originally published December 20, 2012
As a child reared amid the glow of the legend of the greatest film trilogy of all time, a number of given facts about the Star Wars universe were firmly entrenched in my mind. Looking back to that hazy period in between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, here are a few certainties as they existed in my childhood perception: Luke Skywalker is now a respected soldier in the Rebel Alliance, Han Solo and Chewbacca are bad-ass scoundrel smugglers with a sense of nobility, Princess Leia is a tough-talking fighter who can command an assault team, and R2D2 is valuable and useful.
All of those conceptions were evaporated the other night as I finally sat through the entirety of the Star Wars Holiday Special.
To be fair – and it’s a struggle to say something nice about this train wreck – we cannot blame this entirely on an early Jar-Jar-esque blunder by George Lucas. George was approached by some TV people (likely with a truck full of money that they’d conveniently parked in his driveway), and he gave them the license rights to go crazy. And crazy they went, but unfortunately it was sad-crazy, not awesome-crazy.
The plot – and yes, there is a plot – centers around Life Day, a Wookiee holiday. We meet Chewbacca’s family: his wife Malla, his father Itchy, and his son… Lumpy. Fucking Lumpy.
Han is trying to fly Chewie home in the Millennium Falcon, but the Imperials are roaming all over Kashyyyk, the Wookiee home-world, in search of rebel scum. SPOILER: Chewbacca makes it home, no blasters are fired and no lightsabers are ignited because that would have cost money. Lucas’s top-tier special effects team were told to stay home for this one, and instead some network-hired lackeys produced the worst special effects this side of Mork calling Orson.
Trying to help the Wookiee family is a local trader named Saun Dann, played by Art Carney with as much brilliance as anyone can muster with a script like this. I had to explain to my kids who Art Carney was, then I had to explain what The Honeymooners were. Had I seen the special when it first aired (I was four – maybe I did and blocked it out like I would have for any respectable trauma), I would have needed someone to explain these things to me too.
To distract Lumpy from generating yet another ten minute segment featuring nothing but Wookiee grunts, he watches a holographic circus routine on his table, including juggling and uneven bars – two things that everybody enjoys watching for five goddamn minutes. Then the stormtroopers show up at the door, looking to search the house for traces of rebel activity. Oh no! Tension!
Art Carney drops by the house and hooks up the elderly Itchy with something he tells Itchy he’ll really enjoy, in the same way that one guy would tell another about some fantastic porn he’d found. Itchy dons a virtual reality helmet and presumably masturbates to a weird seductive musical number by Diahann Carroll. Even I had to look up who Diahann Carroll was.
After Malla’s new music box plays an embarrassing holographic performance of Jefferson Starship – and I need to emphasize here that I am not making this up; this was two hours of my friggin’ life – Lumpy gets distracted by watching a cartoon.
The cartoon might be the only redeemable part of this monstrosity. It was horribly animated, but it introduced Boba Fett, and actually portrays him as a more effective and dangerous bounty hunter than he ever gets to be in the movies. But wow, the animation on this thing was truly awful.
Other segments in the special were astoundingly forgettable: Harvey Korman as a four-armed Julia Child who prepares a Bantha faster than Malla can keep up (oh, the hilarity!), meaningless scenes featuring Leia and C3PO not knowing where Han and Chewie are, as well as Luke and R2D2 also not knowing where Han and Chewie are, and a dreary segment in which Harvey Korman (again) teaches Lumpy how to assemble something, but appears to be an android who keeps breaking down. Or something. I want to know why Luke doesn’t have a mechanic to help him fix his ship, and why R2’s poor repair work almost kills Luke. Or why it looks like they shot the entire scene in Mark Hammill’s garage.
Then – because it would have been a sin to let this thing run 90 minutes and maybe squeeze in a rerun of One Day At A Time, they decided to include a segment in the cantina in Mos Eisley, except it’s a much cheaper set and the bar is run by a post-Maude pre-Golden Girls Bea Arthur. Oh, and she sings a song.
Han and Chewie get home, and what follows is a drawn-out non-ending that almost seems unreal in its pungent flaccidity. The four Wookiees put on red robes and walk into some strange light thingy, where they find themselves in the presence of a bunch of other Wookiees and the principle characters from the film. Everyone tells Chewbacca and his family how much they love him. This takes roughly a half hour.
The Star Wars Holiday Special aired once, on November 17, 1978. It might have remained forgotten, but in the 90’s a number of VHS copies started popping up on the fan circuit. Then the Internet happened, and suddenly it can be found for download, albeit in low-grade, oft-copied VHS quality. The version I saw was recorded off WMAR in Baltimore, and it includes all the original commercials, which was awesome. Believe me, after sitting through this mess, seeing the slow-mo breaking apart of a Contac-C pill, or being reminded that Anacin and Woolite exist, was a treat.
Despite this show being a fiasco, it is nevertheless considered as canon material within the Star Wars universe. Life Day has shown up in other media, and Chewbacca’s family has also appeared elsewhere. Kashyyyk is undoubtedly the Wookiee home-world (as we saw in Revenge Of The Sith), and of course the Fett featured prominently in the next film.
But this special will most likely never see a DVD release. Lucas hates it, and wishes he could wipe it from existence. That said, the Blu-Ray release of the complete saga does feature an Easter Egg somewhere that will allow you to view the entire cartoon segment.
Fucking Lumpy can be lost to the ages.
Oh, I can’t forget to report how this thing ends. After everyone exchanges I-Love-You’s with Chewbacca, and after Chewie reminisces about his adventures in the lone Star Wars movie that existed at the time – oddly to the same throne-room music that was playing when he *didn’t* receive a medal at the end of the film – Princess Leia breaks into song.
A dreadful, terrible song.
Happy Life Day, suckers.