Here I am again! Reviewing another of Hollywood’s most awful, probably best left untouched. With the release of a new Star Wars film and the holiday season, I thought it was the perfect time to re-open the vault! So here is my review of the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.
George Lucas once famously quipped about this cinematic debacle that if he had the time and a sledgehammer, he would track down every copy of it and smash them. He then proceeded to buy every single copy so that it would never air again.
Unfortunately for him and luckily for us the Internet exists and has acted as a living tomb to this turbulent television special. And I sat through it so you don’t have to. This holiday special was definitely special in its own way.
After the first Star Wars film was released in 1977, it was a huge surprise success. A lot of people actually expected it to flop at the time. Hollywood wasn’t used to high-cost space operas. Rather, films that were popular then were more like the French Connection or The Godfather; movies with uncompromising tough guy protagonists. Directors were more interested in gritty realism than fantasy.
Star Wars was very expensive to make, in fact it was one of the most expensive movies to have ever been made at the time. If it flopped, 20th Century Fox would be out hundreds of millions of dollars.
To give it a chance, they only granted theaters the right to show The Other Side of Midnight, a highly anticipated novel adaptation, if they picked up Lucas’ space opera as well. Although The Other Side of Midnight was a marginal success and did modestly well by any standards, as we all know, it didn’t do anywhere near as well as Star Wars.
The film was so unexpectedly popular that merchandise and toys couldn’t be sold on the spot and film-goers had to get a sort of IOU. All of this unexpected popularity then gave birth to the Holiday Special.
George Lucas wanted to keep Star Wars on people’s minds during the holiday season as the making of the second film progressed so he granted CBS permission to proceed. To say he regretted this decision is an understatement.
Obviously, due to the success of Star Wars, the expectations for this television special were astronomically high. It did not deliver, mostly because a lot of it is just straight up weird. From the first scene that is solely in Wookie grunts (without subtitles) to virtual reality Wookie porn, this movie has a lot of moments that were probably best left forgotten.
The variety extravaganza begins with Chewbacca and Han flying through space. Chewbacca wants to get back to his family on his home planet of Kashyyyk to spend “Life Day” with them (why couldn’t it have just been Christmas or any other holiday?) and Han unenthusiastically reassures him that they will get there as soon as possible.
It is not Han who is miserable but Harrison Ford himself who is evidently bored as hell throughout the entire thing. He really does not want to be in this TV special. He’s even admitted he never saw the entire thing. Apparently he was forced into it by his contract and there was no way out of it.
After the opening sequence, we are introduced to Chewbacca’s family who sound like they are part of the seven dwarfs; his wife Malla, his father Itchy and his son Lumpy. They are shown speaking wookie…with no subtitles…So the scene is basically just ten plus minutes of unintelligible grunting. Good start.
Then Malla calls Luke asking where Chewie is. To cheer her up, Luke tries to make her smile in what is the first of many awkward smiles throughout the film. See in the clip above when Han and Chewbacca finally arrive (1:26) for an example.
Other than the main story, the film is just filled with weird variety acts from older stars of the day like Harvey Korman, who was well known for his work on the Carol Burnett Show. He tries to liven up the show but is no match for how miserable the main cast feels about the whole thing. In the clip below, he shows Malla how to cook:
The weirdest scene is the aforementioned “wookie porn scene.” Itchy is hooked up to a weird chair device that shows Broadway star Diahanna Carrol giving a seductive performance of This Minute Now. This thing is, as Harvey Korman says: “Wow, if you know what I mean.” No, what do you mean Harvey? How did this even get into a children’s film?
Another aspect which made this film so cringey on the night it aired were the ads. You can see all of them below (along with news breaks):
These were pulled from the same (presumably) VHS copy the movie was. Some downloads have them together.
A lot of them were corporations trying to do some feel-good stuff, like GM’s slogan “People building transportation to serve people”. A slogan so incredibly benign, it’s almost more boring than some parts of this film.
An extra weird one is at 2:47. A bunch of people who represent the International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s Union break out into awkward song. Even for a self-described lefty who loves unions, this was weird for me too.
The film does have some okay moments like the cartoon with Bobba Fett. Fun fact: This is actually the first time we see Bobba Fett! So if anything this monstrosity gave us a badass Star Wars character. So I guess it wasn’t all that bad?
Although a total affront to Star Wars, the Holiday Special is notable for several reasons. For one, if you can believe it, it is the first Star Wars film to come after the original release. Second, and more importantly, it was the first film to showcase the Star Wars expanded universe (although many fans and Lucas himself deny it is part of Star Wars cannon).
Since the first film was shown, there have been hundreds of additions to the franchise including novels, comics, animated television shows, video games and more (though Disney de-canonized a bunch of these a few years ago). And if anything, The Star Wars Holiday Special gave us that concept.
Even some of the ideas from the expanded universe were used in subsequent Star Wars films. So I guess we have the holiday special to thank for that? (Also again, Bobba Fett)
In all, this is an amazingly terrible film and if you are a lover of bad movies, well this is right up there. Unlike The Room which is so bad it’s funny, The Star Wars Holiday Special leaves us cringing and that’s what makes it so great.
Full movie (if you really feel like it…):