It’s that special TV special time of year again. It’s a time when networks pull their regularly scheduled programming in favor of “Five Nights of Christmas Vacation”. It’s a perpetual parade of herky-jerky stop-motion reindeer and a million versions of “A Christmas Carol.” Sure, we’ve all seen these classics countless times, but that’s part of the appeal. I’ve seen the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes so many times I’m shocked he hasn’t had a coronary. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But what about all those Christmas specials that aim for classic status and fail miserably (and hilariously)? For every one heart-cockle-warming program out there, there’s at least ten to send you straight to the depths of Jingle Hell. This is your Holiday guide to the baffling, the bizarre, and the downright depressing. Get ready for a haunting visit from the Ghosts of Christmas Specials Past!
THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL (1978)
Let’s just get this one out of the way, shall we? The Star Wars Holiday Special is the most painful two hours of television you will ever endure. Its reputation for sucktitude does not do it justice. Make no mistake, this is not so-bad-it’s-good. It’s beyond bad. It’s beyond unwatchable. It’s the crappy Christmas special equivalent of Videodrome: an experiment in video-based warfare designed to destroy the viewer’s mind with its sheer awfulness.
The concept sounds promising enough: All the stars of the original film reunite for a low budget TV drama that’s really just a veiled excuse to string together a series of musical numbers, celebrity cameos, and other variety show acts. The year is 1978. Star Wars exists as only one film. The rules of its fictional universe aren’t yet set in stone. The narrative possibilities are endless. Maybe the Empire would kidnap Space Santa and Luke and Han would come to the rescue and save Space X-Mas! Maybe we’d get a retelling of “A Christmas Carol” with Darth Vader as Scrooge! Instead we get Chewbacca’s bickering family and something called “Life Day.”
This grueling two-hour “special” is mostly of scenes of Chewbacca’s family fighting, squabbling, and generally making each other’s lives miserable as they wait for their patriarch to return home for the Life Day feast. The first ten minutes consist almost exclusively of Wookiees running around a tree house barking, growling, grunting, and whining. With no subtitles to let us know what the heck is going on.
If you thought Jar Jar was the black eye of the series, just wait ‘till you meet Chewie’s son Lumpy.
The scenes with the original movie cast members are nothing more than glorified cameos. Mark Hamill looks like he’s wearing a cheap Luke Skywalker Halloween mask. He had just undergone plastic surgery after his face was disfigured in a car accident and they tried to hide his scars with lots of makeup. They failed miserably.
… and Lon Chaney as Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford clearly doesn’t want anything to do with this turd. He looks absolutely pissed off.
And he has every right to be. He’s forced to utter such classic lines as “Why do I always think taking you home for Life Day is going to be easy?”, and the fan favorite “You’re like… family… to me,” which he says to the Chewbacca clan. It’s a testament to Ford’s acting ability that he was able to say that last line with a straight face.
All the special effects are recycled (poorly) from the original film. In fact Darth Vader’s cameo is made up exclusively of recycled footage with a poorly recorded voice over replacing the original sound.
Actual Dialogue: “I want the Rebels located and identified if it means searching every household in the system!”
The “Special Guests” don’t fare much better. Bea Arthur plays Ackmena, head bar wench of the famous Mos Eisley cantina. She performs a musical song and dance number to the tune of the Cantina theme from the original movie. And she dances with Greedo!
Greedo: slow on the draw, electric on the dance floor
Harvey Korman suffers the indignity of three roles: a four-armed, green-skinned Julia Child parody obsessed with stirring things, a faulty cyborg who seems like he’s from a “Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” sketch gone horribly wrong, and a Cantina patron who hits on Bea Arthur and drinks through a blowhole in the top of his head.
You hear that Harv? That’s the sound of your last ounce of dignity pouring away
Art Carney (of “The Honeymooners” fame) plays Saundan, a local trader who provides Chewie’s dad Itchy with virtual reality porn featuring ‘70s songstress Diahann Carroll. Porn – that’s really the only way to describe it. Here’s some sample dialogue:
DIAHANN CARROLL: My voice is for you alone. I exist for you. I am in your mind as you create me. OH YES! I can feel my creation! I am getting your message. Are you getting mine?
CUT TO: Itchy moaning and twitching.
DIAHANN CARROLL: Oooooh! We are excited, aren’t we?… Nooooow, we can have a good time, can’t we?…I am your fantasy. I am your experience. Experience me! I am your pleasure. Enjoy me!
This is beyond suggestive. This is blatant.
And Jefferson Starship? I’m pretty sure they’re only here ‘cause their name contains the word “starship.”
Maybe they changed their name to get the gig.
The grand finale of this special somehow manages to top everything else that’s come before it for sheer sucktitude. A heavily drugged Princess Leia gives the Wookiees of the planet “Kazook” (?) an impassioned speech about “freedom and harmony,” “the Tree of Life” and other New Age-y Hippie-dippy nonsense. And then she breaks out into off-key singing! To the tune of the Star Wars main theme!
The other original cast members stare in utter disbelief and reconsider the future of their careers.
The only remotely watchable part of this space travesty is a 10-minute animated short, “The Faithful Wookiee,” which is notable for the first ever appearance of Boba Fett, (pre-dating his Empire Strikes Back appearance by two years). This segment is so much better than the rest of the program that it boggles my mind they didn’t do the whole special as an animated feature.
The Star Wars Holiday Special was so poorly received that it only aired once. George Lucas, who had little involvement due to his commitment to pre-production on Empire Strikes Back, reportedly hated the finished product so much that he prevented it from ever being released on home video. But bootlegged copies have proliferated at conventions and on the ‘Net for years. Why? I have absolutely no clue.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is the Pandora’s Box of ironic entertainment. Forget “do not open ‘till X-Mas.” Do not open EVER! It’ll fill your stockings with Christmas jeer.
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