Star Wars: The Holiday Special, 1978

Thanks to the wonder that is the internet, there was a persistent, repeated meme going around that lasted from 1999, shortly after The Phantom Menace was released, to 2015 when The Force Awakens debuted.  It’s a meme that has, thankfully, gone somewhat dormant because there’s new Star Wars to distract people.  That meme in question gave rise to some rather faulty logic that the prequel era of Star Wars was somehow “bad” Star Wars.  I heard the same shallow arguments time and again as though they’d been gouged into the withered husk of pop culture.  I finally put forward my two Republic credits in an attempt to explain the same questions people kept asking over and over and over again like some broken recording.  But I get it.  It’s not that people actually wanted the answers.  They wanted to complain, and the echo chamber of the internet blows everything out of proportion.  It didn’t live up to expectations, they say.  It was never as good as we had it in the beginning, they say.  It’s too hard to understand what side anyone’s on.  The acting is wooden.  The dialogue is terrible.  Jar Jar is the devil, or perhaps the true Sith Lord.  Midichlorians!  I’ve heard it all and then some.  In some ways, the backlash is testimony for just how timeless and awesome the original trilogy remains.

It’s also a testament to the power of rose-colored nostalgia.  After all, anything “bad” in the prequel era is still being talked about as though “suffering” through it some kind of rite of passage.  The “bad” in the original era is buried behind a wall of repressed memories.  As Billy Joel once sang, “The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”  For those fans who grew up in the prequel era and loved every moment of it, this original trilogy fan publicly apologizes for the trolls you had to endure.  There was a time when my generation came together over Star Wars and welcomed new fans into the fold.  It was about having fun instead of bellyaching about how nothing on screen was what they imagined on the playground when they were kids.  Great job keeping the faith and keeping that lightsaber lit, prequel fans.  You are awesome!

I don’t know… Maybe it is true on some level about what they say, that no one hates Star Wars quite like a Star Wars fan.  I truly despise that meme too.  People that repeat this nonsense clearly have no idea what “bad” Star Wars really looks like.  Either they’ve never seen it and try to own it due to brand loyalty, or it’s so traumatic they’ve blocked it from their minds.  I’m here to tell you that “bad” Star Wars comes from the same era that gave us the original trilogy.  It’s time to crack open that time capsule and take a whiff of that smell you just can’t get from the inside of a tauntaun.  Yeah…

“If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.” — George Lucas

Picture, if you will.  It’s Christmas 1977.  Star Wars is all the rage having blown the hinges off all expectation for months.  It has exploded across the world in ways nobody thought possible, with the notable exception of Mark Hamill because he gets it (and even he thought it’d be relegated to midnight cult feature status).  Several variety shows had Star Wars themed skits and segments in their bid to get a piece of the pie, which in turn fueled more ticket sales because people wanted to know what they were missing.  The Galaxy Far, Far Away was a juggernaut in every sense of the word.  Consumers lined up in department stores and toy stores, desperately scouring the streets for any sign of merchandise that they can gift… or collect for themselves (under the guise of shopping for a nephew or whatever).  But…

There are no toys to be had.

None.  That was the Christmas of the infamous “empty box” promo.

Try — if you can — to explain to your uber-fan kid that Santa has no Star Wars to give.  But hey, look!  It’s a piece of cardboard with artwork on it of what the toys might look like that the kid can’t have!  Yay!

To keep Star Wars alive in the public imagination, Lucasfilm licensed out the costumes for performers to wear at shopping malls or whatever so kids could meet their favorite characters.  Merchandise started popping up slowly, first the knock-offs, and then finally the real deal.  But Kenner was slow to release the centerpiece of Star Wars collectibles: the original action figure line that everyone at that time so desperately wanted.  In hindsight, it’s easy to say that was a colossal miscalculation, but when you think about how far in advance these things have to be planned, nobody could have guessed the demand.  But with this promo, we all knew now they were coming.  George Lucas had banked on the merchandising rights in his bid to free himself from the studio system’s mafia-like grasp, and the studio had foolishly given him those rights because nobody really made money on that stuff.  Shortsighted fools…  But because Kenner was underprepared for the onslaught of popularity, Lucas needed something — anything — to keep Star Wars alive until the toys were ready lest the market dry up and momentum was lost.  The idea was the toys would hold people until the next movie could be finished (which would be partially funded by those toys), but something was needed to hold the public’s imagination until the toys arrived.  It wasn’t the most sure-footed of juggling acts, but it got there in the end.

So it is that CBS approached Lucas to produce an exclusive holiday special.  It would be one part adventure story, one part cast reunion, and one part variety show in the tradition of all of the great holiday specials to that era.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, for a blatant act of greed and desperation.  Star Wars stayed fresh, so to speak, Lucas got some more time and funding to put into his next film, and the suits at CBS got an abject lesson in marketing value vs. quality content (which has been ignored to this day by nearly every studio before and since at most turns).  The producers that were hired to pull this off were themselves so busy that they hired other producers.  Calls were made, favors were cashed in, and against all odds and sanity, the original cast members of the film were reunited for a one-off that has been whispered about in hushed tones ever since.  Our classic heroes — Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, and the droids — starred alongside the likes of Beatrice Arthur, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, Diahann Carroll, the Jefferson Starship, and… Chewbacca’s family.  Everybody say “Awwww…”

The Star Wars Holiday Special aired the evening of November 17, 1978 (indelibly branded forever in the minds of fans as “Life Day”).  For this, CBS pre-empted Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk.  Seriously.  It has not been re-aired — or released in any official format — since that fateful night.  For.  A.  Reason.  In fact, there has only ever been one officially (and begrudgingly) released copy of it anywhere outside of Lucasfilm.  Carrie Fisher requested a copy of it, and Lucas gave it to her in return for recording DVD commentary of the original films.  According to her, if she threw a party and decided at some point it was time for people to leave, she’d use that as the means to drive her guests out of her home.  Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

As they say, every dark cloud has a silver lining, so even this galactic train wreck isn’t all bad.  The designs for Chewie’s homeworld Kashyyyk were referenced and vastly improved upon for Revenge of the Sith.  It’s truly surprising to see how many quality ideas have been strip-mined from this tire fire over the years.  We got to hear Carrie sing beautifully as ever, even if the song was awkwardly written to the tune of the “Star Wars Main Title” theme.  What, you didn’t know the “Main Title” had lyrics?  Well, good luck getting that out of your head now.  And most importantly of all, The Holiday Special saw the debut of a character who would in short order become a cult favorite: Boba Fett.  He’s got more dialogue here than in the entire trilogy.

If you’re keeping score, that’s 15 minutes of animated “tolerable” and 3 minutes of melodically uncomfortable in the midst of a two-hour history lesson (with commercials) of what not to do even under the best of intentions.  Ever.  The Force cried out in terror over this one.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about this atrocity, well… you needed to know because it would find you sooner or later.  It’s too goofy to die, you see, so all you can do is perpetuate it in the hopes that people will appreciate how good we’ve got it now.  Don’t just take my word for it.  The truth hurts sometimes, but you need to see it for yourself.  All the blogging in the world will never truly peel back the surreal reality of… this:

See what I mean?  Even Darth Vader wasn’t enough to save this one, although James Earl Jones did finally get voice credits (which were retroactively added to A New Hope).  At the very least, now you know the real reason the Empire struck back.  Never forget.

Just to really drive another point home because I can… George Lucas has never considered this mess to be canon, even before it was finished.  Easy to see why, right?  And yet somehow the powers that be worked it into that ridiculous tiered system of Expanded Universe 2.0 in the 90s that Disney finally wiped out.  See that?  Another silver lining.  Any fool can see this isn’t — and never should have been — canon on any level.  Thanks, Disney!

So remember, next Life Day, be sure to take the time to celebrate… this day of peace… a day of harmony… *ahem*

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2 thoughts on “Star Wars: The Holiday Special, 1978

    • Yup, that comic nails it perfectly. The first time I watched this, I had to do so in 5-minute increments. Over the years I’ve been able to do it just on account of showing it to others, but… that’s not really a badge of honor. :P

      Liked by 1 person

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