Directed By: Steve Binder and David Acomba (uncredited)
Executive Producers: Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion
Producers: Joe Layton, Jeff Starsh, Ken Welch, and Mitzie Welch
Production Companies: Smith-Hemion Productions, Winters Hollywood Entertainment Holdings Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, and Nelvana (animated segment)
November 17, 1978
Life Day is coming to Chewbacca’s home planet of Kashyyyk. Accompanied by Han Solo, he is headed home to see his family, but the duo is chased by two Star Destroyers and forced to run.
I loved this special as a child and a large part of me still does. As bad as it is, I still think fondly of it. It came along for me at just the right time. I was young and impressionable and super jazzed on the magic of Star Wars. As bad as it was and still is, at that moment it was the only real fresh live action Star Wars since the ’77 original. Star Wars and this special came along at a time when serious science fiction of any type was rare. More often than not you got something blatantly silly like this special. Most creators failed to see dramatic potential in the genre even though it does exist.
When it comes to this special, George Lucas had a good idea that got filtered through the television sensibilities of executives of the time. What we got was something that had more in common with variety shows which were mercifully beginning to fade away at the time. There are plenty of musical acts and skits and even a really weird circus bit that looks as if it comes from a fevered Disney dream.
To bring up the acts here I feel a need first to reference the early SNL. During the 70s, original SNL cast member Bill Murray played recurring sketch character Nick the Lounge Singer who would sing gently altered versions of popular songs to patrons at various venues. In one well known skit he even added words to the Star Wars theme. This bit occurred in January of 1978 at about six minutes in the clip below.
Come November of 1978 Carrie Fisher demanded to sing a song on this special and was famously (or infamously) gifted with “Life Day” which was a slowed down version of the Star Wars theme with added lyrics. The lyrics are not bad but once you hear those familiar tones you are taken completely out of the experience. And it is just an overall awkward moment. Bea Arthur, who reportedly took the job because her son liked Star Wars, plays Mos Eisley cantina owner Ackmena and sings “Good Night, But Not Goodbye” when a curfew is declared on Tatooine with the song being sung to the tune of the “Cantina Band” theme. Apparently song writing is a lost art in the Star Wars Universe.
“Light the Sky on Fire” is a song performed by Jefferson Starship with the suggestive reported working title of “Cigar-Shaped Object (Vanished Without a Trace)”. The song itself is actually good but the whole interlude with an Imperial guard (Lev Mailer) taking time out of ransacking a house to watch a hologram is just weird. “I need a break from terrorizing so I will most definitely watch this hologram.”
Speaking of holograms, Diahann Carroll portrays a hologram named Mermeia who sings a song to Chewie’s dad called “This Minute Now”. It is a weird moment for a family friendly universe because she suggestively suggests that he “experience” her. Papa Chewie is watching space porn in the 8 o’clock hour which was considered family viewing time back then.
We get the core cast of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, and Peter Mayhew reprising their reprising their respective roles from the first film. James Earl Jones gets his first screen credit for voicing Darth Vader here.
We also get introduced to Chewie’s family members such as his wife Malla (Mickey Morton), his son Lumpy (Patty Maloney), and his father Itchy (Paul Gale) along with family friend Trader Saun Dann (Art Carney). Saun Dann is considered a protype for Lando Calrissian.
And there are characters here that could have no purpose beyond this special such as mentioned earlier Ackmena played by Bea Arthur. Comedic actor Harvey Korman shows up at three points. He is multi-armed Chef Gormaanda seen in a skit where Malla unsuccessfully tries to make a meal. He is an Amorphian instructor in a video Lumpy watches. Finally he is Krelman in the Cantina sketch. I hope that hole in Krelman’s head only is for drinking. That was just uncomfortable to watch.
Aside from being bad in a way that only a special made in the 70s could be, this special is known for the first appearance of the legendary Star Wars bounty hunter Boba Fett. This predates Empire Strikes Back. He appears in an animated short done by Canadian animation company Nelvana who would go on to do the cartoons Droids and Ewoks. All the important original film characters are in this fairly simple story. The use of a magic talisman is a bit more Saturday Morning than Star Wars was, but the story was still a real treat.
As an adult watching this it is like being on a serious drug trip. It is surreal and bizarre and unfocused, but it has a charm to it. People have embraced it like the weird uncle that you love even though he can be embarrassing. There is something that pulls you in and keeps you watching.
Ever stare at an accident along the road? I think that mentality is what keeps this in the consciousness of fans. The more mangled the car the longer the eyes stay locked. Leaking fluids? You are kind of hoping for a movie-like explosion. Lotsa debris? Squeeeeeeee!!!!!!
If this special were truly, irredeemably awful it would not be circulating like it is. Copies would not be traded among friends on DVDs and before that video cassettes. You would not be finding this on YouTube. This special gets more discussion than the better constructed Ewok television films. This is an imperfect creature that manages to overcome those imperfections and find a spot in your heart.
When it comes to The Star Wars Holiday Special, nostalgia certainly helps when you watch. For me, though, it is not even nostalgia for Star Wars. It is nostalgia for my youth and how crap like this, for better or worse, brought the family together. I grew up in a time when TV movies or specials could be a very big deal and watching them later in another way than via broadcast was not an option. You watched it with your family right then or not at all.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is a tacky remnant of days of yore. Watch it if you will. If you are old enough to remember it go for it. If not check it out for curiosity purposes. Regardless, you will be entertained.