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Film / The Star Wars Holiday Special

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It was a really dark time for the Rebellion.

Maxim magazine: Any plans for a Special Edition of the Holiday Special?
George Lucas: [hangs head] Right. That's one of those things that happened, and I just have to live with it.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is a two-hour Star Wars Legends TV "special" that was broadcast on CBS on November 17, 1978. Hugely anticipated, it was so poorly received that it has never been re-aired. Lucasfilm has spent the next four decades doing their best to pretend it never happened.

The main storyline, set in 0 ABY (shortly after the original Star Wars film, A New Hope), 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 could understand in the movies? The first 10-15 minutes is conducted entirely in those, with no subtitles whatsoever. The first actual English we hear after a while comes from a brief transmission from Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill under a bunch of creepy Ken doll makeup note .


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 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 - despite the fact that this is all going on a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away:

  • A musical number by rock band Jefferson Starship shows up during the agents' search.
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  • Ackmena (played by Bea Arthur) performs a musical segment from the Mos Eisley Cantina as the Empire closes it down for... some reason.
  • 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 Lucas' best efforts to disregard the Holiday Special's existence, this segment is among the the bonus features on the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray boxset, The Empire Strikes Back Ultimate Collector's Edition UHD set and was eventually released on Disney+)
  • 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, which might have turned out better.
  • Malla watches a cooking show starring a multi-armed and crossdressing Korman.
  • And if you happen to have a version with the original ads intact, enjoy a visit into a lost world of union-made underwear, fake-wood-paneled Mercury station wagons, and "Emily" as a stereotypical old-lady name instead of a stereotypical millennial one.

It all ends with Han and Chewie making it home and defeating the stormtroopers. After that, the Wookiees all don cult robes and hold glowing orbs as they walk into space and end up at the Tree of Life, where Princess Leia sings a song and it's obvious that Carrie Fisher (who was high on cocaine when filming this) and Harrison Ford (who was likely sober) couldn't give a fuck about any of this.

The Holiday Special is important, at least to serious fans, for being the first film-length Star Wars story after the release of A New Hope, as well as showing an expanded look at parts of the established universe. The program is considered Legends canon with regards to Chewie's family, including the celebration of Life Day. We also get some vague insight into the Imperial occupation of Kashyyyk (not mentioned in the films, but important to Legends) plus a few other locales, such as a water planet known as Panna. It's also the first time the main characters 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 was likewise considered canon (it was animated by world-respected Nelvana Studios, who went on to handle the later spinoff shows Droids and Ewoks). 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 - you won't find any devoted Star Wars fanboys defending this one. Even the director note  won't defend it. Carrie Fisher even openly held a copy that she used simply as a tool to scare off house guests who had overstayed their welcome. 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. What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History lists this special as the all-time #1 worst moment, and it's become something of a de facto benchmark for how bad a made-for-TV movie can become. 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 has a three-page synopsis with accompanying animated GIFs of scenes here. Watching it with the RiffTrax commentary helps ease the pain as well, It was also reviewed by The Nostalgia Critic, as seen here, as well as Chris Stuckmann here, and also discussed in length by RedLetterMedia here, by The Cinema Snob here, and by JonTron here. If you're fluent in French, you can also watch the Joueur du Grenier's review here.

Finding copies on a legal basis is downright impossible, as Lucas will ensure it won't be released on home video as long as he lives... though he apparently looks the other way when it shows up on certain video sites. The special is regularly brought up each December on WrestleCrap, reviewed by a fellow Troper here. Watch at your own risk here. Got the Rifftrax treatment in 2007, with the team working off a taped airing in 1978 - with the commercials intact.

To the shock of many, Life Day was brought into the post-Disney buyout Star Wars canon via a brief mention in the first episode of The Mandalorian in November 2019. The animated segment "The Faithful Wookiee" did receive an official release as an Easter Egg on The Complete Saga Blu-Rays, and was also made available on Disney+ in April 2021.

Then in 2020, Disney took it one step further by announcing an all new Holiday Special... in animated form. That special, The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, set after the events of the Sequel Trilogy and featuring a much more coherent (and explicitly non-canon) plot involving Rey time-traveling throughout the events of the movies, would premiere on Disney+ on November 17 of that year, in time for the 42nd anniversary of the original special.

The Star Wars Holiday Special has examples of:

  • The '70s: A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... the denizens are dressing in pure 1970s fashion.
  • Actor Allusion: Art Carney's excessive noodling with a device in exactly the same way Ed Norton did in The Honeymooners, complete with an Imperial Guard yelling "Will you just get on with it?!" in the same way as Ralph Kramden.
    Kevin Murphy: It's just not the same without a fat man threatening violence.
  • As You Know: Darth Vader's sole appearance basically serves as exposition explaining why the Empire is chasing Han and Chewie, as if it isn't blatantly clear to anyone with even cursory knowledge of Star Wars.
  • Bar Full of Aliens: The Mos Eisley Cantina, and we get to know the owner, too.
  • Breather Episode: Could charitably be called this note , as it came between the epic Episode IV note  and the Darker and Edgier Episode V note , with this one being mostly Chewie's family preparing for the Life Day holiday and treating the Empire as if it were essentially an invasion of ants... ants who are heavily armed and could kill the entirety of Chewie's family if they looked at them funny, but still...
  • 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. (Though see Canon Discontinuity below for what Disney did with it.)
  • Broken Record: "Stir whip stir whip whip whip stir." Repeat ad nauseam.
  • The Cameo: Darth Vader appears for one scene in the opening, via a redubbed Deleted Scene from A New Hope. James Earl Jones also voices him for one line in the Boba Fett cartoon.
  • 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 special no longer counts to any degree. In spite of this, Malla and the rest of his family (though not explicitly named beyond the former) are referenced in later canon works meaning that they are still Chewbacca's family, and while concepts and ideas are free for use, it's pretty unlikely to go beyond a few basics.
    • As of 2015, the cartoon segment was explicitly decanonized: In the Marvel Star Wars comic, we get to see Luke and Boba Fett meet, and there's no way it could be described as friendly.
    • Life Day is still part of the Disney Canon, since it gets briefly mentioned in the first Episode of The Mandalorian, with Mando's weapon similar to Boba Fett's weapon in the "Animated" sequence.
  • Canon Immigrant:
    • Yes, that's 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": "Malla" was lengthened to "Mallatobuck", "Itchy" is short for "Attichitcuk", and "Lumpy" is short for "Lumpawarrump". Not that it helps.
      • The EU also had Lumpy changing from Lumpawarrump to Lumpawaroo (part of a Wookiee coming-of-age tradition), specifically so he could change his nickname to Waroo. Lucasfilm had an employee who literally got paid to retcon this stuff seamlessly, but he couldn't save that.
    • Ackmena has been used in some Star Wars books, such as helping to free slaves in Allies. The Disney continuity expands her personality a bit: apparently she has a wife and is a somewhat harsh "landlady" for Kabe and Muftak (they live in tunnels under the cantina).
    • 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, as well as Saun Dann, made frequent appearances in Star Wars: Galaxies and Star Wars: The Old Republic.
    • Boba Fett's Amban Phase-pulse Blaster was incorporated into The Mandalorian as the titular character's main armament. The first episode also name-drops Life Day when a character is discussing plans to go visit his family for the holidays.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Lumpy watches a cartoon about his father, Chewbacca. The guys at RiffTrax ponder if Chewie will contact a cartoon Lumpy.
  • Character as Himself: Though the opening cast call names Chewbacca and C-3PO's actors, R2-D2 is credited as playing himself. However, the reason Baker wasn't credited was that he wasn't involved. Since R2-D2 wasn't scripted to move, no actor was needed.
  • 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.
  • Cool Old Lady: Ackmena. There's a reason her segment is considered one of the few high points in the special.
  • Covers Always Lie: That poster up there gives the impression that this is going to be an action-packed thrill ride, when the actual special obviously a different story. Perhaps the most glaring of inaccuracies is the continued presence of the Death Star, despite, you know, it being blown up at the end of A New Hope.
  • Crossdresser: Harvey Korman while hosting a cooking show.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Luke is the only character who trusts Boba despite this.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ackmena, 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 then-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.
    Mike Nelson: What, is he getting ready for a Kabuki play? What's with all the makeup?
  • Dull Surprise: During Leia's song in the final segment, there is a very brief dissolve to Ford's face, when he may not have been aware that he was on-camera. His expression is a mix of bored-to-tears, embarrassed, and defeated. It's quite clearly the precise pinpointed moment where he stopped even pretending to care about the special... not that he was exactly displaying a passionate performance earlier, but here he seems to just give up entirely.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Boba Fett.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Due to being made early in the franchise's history before many ideas and characterizations were set in stone, there's quite a bit. The most striking is Boba Fett acting like a cackling Dastardly Whiplash rather than the stoic Noble Demon he's famous for being.
  • Epic Fail: A Stormtrooper fighting Han Solo ends up tripping on his own blaster and falling off a balcony to his own death.
  • 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) strong-arming 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.
    Mike Nelson: 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 the Disney takeover considered canon, despite the huge section of the fandom that wished otherwise. And as of The Mandalorian, Life Day is now canon again, and apparently is celebrated by more beings than just the Wookiees.
  • Flashback... Back... Back...: Chewbacca at the end. RiffTrax notes that none of his memories are relevant to his family.
  • Foreshadowing: In the "Animated" Segment, Boba Fett's attitude toward what he calls "lower life forms" foreshadows that he is not on the up and up, as he tells Luke he is.
  • 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.
  • Gonk: Chewie's dad Itchy is just weird-looking, even by the standards of this special. In contrast to every other Wookiee seen before or since, he has a prominent underbite, an extra-wide (and omnipresent) frown, and a snub-nosed, pug-like face that makes him look more like an excessively hairy toad than a regular Wookiee. It gets even more unpleasant when he starts masturbating to VR porn in the middle of the living room.
  • 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.
  • Interspecies Romance: Krelman's interest in Ackmena, Itchy's "interest" in Mermeia, and one brief moment where Luke unintentionally appears to be flirting with Malla as he tries to get her to smile.
  • It's Pronounced "Tro-PAY": For some reason, the Imperial Guard calls Kashyyyk "Kazook". RiffTrax doesn't fail to notice this.
  • Jerkass: The Stormtroopers and Imperial officers here are unusually vicious and mean-spirited. Highlights include threatening to shoot people for being annoying, strong-arming shop owners for grooming products, closing a random bar for no reason, and tearing up a kid's room for shits and giggles.
  • Kick the Dog: The Imperial trooper ripping Lumpy's stuffed Bantha's head off.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Carrie Fisher went on record several times saying that she had 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, and may in fact be either lying or deliberately repressing the experience. When he claimed to have no memory of it on Conan O'Brien's show, Conan mentioned he had a clip of the special present in the studio to play. Ford, in an entirely uncharacteristic burst of expression, tried to strangle Conan, but ultimately had to endure the clip. He could barely bring himself to utter a "thank you" at the end.
    • In her book Wishful Drinking, 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.
  • 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 grandiose 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 softcore porn tape featuring Diahann Carroll (while his daughter-in-law and grandson are in the room). And if his grotesque gyrating jaw is any indication, he's actively enjoying it. Brain Bleach!
  • Not Now, Kiddo: When Luke receives a video call from Malla and Itchy, he repeatedly brushes off R2 trying to tell him that the engine they've been working on is giving off smoke.
  • 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 humans, which was standard for the animation team that would become Nelvana (Rock & Rule). Han in particular looks like somebody smashed him in the face with a shovel.
    Bill Corbett: 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. The cockpit of the Millennium Falcon would do Ed Wood proud as well.
  • Overly Long Gag:
    • "Stir, whip, stir, whip, whip, whip, stir! Stir, whip, stir, whip..."
  • "Having fun, having fun" she reminds us.
  • 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.
  • Poke the Poodle: Apparently, when it's not busy waging wars or blowing up entire planets, the evil Empire uses its time to shut down bars and break little kids' toys.
  • Police State: Kashyyyk is ruled by the Empire as one, which is why every home has a two-way viewscreen. 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 English-speaking character to react to them.
    • Kudos to the actors in the Wookiee costumes, though - you can mostly follow the conversation by their body language, though hitting the mute button helps.
  • Recycled INSPACE: 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 Saun Dann starts getting annoying, a Stormtrooper shuts him up by pointing a gun straight in his face. Possibly the only intentional laughs to be had.
  • Saloon Owner: Bea Arthur, in what is generally considered one of the few remotely redeeming live-action scenes of the special.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: Jefferson Starship appears at one point for an impromptu musical number. Like many things in the special, it drags on a lot longer than necessary.
  • 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; the Imperial inspector watches the Jefferson Starship video; Lumpy watches his cartoon, a weird Cirque de Soleil-esque dance performance, and an instructional video; Itchy watches porn; and everyone watches Bea Arthur try to clear out the cantina.
  • Sixth Ranger Traitor: In the animated segment, Boba Fett betrays Luke as they rescue Han.
  • Space Clothes: 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 film. 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.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Chewie's wife Malla is basically identical to him except for having slightly less hair on her snout and wearing what appears to be mascara.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Exhibited by a post-accident 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 (and possibly on painkillers), 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 from a recent motorcycle accident, 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 Saun Dann 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, Malla contacts Saun Dann with a device that doubles as a television, which Saun refers to as a "wall screen".
  • Villains Out Shopping: Hilariously enough, the Jefferson Starship music video is triggered by... one of the Imperial troopers just sitting down and watching it, and looking like he's having a blast. (At least there's one person enjoying this special.)
  • Wilhelm Scream: The Stormtrooper who falls over the railing. At least the special keeps one proper Star Wars tradition.
  • 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. It's actually a really nice place from what we see of it. Makes it even more inexplicable that the Empire randomly decides to shut it down. (On the other hand, it's noted to be part of a television show, so maybe the Empire closing things down was just a common plot point in in-universe fiction.)
  • You Mean "Xmas": Life Day. Although the special aired in mid-November, so it could also be Thanksgiving.
    • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Star Wars Holiday Special


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