This morning, an unknown hero uploaded the fabled Star Wars Holiday Special to Vimeo. The whole glorious clusterfuck only graced the internet for a few brief hours, but it was good watching while it lasted. Though the abomination can still be obtained via BitTorrent, it was delightful to see the son LucasFilm never wanted to talk about come out of the attic to shamble around for a while.
Because neither Sean Hutchinson nor I had seen the “film” before, we decided to watch it until it was removed from the interwebs. We sort of figured that we’d have an enjoyable 15 minutes before a Napa-based lawyer climbed out of bed and made a call. We were sort of hoping that’s what would happen.
And, yes, that’s pretty much what happened. Except it was more glorious than that. It was so glorious we had to talk about it….
Eric: It was as terrible as I’d heard. I got as far as roughly 45 minutes in, when the Boba Fett cartoon should have started (it was removed due to copyright — it was officially released as a DVD Easter egg) before I was forced to refresh and met a dead link.
What astounds me the most is how flawed the premise is. A story about Chewie’s family, whose species-specific vocabulary is just variations of RWOOOOAAAAAAAAARRRRGGHGHHHHHH. Did they not think it through? Did they not realize like ten minutes into shooting? Did no one say, “Shit, all we’re doing is recording people in Wookie costumes flail their arms about”? What did the script even look like?
Sean: First off, yes, it’s as bad as everyone has heard, but the terrible premise makes sense in context. The original movie was still playing in theaters over a year after it was first released, something unheard of in today’s Hollywood, which emphasizes the opening weekend and basically nothing after that.
So at the time in 1978, it was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and CBS wanted to capitalize on what they saw as a dumb kid’s movie and basically peddle a bunch of nonsense that would give them big ratings for a two-hour primetime block of programming. The thing is, if I were a kid in 1978 who had just seen Star Wars, I would totally tune in to anything related to the movie. Still, I find it hard to believe that anyone, even kids, would enjoy this. It’s just wrong on so many levels. What was your favorite part, if any?
Eric: Probably would have been the Boba Fett cartoon, if only because it’s Boba Fett not standing around or getting eaten by sand vaginas.
Actually, there’s a real potential for a good story buried under this turd pellet. The Nazi Germany iconography that Lucas tried to invoke with the Empire is really on the nose when the Imperial Guard and Stormtroopers barge into Chewie’s family home. They demand to go upstairs looking for rebels and they bully a family during a sacred holiday. They’re insensitive to cultural nuances and allies don’t do much to stop them. Had this been a real effort and not a David Lynch fever dream, it could have been something.
Also, how stunning is it that the actual stars of Star Wars show up for an appearance? I’m shocked at the amount of screentime Harrison Ford had. No way would he do this today, but you could also say that about this special and Lucasfilm or anyone with common sense.
What were yours?
Sean: Before I answer, instead of asking what your favorite parts were I should have asked what were the scenes that stuck out to you in their pure what-the-fuck-ness since I’m sure nobody has a “favorite” part of the Star Wars Holiday Special. Also the Nazi Germany connection definitely makes sense, but I’d hesitate to put that much thought into it. It’s definitely more thought than anybody who wrote this godawful piece of trash put into it.
There’s no doubt the real reason to actually watch the special is for the Boba Fett cartoon, which was missing in the video, so in effect I made the woefully masochistic choice to sit through it all for no good reason.
As for the next-level bonkers scenes that stuck out to me, I’d have to say the post-Oscar award-winning presence of Art Carney as a main character is a fairly big head scratcher. Also the four-armed cross-dressing chef that shows up for some reason made me question my sanity, as did the scene where Bea Arthur appears as the owner of the Mos Eisley Cantina. Who knew the Cantina Band tune had lyrics? This kind of begs the question: Is the Holiday Special considered canon, or is that just an overly nerdy question asked by overly nerdy fans like us? I’d say it isn’t since literally everyone associated with it has done everything they could to make people forget it.
Eric: Oh my God, the chef! (Yeah, way to phrase your question, bro.) By far the most bizarre thing to exist in this special, considering it may probably still be canon, is the four-armed Guy Fieri/Paula Deen Oompa Loompa. But that’s not even accounting Bea Arthur or the Cirque du So-WTF in the opening.
As easy as it is to mock this special, it’s also too easy and can’t bear the brunt of the ridicule. Surely some of it was due to the pop culture climate of the time, when variety shows were really all that were what people tuned into primetime for.
The prestige status of television was a distant notion, impossible to foresee in 1978. It’s hard to watch even today’s late-night talk shows, which are saved only because of antics and skits that exist for the early morning YouTube hit.
And yeah, there’s significance to this. Robert Downey Jr. will never show up as Iron Man in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but Harrison Ford became Han for a damn Christmas special. It’s a wonderful relic. Awful, but wonderful. George Lucas says every existing copy of this should be smashed with a hammer. I say it should be saved. I had fun watching this.
Or maybe we really did just waste our time.
Sean: It’s low hanging fruit for sure, but it’s one of those things whose notoriety for being unwatchable is somehow more interesting to talk about than actually sitting down and watching it.
Even if it did ebb with other cheesy variety hours of the moment in the late ‘70s, it still has to be notable for just how blatant it all seems. The “Life Day” plot is little more than a goofy means to barely string together its seemingly endless series of musical numbers, z-list celebrity cameos (even for that time), and other variety acts like the trippy-as-hell jugglers and gymnasts.
At times, it’s so bizarrely disjointed that it seems like a Tim and Eric sketch, which makes me kind of giddy thinking about how the Star Wars Holiday Special was like a proto-Adult Swim show somehow.
In the end, no small amount of footage featuring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, or Carrie Fisher could have saved this hilariously bad clunker, and this comes from a die hard Star Wars fan. It’s the kind of thing where at no point while watching it was I not asking myself “What is going on,” “Why is this happening,” and “Who allowed this to happen?” I’m glad we watched it so no one else will have to.
Eric: Happy Life Day, pal.