The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Okay, so I’m cheating a little here by watching a TV special, rather than a movie, but I think that the movie-connection is strong in this one…

Shown only once in 1978 (in between the release of the first and second Star Wars movies), the Star Wars Holiday Special has become famous for being a televisual abonination; Lucas himself (who had little to do with the project) once said that “if I had time, and a hammer, I would track down and destroy every bootleg copy”. I’ve attempted to watch it many times, and never got far (I think my record was the time I turned off during The Jefferson Starship’s musical number; Yes, really). This year, dear readers, I was determined to watch the whole thing…

Spoilers follow, but believe me, knowing the plot will have no effect whatsoever of your ‘enjoyment’ of the special.

CAUTION: OUR REVIEWER IS HIGHLY TRAINED IN THE ART OF WATCHING UTTER BILGE, AND THE VIEWING WAS CARRIED OUT UNDER HIGHLY CONTROLLED CONDITIONS, ON NO ACCOUNT SHOULD YOU ATTEMPT TO WATCH THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL AT HOME. WE DO THESE THINGS, SO THAT YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

Where to start… The ‘plot’ sees Han Solo attempting to get Chewbacca back to his family on Kashyyyk in time for ‘Life Day’, a kind of Wookie thanksgiving. However the Empire have got wind that the Rebel may be home for the holidays and are doing everything in their power to catch him. This may not sound so bad, but in truth it’s a framing device for a 97 minute verity show, chock full of songs, sketches, and guest appearances by people who were presumably famous in 1978.

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After a pre-credits scene on the Millennium Falcon, we open on a terrible mat painting of a Wookie dwelling, and it’s all downhill from there, as we meet Chewy’s Wife, Malla, his son, Lumpy, and his mangy looking father, Itchy, as they prepare for the upcoming celebrations, and the return of the man of the house. They do this for 13 minutes, speaking Wookie the whole time. Without subtitles.

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Itchy tries to keep Lumpy occupied ad one point by using the families holographic projection table to show him a Cirque du Soleil style juggling / dancing routine… Which we get to see in full.

Malla at some point decides we need to hear some actual words, so she makes a video call to Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill reprises his role, but under so much makup that he seems to be trying very hard to hide the fact. He and R2D2 engage in a sub-CBBC bit of slapstick with an engine they are trying to fix, and I lose the will to live.

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There’s a sketch with an imperial trouper shopping, during which the shopkeeper contacts Malla in code to reassure her that “the shaggy rug she ordered” was on its way for her, and that it had been home made by one person… You might say “by hand, solo”, Malla watches a cookery show (we get to watch that too – it’s another desperately unfunny sketch), we learn that the Empire have formed a blockade around the entire planet, and the shop-keeper nips around with life day presents. These presents give us our next two variety segments…

Itchy’s gift, judging by the conversation, seems to be some Wookie porn, although I was surprised to learn that Wookie porn consists of a human woman very suggestively flirting, before singing a song; all while people swim around in the background dressed as sea monkeys.

Malla receives a semi-portable version of the holographic table, which comes pre-loaded with a performance by The Jefferson Starship which is perfect to get imperial troupers to stop searching your house for 3 minutes while they watch it.

After storm troopers trash Lumpy’s room, there’s an attempt at a touching moment as he looks at his broken toys, then out next sketch comes curtesy of an instructional video he watches.

Princess Lia and C3PO have pretty much the same conversation with Malla that Luke and R2 had with them, presumably because they haven’t had any screen time yet, and Bea Arthur (Dorothy from The Golden Girls), who is now landlady at a tatooine cantina (apparently all cantinas have the same band, and they all play the same tune), sings to her patrons – this appears as a documentary some troopers are watching because fuck logic.

At some point Lumpy watches a cartoon which, oddly, chronicles an adventure his father had with Han Solo, and also features the rest of the main Star Wars cast. Bizarrely, if an in-universe kids show staring the universe’ own characters isn’t bizarre enough, this cartoon features the first on screen appearance of Bobba Fett!!!

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Once Chewy is home safe, and Han has quickly made his excuses and left (apparently a planet wide blockade has forced him to par further away than he’d have liked) the life day celebrations can begin.

Ah, life day… Our family of Wookies each take a candle, hold them aloft, and are then suddenly wearing red robes, in space, with couple of dozen other Wookies, and they all walk single file into the sun… I think. Then they’re in a cave, with Chewbacca seemingly about to lead a service, when Han, Luke, Leia and the droids all show up (how they got into the sun-cave is anyone’s guess) and Leia basically hijacks the service by turning Life Day into a rebel service, and then singing a song to the Star Wars theme tune.

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The whole thing is a debacle, if I’m making it sound fun, funny, or so-bad-it’s-good, then I’m not explaining it well enough; it really is just awful. The likenesses in the cartoon segment are bordering on deformed, the whole idea of a Star Wars variety show is just insane, the design of grandpa Wookie has to be seen to be believed… Even many of the aliens seen in the cantina, which I presume are the same ones used in the movie, look awful under harsh TV lighting and (I’m guessing) shot on video.

It’s one saving grace is that it’s Star Wars, and it’s official; that alone causes at least some amusement, because something that fails this spectacularly on so many levels should not, by any laws of sense or reason, have been produced as part of one of the biggest franchises in the world.

I’m not even going to finish this review on a quote, so instead I’ll wish you a Merry Cristmas, Happy Life Day, or whatever holiday takes your fancy; have a good one!

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3 thoughts on “The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

  1. My partner got the Lego Pirates of the Caribbean Video Game for Christmas… Rereading this review having plays that, I’m struck how much cartoon Chewy looks like Lego Davy Jones.

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