The Star Wars Holiday Special

Director:Steve Binder                            
Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Yes, I realize that this is not a movie, and I am pretty sure that a number of people reading this will have heard about The Star Wars Holiday Special. However, I am making an exception for the usual requirements that whatever I review be "unknown" and a "movie" for a couple of reasons. First, this TV special, aired near the Christmas season in 1978 is feature length. Second, though a number of readers may have heard about it, I am certain that most of them haven't actually seen it. It's only available on bootleg videos, copied generation after generation from the original viewer(s) who had a VCR back in 1978. The copy I watched was clearly showing it had already been through the mill, but even if I had a digitally remastered copy, there would still be a horrendous sight on my screen.

It's easy to see why George Lucas hates this special so much, and is in agony about all the bootleg copies out there. Virtually all of this videotaped special plays like a bad parody of the Star Wars world. Come to think of it, I guess it couldn't, because of the minimal appearances of the top billed stars. Yes, the announcer says the special stars Hamill, Ford, Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, "and R2-D2 as...R2-D2!!!", but each of the stars and their characters only appear for about five to ten minutes. The bloated bulk of the special instead focuses on another supposed part of the Star Wars universe - Chewie's family, in their tree house home on whatever the hell planet they live on (I refuse to get obsessed enough about Star Wars to know such fine details.)

The announcer helpfully names them for us: "Malla" (his wife), "Itchy" (his white-haired father), and "Lumpy" (his son). Otherwise, we would have no idea who these characters in this tree house are, who spend the next five minutes or so exchanging "Wrrrraahhh", "Arrrgggh" and other similar noises that we can't interpret. Apparently, they seem upset about the absence of Chewie, who was seen earlier with Han Solo dodging stock footage Imperial ships on their flight home so that Chewie can celebrate "Life Day". (Remember, this takes place "A long time ago in a galaxy far away", so we can't expect these heathens to celebrate Christmas, even if this is a holiday special.) What is "Life Day"? Well, we don't find out until the end, but it seems to involve dressing in red psedo-KKK robes and walking in the middle of space without any space suits or breathing apparatus. Don't ask.

We learn a few things about Wookie culture from this special. First, that their tree houses have some furnishing that look remarkably like those found on earth in the mid '70s. Also, there is apparently pornography for Wookies. That is illustrated when guest star Art Carney drops by, and gives grandpa Itchy a secret proton pack for his VR chair. While cheesy 70s video graphics dance around the screen, Diahann Carroll fades into the frame and starts saying seductively to Itchy, "I am here. My voice is for you alone. I'm found in your eyes only. I exist only for you. Oh yes, I can feel your message. Are you getting mine?...Oh, we are excited, aren't we?" As she talks on, Itchy starts pressing a button on his hand rest faster...and faster...andfasterandfasterand faster, and then Carroll belts out some forgettable song. At least for us, because when we see Itchy after the song, his fading breathing seems to suggest he's coming out of an orgasm.

Art Carney also shows a storm trooper a device that shows the band Jefferson Starship belting out another forgettable song, with the lead singer holding what appears to be a small pink lightsabre or a glow-in-the-dark dildo. The whole number is bathed in pink, with unexplainable pink circles radiating from the center of the screen. Another guest star seen later in the movie is Bea Arthur, an owner of a cantina that is so tacky, it pour drinks out of red plastic jugs. When the cantina is closed down by the Empire during its vast search for Han and Chewie, it provokes her to sing as well. In Rex Harrison's famous talk-sing manner, she belts out a song that has strains of John Williams' cantina music, at one point sitting down next to a giant hamster as she glides around the other alien patrons. Hearing Arthur's singing (as well as the acting she does in a lame sequence with a love struck patron just before the song), it is clear that she thinks this whole thing is the utter stupidity it is. So of course she doesn't dare give a good performance. On the other hand, a really bad performance would make her come across even worse, so she sticks to a broad theatrical style, sort of like a slightly overplayed performance on her sitcom The Golden Girls. It's interesting that her half-assed performance (the best performance in the entire production, by the way) actually makes you watch whatever stupidity is happening onscreen during her sequence. The song itself actually isn't that bad, but it is arranged poorly, with too many pauses. (Arthur's "talk" sequences during the song don't help as well.)

The only other segment that has merit is an animated segment midway through. (Like most of the other segments, it has no relation to the central tree house story.) Animated in the style of the Harry Canyon episode of Heavy Metal, it concerns several of the characters encountering Boba Fett, which was his first appearance anywhere in anything concerning Star Wars. There is actually something of a plot here, and the attempts at comic relief are very few. Boba Fett actually gets to speak, and the words he uses actually sound like the ones this bounty hunter would use in a Star Wars movie. The animation is more fluid for TV for this period, though the drawing style is quite dated, with the art direction for Han Solo done so badly, it provokes laughter the first time it's seen. You'd swear Han Solo's alter ego Harrison Ford had just looked in the ark from Raiders, since his facial features look quite melted.

Mostly the whole thing is pretty painful. It's not just those five minutes previously discussed where we only hear Wookie language (not translated for us), there are more instances of this over and over throughout. We are treated to guest star Harvey Korman in three painfully bad comic roles, one being a multi-armed chef in drag seen on an endless running cooking show Malla watches. For what is supposed to be a holiday special, I found  cold and calculated. The furry Wookies even can't generate any warmth. There's is no real story happening in the Wookie household; it's just a framework for showing pretty much unrelated vignettes. The Star Wars regulars should be thankful that they were pushed aside for this crap, because in the little time they appear, they are humiliated. Mark Hamill is so plastered with makeup, he looks like a girl. Ford tries vainly to be his macho Han Solo self, but when you are in a cardboard looking cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, don't expect full confidence in your acting abilities. Carrie Fisher has the most humiliating part of the entire ordeal, when she sings a song near the very end. Not just any song - she sings lyrics to the (slightly reworked) Star Wars theme! The lyrics include, "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!"

It's awful, but just look into Carrie Fisher's glazed eyes and delivery (with sleepy looking expressions from Hamill and Ford cut in at one point) and just try not to laugh. It also answers the question why Carrie Fisher pretended this special never existed when asked about it in an interview several years later. Though I was really pained by many moments of this terrible special, I must admit that several hours later I found myself laughing out loud, remembering some especially horrible moments. As I write this, it is 24 hours since I've seen the special, and I am still laughing out loud at times as I write, even remembering some of the material that while watching almost made me scream in agony. So I guess in an indirect way, I did get some entertainment value out of it. However, the stupidity of this special, even taking account of the time it was made, is so unbelievable (how the hell did this get by George Lucas?) that officially I'm giving this a negative review. It's my way of disavowing responsibility for readers who are determined to watch it anyway. I know I have to do this, because it was a terrible review I read several years ago concerning this special that made me seek it out in the first place.

UPDATE: Reader J. Canker Huxley sent me this interesting trivia:

"I was going to post a letter regarding a movie comedy called Brain Donors from comic writer Pat Proft (part of the ZAZ-Proft team that brought the Naked Gun and Hot Shots series, Proft on his own wrote Bachelor Party, Real Genius and the first Police Academy film, among others) that would interest this forum, when I stumbled upon something quite interesting.

"Listed in Mr. Proft's credits was his work as a writer on the dreaded Star Wars Holiday Special.  Not only does his credits show him as a writer, but as the guy directly under El Supremo George Lucas (who credited himself with coming up with the wonderful story)!

"I am one of the unfortunates that, at age 12, saw Star Wars over 20 times when it first came out in 1977.  I watched the Holiday special and am still traumatized by it.  I also was one of the original 20 viewers that saw the origin Police Squad series (the original show was poorly rated but did spark three movies -- and I later met Leslie Nielsen, but that's another story for another time). The Proft-SWHS was an interesting discovery. But then it was to get better.

"Also on the writing team with Proft was with political and Hollywood heavyweight Bruce Vilanch!!!!!  For those not on the inside, Vilanch is the guy who writes jokes and speeches for all the award shows such as the Oscars.  He is also is a regular columnist for "The Advocate," one of America's top (and most powerful) magazines for gays and lesbians.  In short, Vilanch is the political side of Hollywood what Mr. Lucas is to the Special Effects sided of Hollywood!

"Hollywood and much of American Politics revolve around Mr. Vilanch, so much that an award winning documentary named Get Bruce was made.  I have not seen this myself, but the casts lists Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Rosie O'Donnell, Bette Midler (Vilanch also wrote Divine Madness), Whoopi Goldberg and, hell, the rest of the list is a Hollywood who's who singing the praises of Mr. Vilanch's wisdom and skill as a writer.  If anyone has seen Get Bruce, please tell me if he mentions SWHS.  He probably wants to forget this disaster too!

"The other writers, Leonard Ripps and Rod Warren are a little less known.  Both Ripps and Proft ended up on ABC only a short time later after SWHS.  Proft, of course, went to ABC with the ZAZ (Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker) team with Police Squad, Ripps went to work as a writer for Bosom Buddies and later started another form of evil as wicked as the SWHS called Full House.  Ripps continued his reign of evil by being involved (with about 20 million other people) writing the script for the dreadful Flintstones movie in 1994.  In a sense of atonement, he consulted on the "Fast Food Films" project in 1999, which I understand (I did not see them either) were quite funny.

"Warren, on the other hand, has very little to his credit other than SWHS.  Maybe he should call on his old friends Proft and Vilanch since Lucas has disavowed any knowledge of the SWHS."

UPDATE 2: Jeremy Green sent along this:

"I must say, I agree with you quite a bit on the SWHS. However, I did see something in an online interview where George Lucas admitted (partially) to something about the SWHS. He stated he was thoroughly embarrassed about the show and he primarily gave his blessing on the animated portion. The rest he did not see much of the script. In fact according to the way Lucas was speaking, it sounds as if the whole cast 'and famous others' were thrown together and the script was made all with only a few weeks notice. His apparent knowledge on it was that the special would segue ANH to ESB. (A New Hope to Empire Strikes Back) The only reason it made it on the air was all the publicity ABC was putting on it to attract ratings. ABC DID get their ratings,...for the first ten minutes. The ratings looked like the entire 80's stock recession over a 2 hour period. Lucas wizened up a bit after the release of the new prequel episodes and reviewed all of the episodes before they aired. And he decided to keep with the animation portion and avoid the humiliation of showing actors faces outside of a movie. As we've also noticed, the animation is all completely about progression of the movie and has absolutely no singing numbers. A questions was given to Lucas if we has thought about releasing the SWHS on a DVD as commentary, to which Lucas gave no reply and just went on about the segue of the movies. This brought up a different question about releasing just the animation portion on a DVD commentary or redoing it. Lucas gave a well thought out answer stating he has "strongly considered BOTH".

"As Yoda would say "Elusive sounds he, but much mystery and intrigue bring he too. So as for the future, we know not. Yeesss!"

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Check Amazon for "A Guide to the Star Wars Universe"

See also: Didn't You Hear, (Indian) Superman, The Story Of Mankind