I Have a Bad Feeling About This: The Star Wars Holiday Special
It's become something of legend, of course, even if YouTube has stolen some of its mystery these days. Only a few years ago, all you could find of the Star Wars Holiday Special were bootleg tapes traded at comic-book and sci-fi collections, sold like contraband spice. (This transaction was even parodied in the Weird Al Yankovic video "White and Nerdy".) But even if it's more commonplace these days, available alongside the porn and trauma videos and fake-lonely-girls on the internet, it's still something of a mystery, certainly.
Namely, the mystery concerns how in the hell it was ever made.
It bears mentioning that no less than George Lucas agrees with this, and probably wonders the same thing. He wasn't involved in the production of the Star Wars Holiday Special, aside from a few notes on Wookies and the Star Wars universe pre-production, and giving the green light in the first place. And even if you hated the prequels with the red-hot intensity of the twin Tatooine suns, anyone will admit that they're light years better than this. Lucas has even gone so far as to say that if he could track down every copy in the world, he'd smash them all with a hammer.
The real answer to why the Star Wars Holiday Special was made, of course, is money. It was the beginning of 1978, and Star Wars was still a growing phenomenon, having enjoyed amazing success and astounding longevity at the box office. Adults loved it; kids were clamoring for more. So the suits, as suits are wont to do, decided that it was worth milking a little bit. Give the fans what they want, they told Lucas. While you're working on the sequel, give the people a little Star Wars something-something. And in the meantime, of course, distributor 20th Century Fox would make some more money off this unexpected new hot property.
Okay, so money makes Hollywood go 'round. Nothing overtly wrong about that. Where it all went to right into the Sarlaac Pit, though, was in allowing the most hacky of Hollywood hack writers to play in the Star Wars sandbox. Bruce Vilanch, the rotund semi-comic of Hollywood Squares and writer for those snappy one-liners that are supposed to be funny on the Emmys and Oscars—was one of the writers for the Holiday Special. This tells us a lot. It tells us, specifically, that the Special will not be so special.
And suck it did. The things that are wrong with the Star Wars Holiday Special are actually better known than the show itself, so let me just hit the highlights of what's wrong with it here: Chewbacca's family, Wookies named Malla and Itchy and Lumpy, carrying on prolonged conversations in Wookese without subtitles; Harrison Ford hugging everyone in sight; Mark Hamill literally phoning in a performance that makes him look like he'd just had his motorcycle accident that morning and immediately went to make-up and said "make me look like a drag queen"; Carrie Fisher, pupils dialated, high on something, and with good reason, because she's singing, sort of; Bea Arthur and Art Carney trading sexual innuendo; clumsy variety-show insertions of musical guests Jefferson Starship and Diahann Carrol, the latter of whom appears as some sort of holographic Wookie porn. And the list goes on. The only saving grace of the show, or so legend has it, is that it's the first appearance of Boba Fett, but he's in cartoon form, and drawn and colored so awfully that he's not all that memorable, honestly. But he's there, I guess, and fans need to hang on to something as they swing across the great Death-Star chasm that is the Holiday Special.
So yes, it's horrible. The only thing that will get even rabid Star Wars fans through the entire show are the groovy late-70s ads that come with every copy, since every copy available was taped directly off screen at someone's house where they were lucky enough to own a VCR in 1978.
But you know, the thing is, I can't hate this show as much as some people do, or claim to anyway, or as much as George Lucas himself does. Because I was nine in the Fall of 1978. I had already been taken to see Star Wars more than a few times. I had all the action figures. I had the Millenium Falcon. I had the X-Wing. I had the Creature Cantina. I had Darth Vader's TIE. I had just gotten the Death Star Playset for my birthday over the summer. I was into it. Most kids were. And remember, this was 1978. Commercial videos didn't exist yet. Empire hadn't come out. Star Wars had only been seen in theaters so far. Kids were hungry for more Star Wars. Anything.
So the truth is that on November 17, 1978, I was in front of the television mesmerized. I didn't care then who Bea Arthur was, or that I couldn't understand what the Wookies were saying. From the opening credits, it was enough just to see Han Solo on my TV, to hear Chewbacca growling in my living room. I can't be alone in this. There are lots of children of the 70s out there who know exactly what I'm talking about, even if they (like me) have taken to badmouthing the very things that gave them joy as a kid. It was a simple thing, but that was a simpler time. Seeing movie heroes on your television has since, perhaps understandably, lost its luster.
But back then, a long, long time ago in a world far, far away…honestly? It was special.
-- Teague Bohlen