say? Han LOVES the hugs!

Han starts which will become a long string of Wookie hugs and fondling, as he takes all of Lumpy into his arms and caresses him. Uh, wouldn’t that be the deadbeat dad’s job? Han goes inside and hugs both Malla and Itchy (Have you hugged your Itchy today?). He then gives Lumpy another hug and gets mushy about leaving the family (“his” family, as Han puts it) to go watch the Falcon. Then, before Harrison Ford can escape his destiny, he gives Chewie a big ol’ hug as well. For someone this huggy, Han sure was in a rush to leave. So now we’re left with only Wookies again, un-subtitled growls, Chewie doing something to the wife he hasn’t seen in forever, and general good feelings about. Ah, Life Day.

But lo, in the fields there sat some shepherds, keeping their flocks safe by night. And lo, did Art Carney return, because there’s no freaking way we’re going to sit through more growling here for the next 20 minutes. Imperial TV Guy comes back on calling for the dead Stormtrooper, but Art fakes him out with some pretty bald-faced lies. Art leaves the family with a hearty “May the Force be wit’cha.”

Life Day. Because we weren't big enough nerds before this.

Now we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel in both running time and general production values. The silly Life Day ceremony begins, which is celebrated by all the Wookiees putting on red robes and walking through the stars into a radioactive sun. SERIOUSLY. The music doesn’t find this ridiculous at all.

A Fruit of the Loom commercial proudly advertises the great sale of their tighty whitey briefs for only $1.30! That’s for me!

We come back for more Life Day drek. R2 and Threepio are there with the Wookies, wishing that they could be more than just machines (?). Han and Luke and Leia show up… why? From where? Where are they now? Why must this concentrated form of insanity be bottled up in this format? Questions that will never be answered.

“No matter how different we may appear,” says a falsely cheery Carrie Fisher, “We are ALL the SAME in our struggle against evil… blah blah… life is awesome… blah blah… powers of darkness… blah blah… gold bikini…” I don’t need to tell you that there’s a heap of fondling going on during this, do I?

This... this song could DESTROY you.

Here we come to the big payoff — no, not Boba Fett, or some Bantha decapitation, but PRINCESS LEIA SINGING. I don’t like to use all caps for that many words in a row, except to try to express my true horror at this event. Carrie Fisher launches into a truly laughable ballad that uses the general theme to Star Wars in the background: “A day that takes us through the darkness / A day that leads us into life / A day that leads us to celebrate / A lifeeeee! / To live! / To laugh! / To dream! / To grow! / To know!”

As she sings and we writhe in mortal agony, the camera pans around to the various people standing in their own personal purgatories. It’s. Really. Bad. It’s been recorded that Fisher, at an interview in the 80’s, denies remembering being in this show. If you like, you may suggest cocaine involvement. I’m sure no one will stop you.

With nothing much else left, the show stirs up the Award Ceremony theme, and clips from the movie flash by. Life Day: It needs sprucing up. There’s also a commercial for Star Wars toys after, which is a heaping of nostalgia for clunky plastic parts.

Oh wait, there’s more? Yup. Chewie sits down with his family for dinner and they bow to pray to Jesus, who also celebrates Life Day. Chewie thanks himself that he only has to see his inept family once a year. And then… CREDITS! Yes!

So what have we learned from this disaster? I came away with these:

  1. Han has a “thing” for Wookiees, and I don’t want to know any more than that.
  2. 2. If Boba Fett calls you “friend” a hundred times in a row, he’s probably going to double-cross ya.
  3. Carrie Fisher should never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever sing anywhere again.
  4. Wookiees really aren’t so hot. I kind of root for the Empire enslaving them now.
  5. The Empire isn’t full of just evil people, but also petty crooks and toy-destroyers.
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3 Comments

  1. GREAT SCOTT! FUTURAMA GOT ELZAR FROM THIS MOVIE!

    Well, I think Hell has frozen over. We actually found something good that came out of the Star Wars Holiday Special!

    I saw this horrifying event when it aired in 1978. I was 13 at the time. I had seen Star Wars seven times and I was looking forward to yet another fix, this time on the small screen. I sat through the whole thing. It was like watching a slow motion car crash for two hours. I was perplexed and stunned and horrified by its badness. How could anything with the mighty name of Star Wars, with the real actors and real music and everything, reach such inconceivable depths?

    Having mentioned Hell above, I can’t help wondering if this production is evidence that Lucas had made an unholy deal, only to be shafted by the Evil One. We all know such deals always go bad. I wonder….

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