The Star Wars Holiday Special

Star WarsOn the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk, Chewbacca’s family awaits his return for the yearly celebration of Life Day. But when he doesn’t arrive on time, they assume the worst and begin secretly contacting members of the Rebel Alliance, including Luke and Leia. Chewie’s wife Malla, his father Itchy, and his son Lumpy begin to fear the worst when the Empire blockades Kashyyyk and stormtroopers begin to search residences. Han and Chewie must battle their way through the blockade, not only to reach Chewie’s family in time for Life Day, but to save them from Imperial troops that could uncover their secret connection to the Rebels.

Cartoon: Han and Chewie return from a mission to recover a magical talisman, but they make no contact with base – and overshoot the rendezvous point at high speed, crash-landing the Falcon on a watery world. Luke and the droids give chase in a Y-wing, also crashing on the planet. Their ship falls victim to a hungry sea creature, but they are rescued by an humanoid, covered from head to toe in armor, who identifies himself as Boba Fett. He leads them to the Falcon, where Han has fallen victim to a “sleeping virus” – and Luke soon succumbs as well. Boba Fett offers to steal the antidote from a nearby Imperial base, but Chewie is suspicious and insists on accompanying the Rebels’ new benefactor. While Boba Fett and Chewie are breaking into the Empire’s stronghold, Threepio and Artoo eavesdrop on a message from Darth Vader – a message intended for Vader’s hired gun, the bounty hunter known as Boba Fett.

written by Rod Warren, Bruce Vilanch, Pat Proft, Leonard Ripps and Mitzie Welch
directed by Steve Binder
music by Ian Fraser
songs by Mitzie Welch and Ken Welch

Cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader), Beatrice Arthur (Aknina), Art Carney (Sundan), Harvey Korman (Video chef/Morphian host/Krelman), Diahann Carroll (Hologram singer), Jefferson Starship (Hologram band), Mickey Morton (Malla), Paul Gale (Itchy), Patty Maloney (Lumpy), Jack Rader (Imperial officer), Stephaine Stromer (Imperial officer), Michael Potter (Imperial officer), The Wazzan Troupe (Hologram performers), Yuichi Sugiyama (?), The Mum Brothers (?), Claude Woolman (?), Lev Mailer (?), John McLaughlin (?)

Appearing in footage from Star Wars: David Prowse (Darth Vader), Alec Guiness (Obi-Wan Kenobi)

LogBook entry & review by Earl Green

Review: To think…people were worried that Episode I would be the darkest hour of the Star Wars franchise while copies of this TV special were still in circulation!? Give me Jar Jar Binks over Harvey Korman any day of the week. Though I’m not normally given to writing extensive amounts of subjective material in LogBook entries, this particular program merits a bit of special attention since it is so hazily remembered by most fans (even the most dedicated fans have probably placed a mental trauma-block on most of this show), and because it is completely unavailable through…well, for lack of a better term, official channels. The most concrete facts that most people have are that it wasn’t a pretty sight, it was the first appearance of Boba Fett, it only aired once, and George Lucas would love every copy of it to fall into Imperial hands, never to be seen again.

One question everyone has is: is the Star Wars Holiday Special that bad? Well…yes. It is. It’s both better and worse than I remembered it. The Wookiee side of things is passable, though it’s rather silly. But the worst of the worst comes everytime a screen or some other machine is activated, for this storytelling device leads inevitably to some horribly-written (or improvised) and hideously-performed comedy sketch which is supposedly based in the Star Wars universe. It’s as if someone repeatedly gave Harvey Korman one word linked to Star Wars and asked him to improv a skit based on that. And I found the bizarrely dark cantina sketch rather disturbing for something which was supposedly a family-friendly special: Bea Arthur cuddling with a giant rat, dancing with Walrus Man, and singing a song about how sad it is when a bar closes (to the tune of the Cantina Band song)? I was also a little bit disturbed by the thought of Chewie’s dear old dad plugging into some kind of personal hologram device to see Diahann Carroll slinking around and saying “I’m your fantasy” before launching into her song. Oh yeah, this was pure late-seventies, disco-era schlock. I’m not even going to go into the scene where Carrie Fisher starts singing a sickly number to the tune of the Star Wars theme (and you thought Saturday Night Live was the first to do that?) to a room full of Wookiees.

Put simply, the Holiday Special was a very thinly-disguised variety show set within a flimsy (and rather transparent) Star Wars framework. And even by the tacky standards of the late 1970s, this variety show isn’t up to much. Trying to squeeze it into a framework that had something to do with Star Wars makes it even worse. The whole affair reeks of someone at 20th Century Fox demanding that Lucas come up with something – anything – to tide the gap of Star Wars product until Empire could be finished – and then taking the initiative themselves. Maybe this special inspired Lucas to assume what now seems like an almost fanatical grip over how the Star Wars properties are marketed.

The Boba Fett cartoon is probably the only thing which keeps this mess alive in the collective mind of fandom. The animated segment, produced by the now-internationally-famous Nelvana Studios of Canada, isn’t exactly a classic slice of Star Wars mythology, what with Han and Chewie being dispatched to recover a “magical talisman” for the Alliance, but it is historically important for the first appearance of everyone’s favorite bounty hunter. In the cartoon, Fett is casually referred to as “Boba” by everyone, and nobody knows who he is. (Another noteworthy point: in the cartoon, Boba Fett is working for Darth Vader – Threepio calls him Vader’s “right hand man” – not Jabba the Hutt’s.) If one sets aside magical items, the cartoon is almost acceptable as a minor footnote of Star Wars canon – unless one takes into account Boba Fett’s appearance in the Special Edition revision of the first Star Wars film.

This brings us to the question…can any of this be considered canonical by any stretch of the imagination? George Lucas would answer “No way in hell,” but let’s look at this. Sure, the Star Wars Holiday Special violates an infinite number of barriers of good taste, but does it really go against the grain of the entire franchise in terms of continuity? Maybe, maybe not. Nothing in the classic trilogy rules out anything specific from the Holiday Special – Chewie’s family is never mentioned again, we never see Kashyyyk in any other form in the movies, and Wookiee culture is never explored in any of the other films (though it is explored in some of the novels), so none of these things are explicitly contradicted later. Wuher was the only bartender seen in the Mos Eisley Cantina, but does that mean that Bea Arthur’s character doesn’t serve drinks on weekends? Goofy-ass Harvey Korman skits and a lackluster performances by Jefferson Starship really have no place in the Star Wars saga, admittedly (though I did get a belly laugh out of seeing lead singer Marty “artistic respectability at all costs” Balin join the other members of Jefferson Starship in trying to hitch their wagons to a rising star).

Even the animated feature doesn’t necessarily contradict anything, as one might be able to infer a bit of preferential treatment on Vader’s part toward Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back – reinforced by taking into account the two villains’ prior acquaintance in the Holiday Special.

Lucas wants this thing buried. He does have a little bit of a point – it is a badly-dated pile of pure disco-era cheese which does the franchise few favors. It’s worth noting that Lucasfilm Ltd. did not appear in the credits of the original Star Wars or in the Holiday Special – that entity didn’t exist until Empire came along. The Holiday Special reeks of a quickly (and badly) produced attempt, on the part of 20th Century Fox, to continue exploiting their unexpected hit franchise and to whet the public’s appetite for all things Star Wars. Boba Fett’s presence – an obvious teaser for the character’s planned appearance in Empire – is a clear indication that Lucas signed off on at least some elements of the show.

George Lucas declared the Star Wars Holiday Special an orphan when he realized that its existence, or any commercial release acknowledging it as a part of the Star Wars universe, might damage his standing as a serious (and seriously powerful) filmmaker. (But by the same taken, shouldn’t Howard The Duck be banished from cable reruns forever?) George Lucas, circa 1978 when this show was produced and aired, was working for the studio; now the studios kiss his feet whenever he rolls out a new property. When will he realize that, despite the fact that the Holiday Special is gloriously bad, enough time has passed and it’s time to cash in? Star Wars is ingrained in pop culture enough that I doubt anyone would refuse to bankroll his next movie if George released the special to home video. It’s no more and no less a blow to the integrity of the Star Wars franchise than, say, an inflatable pool raft in the shape of a Trade Federation battleship.

Time, and public demand, will tell. Until then…happy Life Day, pal.