There’s no way to describe The Star Wars Holiday Special which was broadcast one time only on this date, Nov. 17, 1978 on CBS. It’s not great. But it’s not entirely deserving of its awful criticism. In fact, bootlegs of the special are considered prized collections among nerds everywhere. You can’t really call yourself a true Star Wars fan without having it. (And considering what J.J. Abrams and Disney did to the franchise, can it be really that bad?)
In his music video for his video “White and Nerdy,” Weird Al Yankovic, as a geeky nerd is shown paying for a VHS copy in a back alley. When Harrison Ford appeared on the Late Night with Conan O’Brien, he showed a clip of it. Even Disney-Plus did an ode to it with their LEGO Stars Wars special.
But is it as bad as they say. Hey, it was the 1970s. For a decade that was so heavy into revolutionizing the film industry, the TV industry seemed to suffer. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great TV movies of the decade, such as Brian’s Song and Steven Spielberg’s Duel which was later released as a feature movie with additional footage shot. Archie Bunker quarreled a war of words with George Jefferson. It was very edgy. Good Times showed a sitcom in which families didn’t live in nice suburban homes. One Day at a Time had Bonnie Franklin cheering in the opening credits on her divorce.
Times were a-changing, but yet, it seemed that everything had to have a variety episode. The Brady Bunch was relaunched as a variety show, because that show wasn’t cheesy enough. Variety shows seemed about as common as reality shows were in the 2000s or limited series with big names are today.
So, it was only natural a bunch of TV network execs would think Star Wars, which had become a huge blockbuster in 1977, should get its own variety show. The only problem was people were probably expecting Star Wars 2. Instead they got Star Wars 2: Electric Boogaloo.
The special concerns Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) trying to get to his home planet of Kashyyyk for Life Day, a popular religious or spiritual day for the Wookies. It’s never made clear, except that the Wookies wear robes and attend a ceremony where they can walk through space toward a huge light. It doesn’t make any sense.
Even worse, the first 15 minutes or so is totally in Wookiespeak with absolutely no subtitles. That hip avant-garde guy you knew in college who had the long ponytailed hair and the Van Dyke goatee who only watched movies in foreign languages with no subtitles would pop two Tylenol from the headache he’d receive of hearing them roar and grunt at each other. But the main cast features Chewbacca’s family, his wife, Malla, his son, Itchy, and his father, Lumpy.
Art Carney pops up as a trader doing his Ed Norton routine. There’s also Harvey Korman in three separate roles that have to be seen to be believed. Bea Arthur pops up as the proprietor of the cantina at Mos Eisley who leads the colorful characters in a song and dance while dealing with a patron, played by Korman, who drinks through the top of his head.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) make appearances as well as Darth Vadar, C-3PO and R2-D2. But the one thing that most fans like is an animated short cartoon introducing Boba Fett as a bounty hunter who tricks Luke and others into thinking he’s a friend of a the Rebels. But in an odd way, Itchy is watching this, which begs the question, how can he watch a cartoon featuring his father and his father’s friends?
It really doesn’t matter. Variety shows exists in odd worlds. There’s a scene that may have had some young viewers scratching their heads as Itchy watches what would now be an OnlyFans custom video of Diahann Carroll through a virtual reality head set. Itchy really gets excited and you think he’s about to bust a nut in front of his grandson and daughter-in-law. While Carroll does have a nice voice, the whole performance seems odd and out of place in a special geared toward children.
There’s also another scene in which Jefferson Starship performs as the lead singer belts out his lyrics in what looks like a glowing purple dildo. At this point, I must tell you that Bruce Vilanch is credited as one of the show’s writers. Vilanch is very openly gay and I’m almost certain he did this as a joke.
It’s not great but it’s worth watching just for how outrageous it is. The cartoon segment is worth watching. If you have a copy of the bootleg with the commercials included, it’s even better watching some of the old commercials for 1978. They’re hilarious. And now, that we live in an era of “Skip Ad” and DVR allowing us to skip commercials, you appreciate what TV viewers of yesteryear had to put up with.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go over well with critics or Star Wars fan. You must wonder why George Lucas even gave permission. He has since said he would like to track down all the bootleg DVD and videos and destroy them if he had the means. It has never been officially released on the home video market, even after Disney bought the franchise in 2012.
I had heard about it a few times growing up, but never was able to know if it existed. It was almost as if you didn’t tune in that one time only, you didn’t see it. It’s no surprise some people who had recording equipment in their homes would’ve taped it. It was on eBay and other places in the 1990s where it became popular. I first saw it when a guy I hung out with bought it. I didn’t know one of the comic-book stores in town had it among their video collections until someone told me during my last year.
But part of the appeal is the dated material in the special. It’s like a time capsule as you see things back in 1978. Ironically, the original trilogy was always considered family-oriented. Since then, Star Wars has become its own form of mythology in which each minor character gets a really detailed background story.
So, should you watch it if you haven’t seen it? Yes, by all means. But be prepared that it’s not what you think. What’s puzzling is the special was everything Lucas was trying NOT to make. He said he didn’t like the old sci-fi movies that made use of characters with names starting with Z. The original trilogy itself was a cross between Star Trek and the samurai movies of Japan.
Considering how people have heavily criticized the latest Star Wars movies that were made, it could be an improvement. I was no fan of Rise of Skywalker and still haven’t brought myself to watch it again. So, people have different tastes. If anything else, the special is a reminder to not to take movie and TV shows too seriously.