The Star Wars Holiday Special
20th Century Fox/CBS Television, 1978
Starring: Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, Harrison Ford, and Peter Mayhew
Directed by: Steve Binder
The plot: As Life Day – the Wookie version of Christmas – approaches, Han Solo (Ford) and Chewbacca (Mayhew) must dodge Imperial goons and make it to Kashyyyk, Chewbacca’s home planet, in time for the celebration. A bumbling trader (Carney) keeps the Empire from hassling Chewbacca’s family, while a surly cantina owner (Arthur) closes up her business.
Why it’s good: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has brought with it an unusual avalanche of merchandise, which, for a franchise that has never met a buck it didn’t want to make quickly, is saying something. You can buy Star Wars-branded oranges and coffee creamer now, and you may be tempted to think that this is it — that Star Wars can get no lower than this. But you’d be wrong. Beyond the crass commercialism, beyond even the much derided prequel trilogy, there is “The Star Wars Holiday Special,” a 90-minute snooze-fest that has the dubious distinction of being the first “official” Star Wars spin-off. An awkward pairing of your favorite characters from “Star Wars” and the television variety show format (which, by 1978, was almost totally dead), the holiday special makes judicious use of stock footage from “A New Hope,” and the limited time that stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and the rest must have agreed to hang out on set. So many mistakes were made that it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps the biggest is centering a 90-minute special on a family of Wookies who can only growl and roam about their treehouse home — the interior of which looks like it was plucked from a Sears catalog.
There’s plenty of singing and dancing, including a bizarre sequence in which Chewbacca’s elderly father dons a virtual reality helmet and watches singer Diahann Carroll perform a sultry torch song. Comedian Harvey Korman offers a handful of odd sketches, including a Julia Child parody, and Carney, best known for his role on “The Honeymooners” back in television’s golden age, seems by turns bored and fully committed to the role. Unsure how to string such random vignettes together, director Steve Binder frames each as something a character is watching on TV. If you’ve wondered what it would be like to watch a Stormtrooper watch holographic versions of Jefferson Starship on a space-TV, “The Star Wars Holiday Special” will provide more answers than you can handle.
The legacy: The special was so poorly received by everyone — from George Lucas himself on down to viewers at home — that it was never broadcast again. How we got any more “Star Wars” after this is a miracle. The special remains out of print (Lucas has said in interviews he’d destroy every copy if he could), though you can find it on YouTube. The only highlight: a 10-minute animated segment featuring the first appearance of Boba Fett, one of the franchise’s most popular characters. Otherwise, it’s a test of endurance that, by the end, will drive you to the Dark Side.