Completely Different Title: The special was called Stjärnornas krig och fred ("Star Wars and Peace") when it aired in Sweden and Au Temps de la guerre des étoiles ("At the Time of the Star War") in France.
Originally, Lucas was to be much more involved in the project - he helped to write the first draft of the script (a standard-issue Star Wars adventure revolving around Life Day) and contributed to the animated Boba Fett segment. Sounds great so far, but then CBS execs decided it had to be a variety show spectacular of the type that was relentlessly inflicted on unsuspecting audiences of the 1970s. Lucas, by this time, had gone off to concentrate on The Empire Strikes Back, and other hands - namely Pat Proft and Bruce freaking Vilanch - rewrote the script to fit the network's wishes.
In spite of this, the one aspect Lucas wrote that remained in the final draft, the special focusing on Chewbacca's family on Kashyyyk, is also the one thing that he stubbornly insisted on from the final writers and director of the special.
A more benign example happened (although it's not beneficial so much as the lesser of two evils) - the entire Mind Evaporator sequence was originally intended to be quite explicitly a porn tape. However, it was toned down in order to meet CBS' censorship standards, although the implications of what the Mind Evaporator actually was are still present.
Friday Night Death Slot: CBS airing a "holiday" special on a Friday night in mid-November suggests that they knew they had a fiasco on their hands and were trying to minimize the damage. Despite heavy anticipation, the show didn't even make the Nielsen top ten for the week.
He Also Did: One of the writers was Pat Proft, who would go on to have a career working with the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker trio.
There are four notable bootleg tapes: the Ohio tape (from WHIO, which has the best quality available so far), the New York tape (from WCBS, the one with "Fighting the frizzies, at 11."), the Baltimore tape (from WMAR, used by RiffTrax), and the Chicago tape (from WBBM, highest quality available at FuzzyMemories.TV). The special was also dubbed into French (from TF1 in France), Latin American Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese (which aired on Rede Record).
The infamy of the show, and the difficulty of obtaining copies prior to YouTube, was alluded to in the video for "Weird Al" Yankovic's "White and Nerdy", in a scene where Al's character buys a copy in an alleyway (in a plain brown wrapper!) in a way that evokes drug smuggling.
No Export for You: Despite the HUGE popularity of Star Wars in Britain, the special has never been shown on UK television. A bullet may have been dodged.
George Lucas allegedly said, "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that special and smash it." He apparently didn't mind the Boba Fett short, though — it was the only part of the special that was remastered and featured as an Easter Egg for the Blu-Ray release of the six films that he oversaw.
Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) claimed in an interview that he still has his copy of the script, but is too embarrassed to even look at it. In a documentary promoting the worldwide tour of Star Wars: In Concert, notes with a laugh that the Star Wars universe includes "The horrible Holiday Special that nobody talks about". In 2019, Daniels referred to the special as a "turd" in his autobiography.
Carrie Fisher owned a copy of the special, which she obtained from Lucas in exchange for doing the DVD commentaries for the original trilogy. She would put it on when she wanted everyone at a party to leave.
Because of its infamy, as well as Lucas actively trying to bury it, the special has never been rebroadcast on television. As of 2020, over 40 years later, it still has not, even as ownership of the franchise has shifted hands from Lucas. RiffTrax has done a bang-up job keeping the Life Day spirit alive, having played the special twelve consecutive times on November 17, 2021 (the 43rd anniversary) through their Twitch channel.
However, it was voted #2 behind A Charlie Brown Christmas for Christmas specials to be exhibited during the holiday season at the Museum of the Moving Image in NYC.
CBS themselves also seem to be ashamed of it - they've never rerun the special since its first airing.
Mark Hamill is aware of how bad the special is, but thinks it's fascinating enough and worth it to release it on home video.
Downplayed with Disney. While the special still has yet to see an official rerelease, the new canon has integrated and poked fun of aspects of it, like Chewbacca's family in Star Wars: Aftermath, and a mention of Life Day and the titular protagonist owning Boba's weapon from the cartoon segment in The Mandalorian. Disney has even announced the release of a LEGO animated parody of the special on Disney+ in 2020. The four armed chef woman played by Harvey Korman is also mentioned in Star Wars: The Life Day Cookbook.
Throw It In: Lev Mailer and Art Carney ad-libbed the scene where his character and Saun Dann were interacting in the trading area. More specifically, they chose to do the scene in a manner similar to the "Bully and Idiot" comedy routine.
The special was supposed to segue into The Empire Strikes Back, but unfortunately the only part of the special that got it right was the animated segment.
Kenner, which at the time had the license to produce Star Wars figures, planned to make several toys based on the special including action figures of Chewbacca's family and the creature that Boba Fett rides during the cartoon, although they were scrapped after the special flopped.
According to David Acomba, he recommended Robin Williams for the special, but the producers turned him down.
The documentary Empire of Dreams originally had a 10-minute segment dedicated to the special to emphasize what could've happened to the franchise if George Lucas hadn't maintained control over it, but it was cut out for pacing reasons.
As mentioned above, the special was supposed to be more what one would expect from a Star Wars holiday special: It was supposed to be Kashyyyk's turn to host the festivities of the galaxy's holiday, Life Day, with Chewbacca as the main host (since he's a hero due to his part in destroying the Death Star). The Empire hates Life Day, but can't openly ban it without causing huge backlash and uprising; so a female Imperial officer (whom Lucas wanted to be played by 1960-70s sex symbol, actress, dancer, and singer Raquel Welch) would volunteer for a secret mission to sabotage Life Day by sneaking aboard the Starship Muscia, a ship filled with Life Day stuff which Luke and Leia have appointed R2 and 3PO to make sure it gets to Kashyyyk on time. It's worth nothing that had this gone as planned this would have been the first appearance of a female Imperial. Chewbacca was to meet up with his family in the first 10 minutes of the special, dropped off by Han. Chewie and Lumpy would have then gone to meet up with a trader (who became Saun Daan), who would have had a bigger, less comedic role in the special as he worked on Life Day, but since his family was destroyed by the Empire years ago he has no one to celebrate with, so he plans to go to the Mos Eisley Cantina to drink with his buddies. Lumpy would have begged for the video book (which would have been what the cartoon would have been viewed on), but Chewie denies it to him, only to get it for him in secret as a surprise gift, but Lumpy, hurt, sneaks aboard Daan's ship before it takes off. The infamous VR chair/softcore porno thing Itchy watches in the final special was going to be viewed by Chewbacca, but instead of the notoriously suggestive woman, it would have been a rock music number (possibly the Jefferson Starship appearance). Afterward, the machine would give Chewie a nightmare about Lumpy, and that's when Chewbacca and his family realize that their son is missing. Daan would have discovered Lumpy (who was watching the cartoon segment on another video book) and decides to take him back after he drinks with his friends, which is where the Cantina sequence would take place. It would eventually lead to Lumpy and Daan on the Starship Musica with R2 and 3PO as Raquel Welch distracted the crew with a sexy dance while she sabotaged it in secret. Chewie would board the ship and save the day, egged on by encouraging messages from Han, Luke, and Leia.
Cher was offered the role eventually taken by Diahann Carroll.