Star Wars Holiday Special was broadcast on CBS on November 17th 1978.
A long time ago, in a conference room far, far away, the Star Wars Holiday Special was born in the imagination of CBS executives looking to feed a Star Wars-hungry public following the release of A New Hope in May 1977 and the arrival of Kenner’s figures and ships on toy shop shelves during 1978.
The TV special would be aired on CBS on November 17th 1978, and instantly become famous for its psychedelic production, odd story and bizarre take on the characters born a year before. Following its broadcast, its notoriety would grow year after year as the Holiday Special became a mysterious golden egg among fans, with bootleg VHS copies circulating for money.
Following the events of A New Hope, Han and Chewie are on their way back to see Chewie’s family on Kashyyyk and attend Life Day; a Christmas-like holiday that celebrates Wookiee traditions and culture. While Han and Chewie’s storyline delivers some of the classic scenes we expect from a Star Wars film – including being chased by Star Destroyers before jumping into hyperspace at the last minute, the space adventure is short-lived as the limited budget opts to focus on Chewie’s family.
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Here, we meet Chewie’s wife, Malla, their extremely annoying kid, Lumpy, and Chewie’s disturbing and creepy-looking dad, Itchy. There is no doubt the Holiday Special was made with young kids in mind, as it aims to celebrate family values, colourful characters and a variety of entertainment. Yet there is no logical explanation for why most of the film’s runtime is made up of Wookiees growling at each other with no subtitles. We all know Chewie’s growl is iconic. In the movies, this growl never becomes annoying or unintelligible because Han (or another English-speaking character) is always around to reflect on it and reply, making it irrelevant whether the audience understands him. But here, we have several long minutes of Wookiee family members ‘communicating’ with no interpretation. The result is one of the most annoying and frustrating Wookiee encounters you could ever wish to have!
But the Star Wars Holiday Special isn’t finished there; oh no, there is so much more to come as George Lucas’ space opera meets the studio-bound restrictions of the 70s TV Special. Here we are offered musical numbers, variety acts, comedy sketches and cartoons. Absurdly hilarious moments of joy include Malla preparing a meal while watching a cooking show hosted by an eccentric four-armed alien Chef named Gormaanda. Meanwhile, Lumpy watches various circus-style acrobats on Itchy’s newly acquired virtual reality set and later an instruction video about a malfunctioning Amorphian android. But the most disturbing nugget is found in Itchy’s virtual reality fantasy program starring Diahann Caroll as a holographic erotic entertainer who suggestively claims to be his ‘fantasy.’
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However, the Holiday Special is not all weirdness, creepiness and psychedelia. The film’s high point is an animated segment called “The Faithful Wookiee”, which is not only the first official Star Wars cartoon but our introduction to Boba Fett, a character who would further build upon the public anticipation for the second chapter, The Empire Strikes Back.
As we reach the special’s climax (if you can call it that), Han and Chewie arrive at Kashyyyk, where they join the celebrations at the great Tree of Life just as Luke, Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2 show up without any explanation. Leia then sings a cringeworthy celebration song while Chewie recalls his adventures with Han in a trippy montage; in fact, one cannot help but wonder whether the whole cast, crew and production office were on LSD both before and during filming.
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For all its druggy undertones, there is a childish, naive charm to the Star Wars Holiday Special. It is essentially rubbish, but it wears its absurdity with pride as it wheels out a troupe of needless celebrity cameos for a confusing mess of a story that someone thought up on the back of a cigarette packet. In many ways, the Star Wars Holiday Special feels eerily similar to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, an enjoyable failure that has moments of wonder never purposefully scripted. Meanwhile, the Star Wars cast is detached throughout; for Mark Hamill, this is clearly due to his recovery from a serious car accident, while for Ford, the idea of being typecast as Solo is clearly a concern.
While the creators of the Holiday Special knew a sequel was in the works to A New Hope, they had no idea the Star Wars universe would expand and grow over the next forty-six years, which in retrospect, makes this innocent rating grabber something unique and unrepeatable; after all, as Star Wars grew Lucas would hold on tight to the creative choices ensuring a TV outing like the Holiday Special was never repeated.