Long before Jar-Jar Binks took his first pratfall into a pile of poop, there was another disturbing tremor in the Force, like a million Star Wars fans crying out in anger and frustration.
On Nov. 17, 1978, “The Star Wars Holiday Special” was broadcast on CBS. Released a year-and-a-half after the first Star Wars film, the special bridged the anticipation-filled gap between Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Millions of rabid young fans (such as myself) tuned in, desperate for some fresh Star Wars fix.
For those too young to have witnessed the event firsthand, “The Star Wars Holiday Special” has become a hazy legend of horror--like Pearl Harbor for old people or the retirement of the McRib for fat people. The special was boring, cheap and incredibly corny. (Among the writers was Pat Proft, who created the Police Academy films, and “Hollywood Squares” regular Bruce Vilanch.) After it was over, I formulated a vague defense--like a spouse who has been beaten, but refuses to leave. Well, I justified, at least it was Star Wars.
Rumor was that, after the one-and-only broadcast, Lucas tried to buy up every master tape in existence. To this day, it is unavailable on video or DVD. Scratchy, bootlegged copies, however, have circulated at sci-fi conventions for decades. Once, Lucas told convention-goers in Australia, “If I had time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every bootlegged copy of that program and smash it.”
Having recently tracked down a copy, I took it upon myself to journey back to that long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
The live-action special begins with Han Solo (a very annoyed-looking Harrison Ford) flying Chewbacca back to his home planet to celebrate Life Day--the Wookie equivalent of Christmas. We then cut to Chewbacca's house where his ratty-looking family--wife Mala, son Lumpy and father Itchy--are preparing for Life Day. The first 10 minutes or so of the special are conducted entirely in untranslated Wookie and feature such stirring drama as Lumpy not wanting to take out the garbage. This thrilling narrative is broken up by countless time-stretching segments in which the Wookies watch television. There's a musical performance by Jefferson Starship, a Boba Fett cartoon (the show's only notable sequence) and a jaw-dropping bit where Itchy watches an interracial porn tape in which Diahann Carrol moans lines like, “I am your fantasy. I am your experience. So experience me. I am your pleasure. Enjoy me.” (No, I am not kidding.) Bea Arthur sings a torch song. Harvey Korman hosts an alien cooking show. Mark Hamill wears lots of mascara. The horrors just keep mounting.
In the end, all the Star Wars cast members show up for the Life Day celebration (think “disco Mormonism”) and Carrie Fisher warbles a tender ballad based on the movie's main theme. (Fisher, clearly stoned out of her gourd, spends the entire segment hugging her castmates.)
Sure “The Star Wars Holiday Special” stinks like a Bantha in summer. But “He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special” is available on DVD. Why can't George Lucas show us a little holiday love as well?