The 1970’s were, one could say, the golden age of cheesy television. While it was the era of undisputable classic TV shows like “M.A.S.H.” and “All in the Family”, it was also the era of really corny variety shows like “Donnie and Marie” and “Shields and Yarnell”. The holiday specials premiered during this era, unfortunately, almost exclusively fit the latter mold. Some of them even took an already beloved intellectual property and twisted it into something utterly unrecognizable. None of them more notorious than the bewildering THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL.
Aired in 1978 before production even began on THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, this holiday special is a feature-length “Star Wars” show. It centers on Chewbacca’s family on Kashyyk preparing for a holiday called Life Day, and waiting anxiously for Chewbacca to make it home to join them. Han Solo and Chewbacca are pursued by Galactic agents along the way and Chewie’s family are harassed by the Imperials as well. Pretty much the whole gang from STAR WARS shows up. Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and James Earl Jones all reprise their roles. While this is delightful, there is very little else in the show that feels like it belongs to the “Star Wars” universe.
There is so much that’s weird about THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL that it is difficult to know where to begin. Bea Arthur plays a bartender in the famous Tatooine Cantina and sings a song called “Good Night, but Not Goodbye” with the Cantina Band. Chewbacca’s son (Lumpy) uses a holographic display of Jefferson Starship singing “Light the Sky on Fire” to distract an Imperial guard. Chewie’s father (Itchy) watches a profoundly suggestive virtual reality “Fantasy” featuring Diahann Carroll. Chewie’s wife (Malla) watches a cooking show featuring a manic, four armed Chef played by Harvey Korman. Harvey Korman also plays an alien in the Cantina skit that drinks through a hole on top of his head.
Shall I go on? There is no dialogue at all for almost 10 minutes after the opening credits - just Chewbacca’s family grunting at each other. Art Carney plays a trader friend of Chewbacca’s family and at one point references his character on “The Honeymooners“. There is a long segment featuring a bunch of little holographic acrobats. There is a cartoon adventure interlude (the high point of the show). There is an extended malfunctioning robot gag - again, featuring Harvey Korman. The whole thing culminates in Princess Leia singing the Life Day song to the tune of STAR WARS’ main title.
It’s not difficult to see why this thing only aired once. It is utterly painful, yet hilarious to experience. It is not just a bad STAR WARS show, it is easily one of the worst things ever to air in the 70’s - and that’s saying something. It is only available through bootleg videos and YouTube segments, and if you have the time (and the stomach) to take a look you should. There has never been anything like it before or since.
THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL fun facts - This show is responsible for introducing Boba Fett into the Star Wars universe. He is featured in the cartoon segment that is universally regarded only worthwhile part of the show.
George Lucas was so horrified by the show he tried to buy all of the master copies so that it could never be seen again.
Mark Hamill appears only briefly and is clearly in heavy make-up. This is because he had been in a near-fatal car accident some weeks before and was recovering from reconstructive surgery.
Han Solo - Would you look at Lumpy! He‘s sure grown, huh? And I think his voice is changing...
Holographic Wow - Oh, we are excited aren’t we?
C-3PO - We’ve intercepted a message between Boba and Darth Vader, sir. Boba Fett is Darth Vader’s right-hand man. I’m afraid this whole adventure has been an imperial plot.