There’s something I’ve been wary of exploring for many years, ever since I learned of its existence in my teens. People said that it was bad, that I shouldn’t do it and society would frown on me if I did. But now, at the age of 35, I finally plucked up the courage.
And no, this isn’t a joke about touching yourself. I am referring of course to the Star Wars Holiday Special. Yes, that was a thing.
Riding on the coat-tails of 1977’s record-breaking release, CBS approached Lucasfilm with the idea of creating a 90-minute TV movie to be broadcast on Thanksgiving in 1978. George Lucas provided a basic story outline that was then worked on by five (count ’em) writers, involving Chewbacca trying to get back to his family in time for the Wookiee holy day of Life Day. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Dave Prowse and James Earl Jones all signed on, so you’d expect it to at least be entertaining. Right?
Nope. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. All the nope in the world. Normally in these things I’d go into the background of the thing I’m reviewing, but this time around there really isn’t one. Money changed hands, blackmail was possibly threatened; there’s no other way to explain how this assault on the senses went into production with the cast it did.
So then. We open with stock footage of the Millennium Falcon trying to outrun a pair of Star Destroyers over Tattooine. Cut to a shaky set and the kind of studio videotape recording that marred years of Doctor Who, where Han and Chewie are trying to escape so the walking carpet can get home for Life Day. The set here is so poor it looks like someone tried to replicate the Falcon’s cockpit after having it described to them over the phone. This kinda sets the scene for what is to follow.
In a treehouse on Kashyyyk (maybe, they call it Kazook here), Chewie’s family are preparing for Life Day. His family consists of wife Malla, son Lumpy and father Itchy. Oh yes. We get minute after minute of Wookiees growling at each other with no subtitles, followed by an extended sequence of Lumpy watching horrifically bluescreened circus acrobats on a holographic chess board. Malla tries to contact Luke to find out where Han and Chewie are, introducing us to a Mark Hamill with so much makeup on he looks like Action Man. Okay, I get that they were trying to cover up the scars from his car accident the previous year, the ones that necessitated the Wampa scene in Empire Strikes Back to explain. But did they really need to make him look like a shop window dummy?
Meanwhile in space! Darth Vader has blockaded the planet and orders his forces to search for “the rebels”, even if it means raiding every household in the system. On a holiday. Coz, y’know, he’s EVIL!
Anyhoo, Luke doesn’t know what’s keeping them, so Malla goes back to cooking with the aid of a TV cookery show that’s hosted by a four-armed chef. The chef’s four arms prepare Bantha rump (…) faster than Malla’s two arms can keep up with. Oh the hilarity! This terminally unfunny bit goes on for what feels like an eternity before she turns it off.
Meanwhile in space! The Falcon comes out of hyperspace on the edge of the Imperial blockade and we get more stock footage of quad-blaster cannons shooting at TIE fighters.
Back on the surface, a local Human trader called Saun Dann arrives, bearing gifts because reasons. One of these gifts is a virtual reality “fantasy” programme for Itchy that features a Human woman who poses in front of a kaleidoscope interior, seductively talking about fulfilling your every fantasy. The gurning reaction of the elderly Wookiee is possibly the most disturbing thing I have ever seen, and I include the Teletubbies and Waybuloo in that. At least you can’t see what he’s doing with his hands to elicit that reaction…
Malla then contacts Leia and C3PO, presumably desperate for something to distract from her father-in-law watching porn. Leia doesn’t know what’s keeping the Falcon either.
Meanwhile in space! Han and Chewie argue about where to land in order to avoid Imperial forces and Harrison Ford wonders how his life choices led him to this moment.
Meanwhile not in space, Chewie’s family hear an approaching ship and assume it’s their patriarchal rug arriving at last. But shock horror! It’s two Imperial stormtroopers and a pair of officers. In order to distract the troops from finding Malla’s hidden transmitter, Dann shows the junior officer a ‘music box’ he’d brought for Chewie’s missus. We then get a six minute music video by Jefferson Starship. Oh goodie. Thing is, speaking as a fan of 60s psychedelic rock, you can’t help but wonder how a band that used to be Jefferson Airplane came to be doing crap like this. But you can understand how they’d drop the ‘Jefferson’ moniker altogether and, as Starship, record the theme song to Mannequin a few years later.
So, music video concluded, the commanding officer orders the search to continue. Lumpy goes off and watches a cartoon about Han, Chewie, Luke, Leia, 3PO and R2 first meeting Bobba Fett, who is on a mission from God Vader to find the location of the new rebel base. Now although the animation makes Captain Pugwash look like Pixar, this is the closest that this “special” comes to entertainment. It doesn’t last of course, as Lumpy soon discovers that the Stormtroopers have destroyed his favourite stuffed Bantha. Despondent, he begins building the “micro-transmitter” (that looks like an Acorn computer) that Dann got him, with the aid of an instructional video. That we have to see the entirety of. Complete with an alien host that keeps falling asleep.
This burst of mind-rogering tedium over, we cut to the household of Chewbacca and their Imperial ‘guests’ watching a programme that is apparently “required viewing by all Imperial personnel”: Life on Tattooine. This consists of a musical number in a knock-off of the Mos Eisley Cantina, owned by Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls (no, seriously), that has just been shut down by the Empire.
Suddenly, the Imperial troops get a message to return to base. Leaving one trooper, the other three depart. But! The remaining Stormtrooper still hears the return signal, despite not having a com-link of his very own. He runs upstairs to find Lumpy sending out the message with his 1970s computer radio thing. Lumpy makes a run for it and the Stormtrooper runs into Han and Chewie, who have arrived with precision TV timing. Han disarms the Stormtrooper, the two fight for an instant and then the Stormtrooper trips over his own gun and plummets to his death. Because there’s no budget for new laser effects. Harrison Ford then gets to deliver some of the best dialogue of his career:
“Would you look at Lumpy! He’s sure grown, huh? And I think his voice is changing.”
Awesome, huh? But it gets better. No wait, not better. I mean the other thing. Worse, that’s it!
Solo makes a run for it, clearly keen to go and throttle his agent. Dann reappears and contacts the Empire to tell them that the missing trooper robbed him and deserted. Amazingly, the officer in charge buys it. Dann leaves again and a sequence that appears to have been put together with the aid of a metric tonne of LSD takes place. The four Wookiees each pick up what looks like a snow-globe and hold them in the air; through the magic of terrible optical effects they join a procession of other Wookiees wearing red robes as they walk past a bluescreen that is replaced by outer space. Ending up in what seems to be some form of space church during Midnight Mass, Han, Luke and Leia show up along with R2 and 3PO. Ford then delivers another spectacular piece of dialogue, declaring:
“All of you are an important part of my life, pal.”
Leia makes a pointless speech, and then we learn why Carrie Fisher never had a career in musical theatre. She flatly warbles along to a terrible song that was apparently written for music that wasn’t the Star Wars theme, but had this music dubbed over the top. The end (thank GOD!).
So is it as bad as people make out? No. No, it is not. It’s worse, immeasurably worse. Horrendously bad set-pieces mix with terrible writing, awful bits that are less funny than going to the dentist and a complete lack of the Star Wars cast for about 75% of the duration. The fact that this carries the Star Wars moniker is an insult to anyone who even has a casual enjoyment of this franchise. This abomination is bad enough to make you hate the things you love. I am fighting a very real urge to take a sledgehammer to every bit of Star Wars merch I own.
George Lucas once said that, given enough time, he’d like to personally track down every bootleg copy of this monstrosity and burn them. As that came from the man who thought Jar-Jar Binks was a good idea, it tells you just how bad this really is. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to drink until I can blot the last 48 hours out of my mind.
(and that’s only coz we don’t have a zero icon)
For anyone truly masochistic enough to want to replicate my experience, here it is. View at your own risk.