Dave's Corner of the Universe

Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide

Geek Obscura: The Star Wars Holiday Special

star-wars-holiday-special-8x10

On November 17th 1978 I was elven years and one day old, and I thought my life was ruined. At the time we lived on a thirty-five foot boat in Southern California, and in this pre-cable time, we had an aerial antenna that on a good day could get four channels (and two of them were ABC). Occasionaly on overcast days we could barely make out CBS. This was the day of the Star Wars Holiday special. Already a pariah among the pre-teen geek set for being the last person in our clique to see Lucas’ magus opus, I was in fear what would happen to my nerd cred if I missed this. For a brief moment through the gray haze of our 10’ black and white television I could make out the body of the Minimum Falcon, then the screen dissolved into static. I was devastated, I began to cry. My dad explained matter of factly that I could just watch it next year, and that it would probably be on every year until the end of time. Little did we know powerful forces were moving at that very moment so that The TSWHS would never be seen on broadcast television again.

Fast-forward ahead thirty-six years to Christmas 2014. I worked a five hour shift and joined my extended family at my aunt’s house for the holiday dinner. After the diner and the kids opening all their presents my sister brought out her laptop and we watched a pixilated version of the much maligned Christmas special. The show was bad and it didn’t improve with age. Even with me doing the Rift-Trax thing and mocking it, as well as my timely comments of Star Wars trivia. I couldn’t save this clunker. We both got up for pie around the time the cartoon came on and got back just in time to see Han Solo pitch a stormtropper off the Wookie’s balcony.

For the uninitiated The Holiday Special was a musical comedy verity special (?!?) that aired only once in 1978 featuring the original cast of Star Wars. George Lucas one public comment on it was “if he had a sledge hammer he would destroy every copy of it that existed.” It isn’t so bad it is good. It is so bad it is terrible. Many fans have never seen it and are aware of it only through pop culture (like the scene in Weird Al’s White and Nerdy video where he buys a boot leg version from a gangsta.) Or the urban legend that Carrie Fisher (Princess Liea) was high as the Death Star when she sang the holiday song.

So the first question we have to ask as we explore this travesty, is why did they make it in the first place? The answer is Lucas was afraid people would forget about Star Wars. Despite his space opera being on lunchboxes, magazines, greeting cards, toys, tee-shirts and anything else that could be merchandised, he was afraid that America’s love affair with his movie was just an infatuation and that people would lose interest when the sequel came out two years later. He felt the need to get his franchise back in the public’s face and felt that a holiday special would be the perfect way.

starlog

So the next question is why in the name of Darth Plaguies would you make it a musical comedy verity show? The original concept wasn’t a verity show. Lucas had very little to do with the actual show. He gave a brief overview about Chewbacca trying to get home to his family for Life Day, then basically turned it over to the TV production company. (Though some cast members claim he was sent dallies and approved the final product) The verity show came up on the fourth draft which was turned in on October 13th 1978 just a little a month from the air date.

When Lucas turned his back on the project the people he had left in charge went with what they knew. Verity shows like The Sonny and Cher Show or Donny and Marie where having their last hurrah, during this time. They were also big draw during the holidays. Art Carney, Bea Arthur and Harvey Korman would draw older viewers, with the younger TV abundance willing to see anything with the Star Wars brand on it. To the show’s producers it seemed like a natural fit. Unfortunately they apparently had zero appreciation of the Star Wars subject matter.

As strange as it might seem, Star Wars and musical Verity worked at least once on the small screen. When Mark Hamill guest hosted The Muppet Show. He played both himself and his ‘cousin” Luke Skywalker. Of course that time he had the benefit of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and rest.

muppet show

You ever notice Fozzie and Yoda kind of sound alike.

The main cast of Star wars Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie and the rest make what amounts to extended cameos. The plot focuses on Han Solo trying to get Chewbacca back to his home world to celebrate Life Day. But since the big stars are barley on screen it means the first quarter of the show focuses n Chewie’s extended family of wife Malla, father Itchy and son Lumpy. They are Wookies and for the first twenty minutes or so there are no humans with them. That means the whole time the dialog is growls and grunts. Keeping in Star wars tradition there are no subtitles for the Wookies.

To fill time Lumpy watches a holographic circus on a Dejarik board (the 3D chess Chewie plays with the droids on the Millennium falcon) In 1978 this was probably cutting edge special effects but looks dated now and just drags on too long.

Harvey Korman has three roles, including the scene where he plays  Ms. Gormaanda, a female alien four armed chef. I am sure that the show writers just fell into giggling hysterics when they imagined Korman in drag with four arms doing a Julia Childs parody going to fast in her recipe for anyone with two arms to keep up. Now Korman probably had the best comedic timing of anyone in his generation, but the truth is he just doesn’t pull it off.

harvey korman

Whip stir,,stir..stir…whip.

Later Trader Dann (played by Art Carney) gives Itchy a hologram tape cassette for his mind evaporator. (A virtual reality machine). The appearance of the VR tape is a hole five years before William Gibson cyperpunk Opus Neromauncer. And the Wookie does what you think he would do with it, he uses it to access porn.

mind evaporator

Over all TSWHS is a family friendly show, but the writers deliberately told the actors to react as if this was the dirtiest filthy piece of pornography in the galaxy. Diahann Caroll plays the holographic beauty Mermeia. She is a virtual hologram that is created by the user’s fantasies. Though on TV she just sings, it is implied much more is happening off screen. It is a sad fact that CBS wanted Diahann Caroll to be on the show because of the lack of people of color in the Star Wars universe. And that the first African American in the SW Universe is in fact a porn slave.

Mermeia

As the Imperials occupy Chewbacca’s home they are forced to watch a documentary on life on Tatooine. Bea Arthur plays the cantina barkeep. She would later tell the Portland Mercury that she wasn’t even aware that her sketch was part of the ‘whole Star Wars thing” at the time. She sings to a bar room full of intoxicated aliens The strange masks and costumes that seem so otherworldly and new only a year ago however in 1978 on the small screen seemed old and stale.

Bea short first

Bea shot first.

The part of the show that is seen as the crown gem is the cartoon. This marks the first appearance of nefarious bounty hunter Boba Fett. The cartoon story line has Chewie seeming going berserk and tying up Han Solo and dashing off to a distant world. Luke and the Droids pursue him and they meet the deceitful Fett. It turns out a virus is driving the humans crazy and the Wookie is searching for a cure. R2D2 realizes that Fett is a baddie by the way he treats his dinosaur mount and prevents Fett form capturing the Heroes of Yavin.

boba fett

The cartoon is done in the style of the seventies with angular features, comic book four color coloring and a lot of white with lines in the background. It is the grandfather of The Clone Wars and Rebels. And for what it is it is pretty good, and rise above the rest of the show.

So with Lucas sending his lawyers out to destroy the copies of the show like Vader sending out Viper Droids to destroy the rebel base, how did the show survive? The answer is an old (now at least) and a new technology. Back in 1978 the VCR was an expensive piece of equipment. But a few fans did copy the show’s one and only airing. Somehow a few copies did survive on cassette (or maybe even Betamax), and were not taped over with copies of Buck Rogers or Cousin Eddie’s wedding reception. These languished in the den of geeks until they could be downloaded on to the web. Now a new generation could see the sucky black hole that is the Star Wars Christmas Special. Though it been pulled off Youtube several times there are still many places where one can watch all or part of the special on the web.

You have to be a glutton like my family to want to watch it. But in general I think it is a great warning to Disney that not everything with a Star wars brand is gold.

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32 comments on “Geek Obscura: The Star Wars Holiday Special

  1. sonmi upon the Cloud
    December 28, 2014

    I have to see this. No matter the quality, I’m sure it will tickle me.

    It shall be my next mission upon the Cloud!

    Great post, thank you Dave, *smiles*.

    – sonmi with bread rolls on either side of her head upon the Cloud.

    • davekheath
      December 28, 2014

      Good luck but be warned, it is amazingly bad.

  2. Steph
    December 28, 2014

    This sounds terrible…but I am sickly fascinated. I had never heard of this. I’m so glad you brought it to my attention…even if it is a travesty

    • davekheath
      December 28, 2014

      For a long time with no copies in circulation it just kind of disappeared, but now thanks to the internet its back.

      • Steph
        December 28, 2014

        George Lucas must be reading his hair out.

  3. Mei-Mei
    December 28, 2014

    Still haven’t seen this! One of these years…

  4. charltonhero
    December 29, 2014

    Had a VHS copy in 2000 and thought it was absolutely terrible then too. Still all in all a fascinating piece of work. I do agree the Muppet Show Star Wars episodes got it right. Great job on the post..keep em coming!

    • davekheath
      December 29, 2014

      Thank you.I am kind of nostalgic for the Muppets now.

  5. Loki
    December 29, 2014

    I’ve seen the Boba Fett cartoon out of curiosity (and you’re right, for what it is, it’s decent), but I’ve stayed far away from the rest. Purposefully watching bad stuff for the sake of making fun of it has never been my idea of, well, fun.

    • davekheath
      December 29, 2014

      If I had seen it as a kid it might have ruined Star wars for me.But as an adult it is not about the show itself but the experience I had as a kid not seeing it and being with my family (an admittedly weird family)

  6. Mike
    December 29, 2014

    I can’t believe I never heard of this…

    • davekheath
      December 30, 2014

      It is a classic in I can’t believe they did it.

  7. Abi
    December 30, 2014

    As a seven year old, it never struck me as awful as it really is having recently watched it again for the first time since it was originally aired. I was mostly perturbed with the interruption of the various singers and performers.

    The Boba Fett cartoon was really cool, though. Always thought it looked like it belonged in Heavy Metal.

    • davekheath
      December 31, 2014

      Amazing what happens when we see things we loved as a kid as an adult. Don’t get me going on Disney’s The Black Hole.

      • ghostof82
        December 31, 2014

        Oh man, The Black Hole. Great spaceship. Great Art Direction. Great score.

        But a bloody awful movie!

      • davekheath
        December 31, 2014

        Loved it when I was a kid. But now…..

      • ghostof82
        January 1, 2015

        Its a good reminder of how everything went very STAR WARS-crazy at the time, all those laser gunfights and robots etc. that swamped pop culture and most SciFi. So BLACK HOLE is very dated but kind of campish fun. Bad yes, but…

        Anyway, Happy New Year mate.

  8. aaforringer
    January 2, 2015

    Have never seen it, and I am very curious, but your warnings are keeping me away from it. (Except the Boba Fett cartoon).
    Great article. (Great editing too, did not notice any typos or anything.) But the article overall was great, it drives me to see the video but at the same time stay away from it, a very complex argument, a very good piece of writing.

    • davekheath
      January 3, 2015

      Thank you use to be the best 15 minutes of the Special were on Youtube.

  9. lisalovecraft
    January 2, 2015

    Bad or not, this is something I have always wanted to watch. Great post!!

  10. Dennis the Vizsla
    January 3, 2015

    “‘Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas’, this is not. Mmm.” — Yoda

  11. moonminded
    January 4, 2015

    Whoa- never heard of this before! Very fun post! Over the holiday my parents forced me to clean out some toys & books & I found a letter from my buddy addressed to “Suzie or Han Solo- both are my best friend” – as a kid i would have lamented missing it as well

    • davekheath
      January 4, 2015

      It is so cool you could find that letter.

  12. onecalled3
    January 5, 2015

    HA! Yes, I’ve seen this thing. The wookie using the VR headset was… interesting. And not in a fun way.

  13. wisethesimple
    January 6, 2015

    Haha, I love that everyone thinks (as my brother, a friend, and I once did) “It’s so bad, it’ll be funny.” We even sat down to it with loads and loads of Dr Pepper and birthday cake to get the sugar high going, thinking we’d have a grand old time. But no… the rumors were true; it truly is “that bad.” Great post, though! 🙂

    • davekheath
      January 7, 2015

      thanks yeah even Dr P and birthday cake can’t salvage it.

  14. zariusii
    January 13, 2015

    Oh was this hard to take in. Ireedeemably bad, but the animated segment is a neat curiosity…speaking of animation, you ever see Droids and Ewoks?

    • davekheath
      January 14, 2015

      Yes I have as I remember I liked Droids and considered Ewokes just another Saturday morning cartoon with a cool theme song.

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This entry was posted on December 28, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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