First Aired On: The CBS Network
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was a child, I remember watching a television holiday special featuring my favorite Star Wars characters in my bedroom on my Zenith black and white television. Aptly dubbed The Star Wars Holiday Special, the show aired only once on CBS on November 17, 1978. Years later, I still had memories of the show – vague memories, but memories nonetheless. I would mention the show to other Star Wars fans and would often be looked rather strangely. A Star Wars Holiday Special? No way! They had no recollection of the show. Now, I started to doubt myself. Do you remember the Droids cartoon? Of course! What about the Ewoks cartoon? Sure! But not The Star Wars Holiday Special? Hell no! Undaunted, I was determined to prove that the show existed. My proof came with the purchase of my first internet ready computer. There were thousands of fans out there who remembered the holiday special and one person in particular who sincerely wishes we didn’t – Mr. George Lucas. I was able to get my hands on a VHS copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special and at last I had tangible proof that the show actually existed.
Now, thirty years later, I decided to celebrate the anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special by watching it once more. The show takes place mostly on Kashyyk, the homeworld of the Wookiees and centers on one Wookiee family in particular. Life Day, the Star Wars equivalent of our Christmas, takes place very soon. Chewbacca has never missed spending a Life Day with his family, but events are conspiring against him. Father Itchie, wife Malla and son Lumpy are all waiting nervously, worried that Chewbacca will be caught in the Imperial blockade recently set up around Kashyyk in an effort to capture any “rebel scum” who dare enter the area. Can Han Solo get his co-pilot and best friend home in time for the holiday?
The first time I sat down to watch this holiday special, I was a child, filled with wonderment at seeing my favorite Star Wars characters on television. The second time I sat down to watch it, I felt vindication at holding in my very own hands the television special that none of my friends believed existed. Then I actually watched it and wondered why the hell the memory of The Star Wars Holiday Special remained in my mind for so long. The first twenty minutes or so of the show takes place at Chewbacca’s home and is all in Shyriiwook. I mean completely in Wookiee! No subtitles! If you watch closely, you can figure out what they might be saying, but for the most part, I was staring at the screen thinking, “What the hell?! Is this whole thing going to be in Shyriiwook?!”
The rest of the show fits the genre of the times. In the 70s, variety shows were the “in thing”. Everyone had one – Sonny and Cher, Shields and Yarnel, The Osmonds – you name it, there was a variety show about it. So, it’s not surprising that The Star Wars Holiday Special would feature singing, acrobatics, comedy and more, all with that 70s psychedelic flare. In addition to members of the cast of Star Wars, the holiday special also features stars from music and television. Harvey Korman performs numerous comedy skits from a malfunctioning android showing Lumpy how to assemble a transmitter to a four-armed chef showing Malla how to cook a meal to a love-struck customer in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Art Carney appears as an outpost trader and friend to Chewbacca’s family. Idgie receives a gift which features Diahann Carroll as a fantasy woman crooning a love song to her favorite wookiee. Jefferson Starship appears, complete with glowing instruments, to dazzle Imperial Troopers and distract them from the goings on in Chewbacca’s home. The funniest skit throughout the show features Bea Arthur as a Mos Eisley Cantina bartender with a snappy repartee and a flare for song.
Perhaps the most memorable and groundbreaking segment of the show is an animated feature giving the world its first look at the bounty hunter Boba Fett. The animation was, for the most part, not very good, with the exception of Boba Fett. However, this marked the first Star Wars cartoon ever created for television. Just think about it – the first ancestor to the Clone Wars series airing on The Cartoon Network was a cartoon featured on a Star Wars variety special in the 70s. Boggles the mind!
As for the original cast member appearances, the best actor was Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca – all he had to do was wear that suit while sound effects were dubbed in for talking scenes. Harrison Ford looked hot in his role of Han Solo, but his lines pretty much sucked. The holiday special was filmed a very short time after Mark Hamill’s devastating car accident. He had some fairly nasty scars from reconstructive surgery that had not yet healed. Thus, we see a very heavily made up Luke Skywalker appear in a scene in which engine smoke blocks his face from view, and a very short Life Day Celebration scene where he is observed from afar. Anthony Daniels appears as C-3PO – brilliant acting on his part…well, same acting as in every other Star Wars film. He gets the same award as Peter Mayhew. James Earl Jones did some voice-overs for the film, speaking new lines for Darth Vader which were then dubbed over existing film excerpts from the original Star Wars movie. And Carrie Fisher…high as a kite Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. Oh, poor Carrie Fisher, forced to sing the Life Day Celebration song based on the Star Wars original theme at the end of the movie. Yikes!
After watching this special for the third time, I couldn’t help but groan. No wonder why George Lucas attempted to buy all the masters for this show so it couldn’t be rebroadcast. Too bad he hadn’t counted on fans taping the thing when it originally aired. At least he can say that he had no real hand in the project – he didn’t write, produce or direct for the show…otherwise, it might have been better…or might not have taken place at all. I did notice that quite a bit of the Star Wars music was reused for the special. Something else I noticed – the view of Chewbacca’s home from afar seemed familiar to me. Upon checking the credits, I realized that I was correct in guessing that this was artist Ralph McQuarrie’s original artwork.
Watching The Star Wars Holiday Special thirty years after it first aired did elicit quite a few groans. But I did laugh once or twice. I was lucky enough to get a version in which all the commercials were left intact. It was nice to see those old commercials again. I even recognized some of the toys advertised as toys I played with as a kid. Yes, watching The Star Wars Holiday Special again was a trip down memory lane…a rather excruciating one and one I would only recommend to the most diehard fan out there.