TV Review: Star Wars Holiday Special

In 1978, Star Wars fans had little content beyond the film to immerse themselves. There was the movie novelization ghost written by Alan Dean Foster, who also wrote the first original novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which would have been the sequel instead of Empire Strikes Back if Star Wars hadn’t performed so well. Marvel Comics published original stories after their six-issue adaptation of the film. And then there was the Star Wars Holiday Special, an infamous TV special that reunited the film’s cast and introduced Boba Fett (in animated form) as well as Chewbacca’s family, including his son Lumpy, which reveals how limited the writers’ imaginations were.

The special opens with Han (Harrison Ford) and Chewie (Peter Mayhew) pursued by Imperial forces as they head to Chewie’s homeworld so he can celebrate the Wookie holiday, Life Day. Too much time is spent with Lumpy playing with a toy that looks like the chessboard in the Millennium Falcon, but this one has dancers and jugglers performing way too long, even though Lumpy enjoys it.

Chewie’s wife Malla calls Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill in a bad, blonde wig and a lot of make-up) and R2-D2 looking for her overdue mate. They then contact Trading Post Wookie Planet C (the writers again really stretching their creativity coming up with that one) run by Saun Dann (Art Carney), an ally. He brings them Life Day gifts, including a weird fantasy video program for Itchy starring Diahann Carroll. She sings a song, which doesn’t seem like much of a fantasy.

Imperial guards search Chewie’s home. Saun shows a guard the present he got for Malla. Turning it on, Carney gets to do some old Ed Norton mannerisms then the device presents Jefferson Starship playing “Light the Sky on Fire.” To keep Lumpy controlled during the search, he watches a Star Wars cartoon about an adventure when his father, Han, Luke, and the droids (and audiences) first meet Boba Fett. But did this story actually happen to the characters or did the in-universe animators make it up?

The Imperial forces are ordered to watch a video about Tantooine. In it, Ackmena (Bea Arthur) runs the Mos Eisley cantina. Krelma (Harvey Korman in his third role) woos her but she’s disinterested. She sings “Good Night, But Not Goodbye” set to the Cantina Band theme when it’s closing time.

Once home, Chewbacca and his family hold lighted globes and don red robes. They, with other Wookies, travel across the stars to a planet. Somehow so did the droids, Luke, Han, and Leia, the latter sings a Life Day song set to “Star Wars (Main Title)”.

People talk about how bad this special, but not until one watches it can they truly comprehend what an utter mess it is. A documentary about its making should be interesting because it’s hard to fathom how a TV production could be this poorly made. Sure, there have been other terrible programs before and since, but how could something spun off from one of the greatest hits at the box office be followed up by this utter mess.

It’s hard to imagine the producers and writers, and I obviously have a better imagination then they, knew much about Star Wars or variety specials, but what did Star Wars Consultant Miki Herman do to earn that job title? Did the writers work together or were sketches created independently and then edited together because they are only loosely connected. Did we need a sketch of Korman posing as an alien host of a cooking show? In fact, all his sketches could have been cut and nothing of main story would have been lost.

They did get some big TV stars for 1978. How did they sell them to appear? Couldn’t have been the script, presuming they had a completed one when they signed up. Was it big paychecks or was an association with the Star Wars brand already that coveted? This TV special will leave the viewer puzzled and filled with questions.

Only recommended to Star Wars completists who are gluttons for punishment or those who are planning to watch with friends under intoxicated circumstances.

And here are reactions from other Sentries:

Steve Geise: The Holiday Special was actually my first exposure to Star Wars, because my mom would only take me to G-rated movies up until Empire came out. That primetime network taste of forbidden fruit was made all the more memorable because it coincided with the only time I was ever hospitalized (for a severe asthma attack). I remember wheezing in my hospital bed thinking it was pretty cool to see the Star Wars actors on TV, but didn’t understand what all the lame variety show hacks were doing in a galaxy far, far away. Was I just hallucinating the whole thing because of my oxygen-starved brain? Did it really happen? I mostly remember Lumpy for some reason, I guess since he seemed close to my age and wasn’t saddled with the back story of the movie characters. I’ve never felt the need to revisit this galactic train wreck, possibly because I’d prefer to forget everything about being hospitalized.

Buy A Disturbance in the Force

Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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