It was a really dark time for the Rebellion.
"If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that special and smash it."
If you're George Lucas
, stop reading this immediately
.The Star Wars Holiday Special
was a two-hour CBS
special set in the Star Wars
galaxy that was broadcast on November 17, 1978. Hugely anticipated, it was so poorly received that it has never been re-aired. Lucasfilm has spent the intervening years doing their best to pretend it never happened.
The main storyline of the film, set in 0 ABY (shortly after the original film
), takes place on the Wookiee home planet of "Kazook" note
. Besides cameos from Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and Luke that appear to have been wrung out of the actors at gunpoint, the special introduces three members of Chewie's family: his father Itchy
, his wife Malla
, and his son Lumpy
(played by Patty Maloney
Want to know more about the rich planetary culture of these proud creatures, starting with why they're mostly named after embarrassing incidents at the frat house? Too bad, they all speak only Shyriiwook
. You know, the whining, moaning, growling, and barking that only Han Solo could understand in the movies? The first 10-15 minutes of the special is conducted entirely in those, with no subtitles whatsoever.
The basic idea linking the segments together is that Chewie is trying to get home for the big Wookiee holiday, Life Day
. During the course of the film, we get updates from the Millennium Falcon
as a seriously-bored Harrison Ford
and Peter Mayhew race for "Kazook" space. The catch is that they may not make it in time as they're being pursued by agents of the Galactic Empire, who are also searching the planet for Rebel agents. A couple of agents
show up to search Chewie's house, leading to about 10 whole seconds of actual suspense. And a random act of violence against a stuffed animal.
For the rest of the running time, we're given insight into the proud rich Wookiee tradition of watching 1970s-style Earth TV:
- A musical number by rock band Jefferson Starship shows up during the agents' search.
- Ackmena (played by Bea Arthur) does a musical segment from her cantina on Tatooine — Mos Eisley Cantina!
- Itchy gets off on what can only be described as a VR porn disc starring Diahann Carroll. Provided to him by Saun Dann, a trader played by Art Carney!
- Lumpy watches a cartoon, which is actually not too bad. (Despite George Lucas' best efforts to disregard the Holiday Special's existence, this cartoon became included among the bonus features of the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-Ray.)
- Lumpy watches the instruction disc for assembling a transmitter. Every step, from start to finish, is read by a robot-impersonating Harvey Korman. Not a robot impersonating Harvey Korman, mind you, although that might have turned out better.
- Malla watches a cooking show starring a multi-armed and crossdressing Harvey Korman.
The Holiday Special is important
, at least to serious fans, for being the first film-length Star Wars
story after the release of Episode IV
, as well as showing an expanded look at parts of the established universe. The program is considered canon
with regards to Chewie's family, including the celebration of Life Day. We also get some vague insight into the Blockade of Kashyyyk (not mentioned in the films, but important to the Expanded Universe
) plus a few other locales, such as a water planet known as Panna
. It's also the first time that the main characters get to visit Kashyyyk, though this is later disregarded when Leia goes there during The Thrawn Trilogy
and acts like it's her first time seeing it note
The animated segment, which officially introduces bounty hunter Boba Fett — and thus served as a mini-preview for The Empire Strikes Back
— was at least decent, and is likewise considered canon (it was animated by world-respected Nelvana
Studios, who went on to handle the kiddie series Droids
, as well as The Devil And Daniel Mouse
which was also released in 1978, and their biggest project, Rock & Rule
.). This fact alone has stayed the hand of many a would-be tape burner. The music is likewise okay, thanks to John Williams
. The special is also notable for being one of the first efforts by young makeup artist Stan Winston
, who later skyrocketed to fame by creating The Terminator
and the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park
For the most part, though, it's legendary for its badness. The entire vast, complicated Star Wars
mythos is reduced to a typical 1970s variety show — rock-bottom production values, groan-worthy "humor", and then-hot celebrities
. Besides everything else, it's pretty disturbing seeing Itchy going gaga over Carroll in what's clearly supposed to be a kiddie funfest.
And although not exactly related, the commercials
that aired during the special (and preserved on some bootlegs) are also absolutely hilarious in an unintentional way
If you care to, the best way to watch The Star Wars Holiday Special
is with several Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters
or your local planetary equivalent. If you would first like to have an idea of what you're getting into in relative comfort, I-Mockery.com has a three-page synopsis with accompanying animated GIFs of scenes here.
Watching it with the Rifftrax commentary
helps ease the pain as well, although it requires a certain video version found on the Internet. (Or it did: As of Nov. 2013, it's available from Rifftrax as a full Video On Demand download.) It was also reviewed by The Nostalgia Critic
, as seen here
and discussed in length by Red Letter Media here
Finding copies of the special on a legal basis is downright impossible, as George Lucas will ensure it won't be released on DVD as long as he lives... however, he apparently looks the other way when it shows up on certain video sites. The special is regularly brought up during the month of December on WrestleCrap
, reviewed by a fellow Troper here.
The book What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History
lists this at #1, as if you needed any more warning.
Watch at your own risk here.
The Star Wars Holiday Special has examples of:
- Broad Strokes: While George Lucas is doing his best to make sure nobody knows it was made, many elements are accepted in canon... with the understanding that they happened during something that wasn't a crappy variety show.
- Camp: And not the good kind, sadly, managing to scrape together the absolute worst of the variety show format and none of the good elements.
- Canon Discontinuity: Thanks to what's considered canon in the new Star Wars universe under Disney, this movie no longer counts.
- Canon Immigrant:
- Yes, that's still really Chewbacca's family. This said, the old official canon sources — trying desperately to put a positive spin on things — turn the names given here into nicknames along the same lines as "Chewie": "Itchy" is short for "Attichitcuk", and "Lumpy" is short for "Lumpawarrump". Not that it helps.
- The EU also has Lumpy changing his nickname to Waroo. Lucasfilm has an employee who literally gets paid to retcon this stuff seamlessly, but he couldn't save that.
- Bea Arthur's character has actually been used in some Star Wars books, helping to free slaves in Allies.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, the Wookiee homes are faithful to Holiday Special, albeit Darker and Edgier.
- None other than Boba Fett himself, appearing in animated form two years before showing up in Empire.
- Life Day itself, not to mention Saun Dann, made frequent appearances in Star Wars: Galaxies.
- Cantina Owner: Bea Arthur, in what is generally considered one of the few remotely redeeming live-action scenes of the entire two-hour monstrosity.
- Celebrity Paradox: Lumpy watches a cartoon about his father, Chewbacca. The guys at RiffTrax ponder if Chewie will contact a cartoon Lumpy.
- Christmas Special: Technically considered a Christmas special, though the word "Christmas" isn't used in the title and the show focuses around a fictional holiday instead. It actually aired before Thanksgiving.
- Coke-Guided Amnesia: Carrie Fisher has gone on record several times saying that she has absolutely no memory of ever taking part in this special. Harrison Ford claims the same thing, although he doesn't have a known substance-abuse problem as an excuse. note
- In her book Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher admits to having had electroshock therapy in the past, which has affected her memory, so that could also be a factor... and a bit closer to Laser-Guided Amnesia than just drugs.
- Cool Old Lady: Ackmena. There's a reason her segment is considered the high point in the film.
- Crossdresser: Harvey Korman.
- Dastardly Whiplash: Luke is the only character who trusts Boba despite this. What an Idiot.
- Deadpan Snarker: Bea Arthur, alone of the cast. Which is saying something when Han Solo is also around.
- Dirty Old Man: Fans might think that Itchy was one for watching the Mind Evaporator sequence (and as some fans note, with his family), but that Mind Evaporator thing originally belonged to Saun Dann, making him definitely this. Production materials for the sequence in the special even explicitly list him as being a "Dirty Old Man".
- Dude Looks Like a Lady: An extremely unfortunate side effect of the makeup job used to conceal Mark Hamill's scars from his recent car accident. Did they really need to get mascara involved? (In canon, the scars would be explained by the Wampa attack in The Empire Strikes Back, but that doesn't happen until after this special.)
What, is he getting ready for a Kabuki play? What's with all the makeup?
- Same could be said for the Wookiee family, as it was hard to tell that Malla was a woman.
- Early-Bird Cameo: Boba Fett.
- Everybody Laughs Ending: The animated segment.
- Evil Is Petty: The Empire has nothing better to do than shutting a bar down. Riiiiiiight...
- It was a planet-wide curfew on Tattooine due to "Rebel activity". However, ripping the head off a toy bantha was petty.
- As was Lord Helmet (the Imperial guard dressed just like the Spaceballs character) strongarming a groomer away from Saun Dann.
- Exact Words: Lord Helmet to Saun Dann (about the groomer) "I'll take it." "And how will you pay?" "I said, 'I'll take it.'"
- Felony Misdemeanor: The Stormtroopers ransacking Lumpy's room.
Which of these phrases doesn't belong? "Luke, I Am Your Father
!", "Let the hate flow through you!", "Go clean up your room!"
- Fictional Holiday: The Wookiees' Life Day. Which was until recently considered canon, despite the huge section of the fandom that wished otherwise.
- Flashback... Back... Back...: Chewbacca at the end. RiffTrax notes that none of his memories are relevant to his family.
- For the Evulz: While searching the house for Chewie, the Stormtroopers make sure to go out of their way to completely trash Lumpy's room for no reason other than to be dicks.
- Also, the only possible reason they close Bea Arthur's cantina.
- The executives when they mandated the script rewrite.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The whole Mermeia sequence is basically the space-age version of a Rated-X porn video, on a special that was supposed to be family friendly. Apparently, it was intended to be more explicitly a porn tape, but the CBS censors said no.
- Informed Ability: Darth Vader tells Boba Fett he's "the best bounty hunter in the galaxy", but he does nothing in the short to merit such praise, and if Luke hadn't been Too Dumb to Live he'd have noticed Boba's Dastardly Whiplash behavior.
- It's Pronounced Tro-PAY: For some reason, the Imperial Guard calls Kashyyyk "Kazook". RiffTrax doesn't fail to notice this.
- Kick the Dog: The Imperial trooper ripping Lumpy's stuffed bantha's head off.
- Lighter and Softer: It still has the lighthearted elements and bits of goofy humor present in the original film, but played up far, far more, and with then-contemporary sitcom humor sandwiched in. The special has no pretense of a grandoise epic storyline, and the darker elements of the original film are downplayed.
- Mars Needs Women: There's a very, very, very disturbing sequence where grandpa Itchy watches what is essentially a holographic soft-core porn tape featuring Diahann Carroll. And if his grotesque gyrating jaw is any indication, he's enjoying it. Brain Bleach please!
- Notable Original Music: Diahann Carroll, Jefferson Starship, Bea Arthur, and Carrie Fisher singing while high!
- Obviously Evil: Boba Fett. He's constantly one step away from breaking out into evil laughter, and yet Luke just blindly trusts him.
- Off Model: The character designs in the animated segment are all over the place, especially for the human characters. Han in particular looks like somebody smashed him in the face with a shovel.
Han! All the blood ran to your chin
- Off-the-Shelf FX: For taking place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a lot of the tech in the Wookiees' family home looks extremely familiar...
- Overly Long Gag:
- "Stir, whip, stir, whip, whip, whip, stir! Stir, whip, stir, whip..."
- Lumpy assembling a transmitter with the aid of an instructional video, which we see in its entirety. The "joke" is that Korman, as an Amorphiian showing how to assemble the thing, gradually "shuts down" and collapses at its conclusion. Doesn't help.
- Police State: Kashyyyk is ruled by the Empire as one, which is why every home has a two-way view screen. The Wookiees have learned to subvert the tech to their own needs, and have their own hidden screens.
- Porn Stache: "Lord Helmet" sports one.◊
- Railing Kill: A Stormtrooper goes through the rail of the Wookiee treehouse — complete with the Wilhelm Scream, no less! Appropriate, given that the show's choreographer was none other than David "Space Mutiny" Winters.
- Ransacked Room: Lumpy's room after the Stormtroopers "search" it.
- Reality Has No Subtitles: The first chunk of the special is a family of Wookiees speaking to each other without subtitles nor with an outside English-speaking character to react to them.
- Kudos to the actors in the Wookie costumes; if you turn off the sound, you can mostly follow the conversation by their body language.
- Recycled IN SPACE!: The segment with Bea Arthur in the cantina is Casablanca ON TATOOINE!
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Dear God, yes. Especially in the cantina.
- Running Gag: Every time Art Carney's character starts getting annoying, a Stormtrooper shuts him up by pointing a gun straight in his face. Possibly the only intentional laugh to be had.
- Sesame Street Cred: Jefferson Starship.
- The Seventies: A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... the denizens are dressing in pure 1970s fashion.
- Show Within a Show: We see the cartoon because Lumpy's watching it. Now, why or how there would be cartoons about Rebels that depict the Empire as the bad guys, and evidently also depict actual and recent events... ah, screw it — that's probably the least nonsensical thing in the special. That aside, characters watching TV or what have you makes up the meat of the special. Malla watches her cooking show; Itchy watches Diahann Carroll go mad; the Imperial inspector watches the Jefferson Starship video; Lumpy watches his cartoon, a weird Cirque de Soleil-esque dance performance, and an instructional video; and everyone watches Bea Arthur try to clear out the cantina.
- Sixth Ranger Traitor: Boba Fett. Go figure.
- Space Clothes: Harvey Korman's are particularly notable... and terrifying.
- Stalker with a Crush: Krelman, sort of, in the cantina scene. He backs off when he realizes Ackmena has no romantic interest in him, but reappears when he realizes that she, too, is lonely.
- Stock Footage: All of the space battles are lifted straight from the first movie. Darth Vader's whole appearance in the special is a brief Deleted Scene from A New Hope with his one line of dialogue redubbed. This, along with the different context, "cleverly" changes it so that he and an Imperial officer are talking about locating Han and Chewbacca rather than C-3PO and R2-D2. Also, said officer died on the Death Star, resulting in this. What's even more hilarious is how not-Bast's vocals don't match up with his lip movements.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: Mark Hamill, during the scene where Luke communicates with Malla over the TV screens. While he blinks several times, the way he gazes directly into the camera, wearing heavy makeup and mascara, gives him the illusion of being a stoned model.
- Too Dumb to Live: The Stormtroopers are pretty stupid here, even by Stormtrooper standards. Particularly egregious is when Han tricks a Stormtrooper into jumping over a balcony to his death by simply pretending to reach for a gun.
- Uncanny Valley Makeup: Hamill's makeup, which as noted was supposed to cover up scars, ends up making him look more like a corpse prepared for the wake.
- The Unintelligible: The script has translations for everything the Wookiees said. Seriously, would it really have blown the budget to provide subtitles for them?
- Unusual Euphemism: The VR machine described by Art Carney as "Wow!" turns out to be a porn video.
- Verbal Tic: In the animated segment, Boba Fett has the odd habit of ending most of his sentences with "friend".
- Video Phone: Chewbacca's family uses one of these hidden in some kind of dresser to contact the other characters associated with the Rebel Alliance Luke and R2-D2, Leia and C-3PO, etc. — to ask about Chewie and Han Solo's whereabouts. In a separate instance, Chewie's wife, Malla, contacts Saun Dann with a device that doubles as a television, which Saun Dann refers to as a "wall screen".
- Wilhelm Scream: The Stormtrooper who falls over the railing.
- With Lyrics:
- Leia's Life Day carol, sung by a visibly strung-out Carrie Fisher over the closing credits, is the main Star Wars theme with a bunch of words shoehorned in.
- The song Bea Arthur sings is a slowed-down version of the song played by Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes, with lyrics.
- Wretched Hive: One of the weirdest cases in which the Trope Namer is averted! No scum. No villainy. Only Bea and Harvey.
- One could easily imagine the room where this thing was written to be one...
- You Mean Xmas: According to Wookieepedia, even George Lucas has referred to The Star Wars Holiday Special as "the Christmas special", even though (as noted above) it aired in mid-November.