Okay, internet. Leah and Emily have a gift for you this spritely season. They have achieved the impossible.
They watched the Star Wars Holiday Special.
Full disclosure: both of us had watched the special before. But this time we did so unaided. No alcohol, no 3am delirium, no Rifftrax, and with only each other for company. (Plus Cherry, Leah’s dog. She wasn’t all that interested.) The version we watched had 70s commercials throughout, and they were AMAZING. We live tweeted the event, so we’ll drop some of our reactions in from that as well.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure
terror, the Star Wars Holiday Special is a thing that even George Lucas tried to erase from public memory. Released in 1978 to bank on Star Wars’ popularity, the Holiday Special tells the story of Chewbacca’s wife (Malla), his son (Lumpy), and his dad (Itchy) as they await Chewie’s arrival for Wookiee Life Day. The Empire is on the planet Kashyyyk, making everyone’s holiday a trial, and preventing Chewie from getting to his family. Comedy variety guest stars show up to liven the atmosphere. It’s chaos. Horrible chaos.
But. We might have discovered the one redeeming factor in all of it. Bear with us.
Here are some important highlights of the Holiday Special:
The Empire crashes Chewie’s house and harasses his family before their beloved holiday, and the only person who can defend them is Saun Dann (Art Carney) for some reason.
Itchy receives a “proton pack” from Saun Dann that’s full of space porn. (Which happens to be Diahann Carroll singing in some shiny-wear and making suggestive comments.)
There are no subtitles for the Wookiee-speak, which isn’t a problem in Star Wars films, but is most definitely a problem in the many lengthy scenes in the special where only Wookiees are talking. (Those costumes do not lend themselves to pantomime, after all.)
There is a cartoon that is clearly meant to be an adventure had by Han, Chewie, Luke, the droids, and Leia, but it’s never explained if it’s a fictionalized account of something that really happened, or complete fiction. It does feature the first appearance of Boba Fett, however. (He did not appear in A New Hope until the Special Edition releases in 1997.) He rides a dinosaur.
There are frequent side sketches from Harvey Korman that read like the Carol Burnett Show accidentally threw up in the Star Wars prop house. There’s a fake cooking show and everything.
For some reason, Luke, Han, and Leia all make real appearances on this thing. We can only assume that they liked the idea of getting paid for something that required minimal work on their part. Mark Hamill is wearing a ton of eyeliner. (We know he had his accident prior to filming the special, but that does not account for those punk rock lashes.)
There is an appearance by Jefferson Starship as a 3D music video and it goes on forever.
Ackmena (Bea Arthur) is suddenly in charge of the Mos Eisley Cantina. Either she bought it from Wuhrer, or he’s her employee, or something because it makes no sense. Also, the Empire asks that everyone on Tatooine go home for curfew and no one will leave, so Bea Arthur has to sing a song and dance everyone out.
Chewie eventually does make it home with Han, who proceeds to occupy Chewie’s family before the big guy can get a word in. Luke and Leia show up for some reason too.
All the Wookiees travel into a random cosmic light for Life Day, and it’s basically like a cult gathering. For some reason, Leia sings a song on their behalf and then talks about the Rebel Alliance.
See, when people dump all over the Ewoks, I kind of want to point out that Return of the Jedi might have looked more like this if they’d used Wookiees. Making those suits of fur isn’t an easy task, and Chewie’s family are the proof. They are the stuff of nightmares. Just thinking about them gives me the heebie jeebies (in fact, I don’t think I’d ever experienced a sensation that fully encompassed the heebie jeebies before staring into Lumpy’s enraptured face).
Also, who decided on this guest star line up? I know Art Carney was a big deal and I adore Bea Arthur as much as any sane human with a pulse, but putting them in this would be like making an Avengers Holiday Special today, and having Eddie Murphy appear to do a sketch about the Hulk’s favorite hot dog cart. It would be like asking Chevy Chase to show up as the grumpy maintenance man of the Avengers training facility, and then having him grace us with a dead serious rendition of “O Holy Night.” It would be like carting Joan Cusack out while Captain America was hitting a punching bag at the gym, and having her do a sultry dance for him. It never lines up.
Apparently, Lucas had nothing to do with the Holiday Special’s development—he basically lent out his characters to a bunch of comedy writers and never checked in, which resulted in the awfulness that ensued. Can’t really be surprised there.
There is a bit of weird serendipity to these proceedings—on the show White Collar, Diahann Carroll played the central character’s awesome rich benefactor, June. (She basically puts the guy up in her house, sings the occasional song, and helps him out with a few heists along the way.) At a certain point on the show, Billy Dee Williams shows up as the former conman partner of June’s late husband. He acts all sweet on her, then breaks her heart. And the whole time I was watching, all I would think was “Lando, how could you do that to Mermeia Holographic!”
But really, none of this matters. My brain is thoroughly chewed over. Leah will bring us to the moral of the story, as she has far more patience than I….
Well, we’ve done it. Our Christmas miracle came early, cause Emily Asher-Perrin and I found the one genuinely good part of the Star Wars Holiday Special. And no, I am not talking about the Nelvana cartoon—that one loses points from me when Boba Fett whacks his poor space-dinosaur for no reason. What I’m talking about is the one tiny moment when the Holiday Special does what Star Wars had not yet done—it brought the moral bankruptcy of the Empire home to its audience in a completely relatable way.
Yes, yes, I hear your billion voices screaming out—Alderaan. And I know, the charred body of Owen (or was it Beru?) crawling out of Luke’s home? Pretty gruesome, and also an excellent example of the Empire’s evil. The problem with those two examples is simply that they’re so heinous that it’s hard to think about them in human terms. The destruction of an entire planet? Burning an orphan’s aunt and uncle alive just in time to force him to heed the Call to Adventure? These are epic tragedies.
But the Holiday Special features one perfect scene in two hours of dreck. Let me explain: Malla, Lumpy, and Itchy are waiting for Chewbacca to return home so they can celebrate Life Day together as a family. Unfortunately, Stormtroopers have invaded their house during a search for “Rebel activity” on Kashyyyk. One of the troopers goes upstairs to search Lumpy’s room, and rather than just rooting around, he makes a point of breaking all of Lumpy’s toys. Then, just when you think it can’t get any worse—the trooper decapitates Lumpy’s stuffed bantha.
As if that isn’t icky enough, the Trooper then orders Lumpy to clean up his room. When the kid runs up and sees the carnage, he tries in vain to reattach the bantha’s head, and finally lays it down and tucks it into bed. For a second I forgot I was watching a show that has become legendary for its awfulness. I forgot all of George Lucas’ comments about wanting to destroy every copy. I even forgot how much I hate Lumpy. I was actually in the moment, watching a heartbroken child pet his stuffed animal. This is true evil in all its banality. This is a bully coming into a child’s life and breaking things just because he can, because he wants the child to fear him. He—and the Empire he represents—want the kid to know that he has no power. In this one moment the Star Wars Universe took the horror of the Empire and translated it into language all the children watching at home could understand.
So… there you have it? We’re tired now. We promise never to inflict this on the world again. But you are all welcome to inflict this on your friends and enemies for years to come.
Leah Schnelbach and Emily Asher-Perrin are fairly certain that they should get a reward for this enterprise. Someone better bake them a Bantha Surprise.