The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978) – By Jonathon Pernisek

What more can be said about the worth of a television special when the creator of the franchise it’s based on wanted to destroy every copy in existence? Such was George Lucas’ reaction when his most profitable idea was shoehorned into the format of a 1978 holiday special. To be certain, this nearly two hour long movie is an exercise in tedium and outright horror, and should put to rest any claims that the recent prequel trilogy is the worst the Star Wars brand has to offer.

Though The Star Wars Holiday Special was never officially released on any format, I easily managed to obtain a bootleg copy from the magical world of stuff known as eBay. I’m not condoning bootleg movies, mind you, for as the recent campaign states, “You wouldn’t steal a car, would you?” However, I’m not at all ashamed to now have this movie in my collection, so the guilt I feel is minimal at best. Besides, the DVD also has an episode of The Muppet Show featuring Mark Hamill and a slew of old Star Wars toy commercials, so I refuse to feel bad about such a great deal.

Anyhow, let’s get on to discussing this film, which begins with Han Solo evading enemy fire while trying to get Chewbacca home for Life Day. See, this is a “holiday special,” so rather than awkwardly inserting Christmas into the plot the writers made an even more awkward holiday off the top of their heads. Just know it’s an important event for Wookies and our intrepid duo is late for the festivities.

We immediately know this movie was made for television when the words “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” show up on the screen but in a completely different and lame font. Then the booming voice of an announcer lists off the stars of this humiliation, including franchise regulars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fischer. But wait, who else is joining the fray? Why none other than Beatrice Arthur (way to make yourself sound like a real actress Bea), Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and…wait for it…The Jefferson Starship. But wait! There’s also Chewbacca’s family: Itchy is the grandpa, Mala is the little woman, and the adorable child is…Lumpy. Lumpy! Oh, this is gonna be good…

Everything from here on out is a complete exercise in the fine art of padding. I’ve never seen a movie completely devoid of anything remotely resembling a plot. Oh sure, there’s some hullabaloo about Chewie’s family being under marshal law and wondering if he’ll make it home in time to save them and celebrate Life Day, but I’m telling you now it’s a total afterthought. 95% of the movie is comprised of sheer chaos, with bits and pieces thrown at the screen to see what will stick. These segments can be clumped together in a few categories:

The “Hey, Remember These Characters?” Segments: To their assured embarrassment, the three big names of the Far Away Galaxy are forced to trot around in front of a camera while trying to show a modicum of interest in the material. Hamill has a decidedly wacky scene with R2-D2 where they’re trying to fix a ship which keeps blowing steam. Comedy! Ford sits in a cheap Millennium Falcon cockpit spouting dialogue about thrusters, guns, and supposedly witty banter with Chewie. Finally, Fischer has to look worried a lot and ends up singing a Life Day carol loosely based on the main Star Wars theme. Of all of them Hamill probably had it the worst, as the layers of makeup covering the scars from a recent accident make him look like a Ken doll. He does have the least screen time, though, so he must have been thankful in that regard.

The “What the Hell?” Segments: When a TV special spends an astonishing five minutes of air time having Wookies talk to one another in their own language (with no subtitles), it makes you yell the title of this category more than once. Who thought it was a good idea to make people listen to these characters scream, much less characters named Mala, Itchy, and LUMPY? The latter’s the worst of the lot, as his voice sounds like a battered car engine trying to mount a diseased donkey.

This category also deals with a few of the many guest appearances, the only one making any sense being by Art Carney as a door-to-door Wookie salesman. Yep, you heard right, and I’m pretty sure he’s a tad racist toward the species. At one point he asked them why they had such long hairy faces. Now, if you were a Wookie, wouldn’t you be offended? I know I would. Harvey Korman plays a whopping three characters in the film, and every time he appeared I felt sorrier for the poor guy. No one deserves to dress in alien drag and pretend to host an intergalactic cooking show, or put on a silly wig and pour drinks into it for a laugh, or act like a malfunctioning robot. No, not even Yakov Smirnoff.

Lastly, there’s Bea Arthur, a woman who should never be allowed to lead an elaborate music number, yet must in a scene that takes place in the Bizarro version of the Cantina. Every alien thug and cretin from A New Hope is here, but where they once looked ominous and seedy they now come off as dopey extras in a sitcom. Arthur plays the bartender of the Cantina, a cantankerous bitty who has to fight off the affections of Korman while convincing her patrons to leave after the Empire demands they close for the night. At first the crowd refuses to budge, but a rousing song from Arthur soon has them tapping their toes and walking out the door. The entire sequence is an unholy nightmare, as not only can’t the woman sing a note but it can easily destroy any fond memories you once had of the Cantina.

The “Oh My God Somebody Stop This!” Segments: Two words, ladies and gents. Two words that will forever shake your core: Wookie porn. I do not jest in any sense, people, there is in fact a scene where Itchy watches a virtual reality video where a lusty songstress (played by Diahann Caroll) talks about pleasure, excitement, and other things that make her tremble and giggle. There is no other way you could interpret this sequence, as every second just reeks with the smell of pervert. Not convinced? There’s a shot of Itchy grunting rhythmically. Trust me, he’s spanking the ol’ shag carpet.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this special, which goes on to feature a psychedelic Boba Fett cartoon, a song by The Jefferson Starship (sung into a lightsaber microphone), and so much more. This is definitely a movie for the ages, one so bad it harkens to a sort of mad genius. You would think nothing could be this terrible, but The Star Wars Holiday Special tops itself with every passing moment. If you can stomach the terror, I advise (but don’t condone) ordering a copy for yourself. You’ll either wind up out of breath or dead and bleeding on your living room floor.