The horror of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special

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Star Wars Holiday Special - - The horror of the infamous TV show

So whilst Star Wars became an iconic landmark in cinema history beloved by millions, the same cannot be said for the Star Wars Holiday Special. An abomination doesn’t really get anywhere near how bad it is.

Broadcast for Thanksgiving on 17th November 1978 on CBS television, anticipation was high. Star Wars had been released the year before and had become a cultural phenomenon so fans were keen to see the two hour special.  What they would see was anything but special, in fact so appalling was the event that it was never broadcast again with George Lucas personally intervening to ensure so.

As writer-director Lucas had been concerned that audiences might forget about Star Wars before the sequel appeared in 1980 so he was happy for others to put a show together. He would soon come to regret that decision. Written by Rod Warren, Bruce Vilanch and Pat Proft (who would later have a hand in scripting the Police Academy films) The story, what there was of it, followed Chewbacca and Han Solo trying to get to the Wookie home world of Kashyyyk to celebrate ‘Life Day’ but are impeded by an Imperial blockade and whilst this goes on Chewie’s family passes the time with various forms of entertainment and for Chewie’s dad that seemed to be the equivalent of Wookie porn.

Vilanch was hired to write what turned out to be dreadful jokes and as he had no idea what Star Wars was about only made it worse. Producers Ken and Mitzie Welch edited the show together despite not being editors but had a background in variety TV shows and many of the characters had appeared in such a genre after the film had taken off. So previosu to the special we already had seen tap dancing stormtroopers alongside Donny & Marie Osmond, Mark Hamill had appeared in costume alongside Bob Hope on his show and R2-D2 and C-3PO were doing Burger King adverts.

The Star Wars Holiday Special had everything but quality. Racial stereotypes, what appeared to be softcore Wookie porn, an opening 15 minutes of Chewie’s family at home grunting at each other but with no subtitles, Chewie’s family were bizarrely named Itchy and Lumpy sounding more like a medical condition than a family and perhaps best (or worst) of all was it culminating in a song and dance routine where Carrie Fisher as Leia sang a tribute to the wonder of Life Day whilst allegedly off her tits on cocaine. Perhaps the only decent bit was that we did get a first glimpse of Boba Fett albeit in an animated segment.

The show got through two directors : David Acomba who was not used to multi camera set ups in TV and in the end left after a couple of scenes had been recorded. His replacement was Steve Binder whose only contact with a now busy Lucas deep in sequel pre-production, was a ‘wookie bible’ that outlined the look and behaviour of the species.

Also appearing were varity show stalwarts Harvey Korman and Bea Arthur  (later to appear in The Golden Girls) who both appeared in a skit in the cantina. Art Carney also appeared in a more integral role but again this was played for laughs that served only to eventually introduce a performance by Jefferson Starship.

To say it was poorly received grossly exaggerates the reception of the extravaganza. Everyone lambasted the show and it is still regarded as one of the most unintentionally hilarious moments of TV ever made. Lucas was extremely unhappy about it. In 2006  Harrison Ford  jokingly denied knowing of such a programme or that he had even seen it. In 2010 the late Carrie Fisher said that she made Lucas give her a copy of the special in exchange for recording a commentary for the Star Wars trilogy  so that she would “have something for parties…when [she] wanted everyone to leave. Mark Hamill claimed in 2018 never to have seen all of it and C-3P0 himself Anthony Daniel’s called the special, ‘a  turd’ in his 2019 autobiography. Even Kenner the company who had produced the figurines quickly cancelled their plans to produce anything connected to the special

Though it has been never been repeated the special lives on via bootleg recordings made at the time that are frequently uploaded to the Net but one thing is for sure is that as long as George Lucas has oxygen in his lungs it will never be transmitted on TV ever again.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is one of those shows that you need to see….but only once. It was and remains a farcical mess.

May the farce be with you!

related feature : Carrie Fisher – Obituary

related feature : the first non ILM person to see Star Wars was Writer-director Patrick Read Johnson – Here’s how

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