Movie of the Day: Holiday Edition: Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

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The Film: Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

The Principles: Steve Binder, David Acomba (Director), Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman, Art Carney, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew

The Premise: An attempt to cash in on the still hot Star Wars Episode IV

Is It Good: The easiest way to describe the Holiday Special is a large sized turd with a dollar coin in the center.  The variety show ranges from absurb to flat out bad with only one item worth watching for.

I have seen this film a total of 3 times now.  Once on the original airing, a rewatch in the late 80s on someone’s VCR and now. The impact the film had on each watch was always different, and honestly surprising.  The first time I was 5 years old, and couldn’t understand the adult themes often acted out by the wookies without dialogue.  The second time I watched it, I was still in so much awe of everything Star Wars that I felt that even though it was a poorly acted and horribly scattered scripted show, it was still additional footage of a universe I grew up loving.  Today I hung my head in shame wondering why I chose to watch it for this column, often wanting to bail but not allowing myself.  When the magic of Star Wars is gone, this becomes a 137 minutes of pure sensory torture.

The movie is 34 years old, available on youtube and therefore I am not going to worry about spoilers.  I am just going to roughly talk about the items in the film that stood out to me, and the reasons they did.  The first amazing thing was the opening credits.  It automatically sets the tone when they verbally announce the actors with a narrator while using some stock footage from Episode IV and later in the special.  It is here that we find out Chewbacca has a Father, Wife and Child living in a grand tree house on the Wookie planet.  Their names are Malla, Lumpy and Itchy.  I am assuming Chewbaccas father had fleas at some point to earn the name Itchy.  Speaking of stock footage, James Earl Jones gets credits as the voice of Darth Vader yet he only does a single voice over on a sequence taken from Episode IV.

The first main sequence takes about 20 minutes and consists of daily life in the wookie house.  The strange thing is they speak Wookie.  No subtitles, no hints of words, just the grunts and roars that defined the original Wookie.  This is extremely boring but fascinating (in a train wreck kind of way) at the same time.  The actors are forced to overact everything to emphasize why their characters are choosing to do one thing or the other. The time gets split up by an uncharacteriscally clumsy Luke Skywalker and R2D2, as well as Han Solo and the main Wookie of interest.  There is also a live action circus played on the chess table seen in Episode IV.  Some green guy cracks a whip many times and some red haired people perform some gymnastics.  Occasionally Lumpy hits a button the the green guy changes from being little on the table to being a life sized hologram beside the table, and then back again.  This show may have been exciting to watch in person, but on screen it comes off as bland and just extends the amount of time without dialogue.

Art Carney is first human character with signifigant time. He trades in occult Wookie gifts, including a pocket size aquarium that a full sized Wookie probably would not have been able to hold.  After a unimportant empire investigation, Carney arrives at the Wookie house.   He immediately bestows gifts on everyone.  The kid gets an android machine of some sort (not a phone) which comes with a miserably lame malfunctioning robot self help guide from Harvey Korman.

Even more disturbing is the virtual reality machine given to Itchy.  It appears that the image seen is the fantasy of the watcher.  This particularly disturbed me because the object of desire was a human woman speaking english.  This is equivilant to me having a fantasy about an intelligent ape that could hum.  I never realized Lucas tackled inter-species sexual relations well before Spike Lee tackled the now much less controversial inter-racial fantasies.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more offensive for the viewer, a completely drunk Carrie Fisher barely walks to center screen without falling.  She gets 3PO to translate what she says to Mrs. Chewbacca (Malla), and then realizes there happens to be a human there (Carney).  She insists on repeating everything to him, to turn her from Episode IV‘s spoiled princess to ungrateful and disrepectfully rude bitch.  If she told Malla, why didn’t she think she could remember?

The empire arrives, which gives a hopeful chance of action to right some of the wrong course the film is on.  It doesn’t.  After some bad dialogue and another strange video sequence involving Jefferson Starship, the soldiers decide to leave.  At least most of them do, but they leave one behind for what seems to be a lifetime.  Did they just have dispensible storm troopers serving the empire?

The only shining moment in the film occurs somewhere in here, but we will get to that in the next section of this article.  I cannot think of any reason to stop the current direction of the article, which is painfully as bad as the movie itself.

We now get a cooking with Harvey Korman as a lady with four arms in a poorly improvised bad imitation of Julia Child that comes across as a poor attempt at humor.  I thought the bad robot and the cook couldn’t tarnish Korman’s memory from the Carol Burnett show, but he wasn’t done.  He then flirts with Bea Arthur while drinking through a hole in his head.   This is at the famous Mos Eisley Cantina, with all the characters from Episode IV.  They mix in some stock footage, so they are forced to include a deceased for some time no matter who shot first Greedo.  To make matters worse, the empire decides to enforce a curfew on the entire planet of Tattooine because apparently two space pirates travelling on the other side of the galaxy warrants curfews everywhere.  Bea Arthur is left with the wonderful task of clearing everyone out.  So she does so by singing.  Nothing scares seasoned vagrants and bounty hunters faster than a human woman screaming.

I could continue bashing every point, but there is nothing good anywhere except one segment.  Nothing.  This was much more of a train wreck than I could remember and was amazed at how much of an unrewarding chore this was to sit through.

Is It Worth A Look: Only for the animated segment that introduced Boba Fett.  A nine minute stange tale about a talisman that puts humans to sleep and the journey Chewbacca and Boba Fett take to retrieve an antidote.  It was this segment along with a much before it’s time viral campaign that turned another man in mask Star Wars concept into one of the most popular characters in the Star Wars universe.  The animation was very vibrant and rich with dinosaurs, gun fights and espionage.  Boba Fett is clearly the focus and the best thing to come out of the Holiday Special.

My personal opinion would be to seek out this animated segment (easily found on youtube) and skip the rest.  If you are a die hard who never saw this, count yourself blessed.  If you aren’t, don’t start here.  There are few examples of mass marketing gone as wrong as this.  Lucas attempted to buy every master print and hide this away, and for once I agree with his decision regarding something after the fact from the timeframe of the original 3.

Random Anecdotes:

Carrie Fisher sings a song based on the Star Wars theme.

The Holiday celebrated is the Wookie holiday, LifeDay.  An easy way to not have to cast belief that was being celebrated.

Cinematic Soulmates: The Carol Burnett Show, Saturday Night Live, Droids, Ewoks


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