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Monday, November 17, 2008

The night the Star Wars empire almost self-destructed

Today marks an extraordinarily dubious anniversary for the Star Wars saga. Because it was thirty years ago tonight, on November 17th, 1978, that CBS aired the first and last broadcast of The Star Wars Holiday Special.

The two-hour schlockfest is now widely considered by many to be the absolutely worst block of television in the history of anything...

"One of these things is not like the others..."

I'm not even going to try to pretend to make sense of this... thing. If you want to see it, you'll be able to find it all over the 'net and if you don't want to see it well, that's two hours of your life that're your own to spend how you wish. I remember watching this as a way wee lad on the night that it aired, and even then I thought it was pretty terrible. I mean, Harvey Korman as a four-armed alien version of Julia Child?!?

No wonder that George Lucas has strenuously prayed - both privately and publicly - that every copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special might somehow be incinerated. The "special" came to be considered the low point in the careers of everyone involved, including Bea Arthur and Art Carney. Let's not even mention Carrie Fisher singing "What Can You Get A Wookiee For Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb)?". Or Mark Hamill's post-motorcycle accident "Mannequin Skywalker" plastic-faced visage that reeks of way too much makeup.

Little wonder then that The Star Wars Holiday Special has been branded the worst moment of the entire franchise...

What the hell were they thinking?

But to its credit, The Star Wars Holiday Special did make a few (a few mind ya) decent contributions to the saga. The Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk was introduced, though it wouldn't get any more screen time until Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005. So was Chewbacca's family, which would be cemented in the mythology's canon by way of Expanded Universe literature. And then there is Boba Fett: the most famous bounty hunter in all of fiction made his debut in an animated segment during the special, just in time to whet fans' appetites for more of him a year and a half later when The Empire Strikes Back came out.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fun that I got to have with The Star Wars Holiday Special when I was Humor editor of TheForce.net: it provided plenty of "bantha poodoo" for the Star Wars Captioning feature, like this one and this one and this one and this one.

For what it's worth, I think The Star Wars Holiday Special stands as a curious fixture of not only a successful legend, but of a cultural mindset as well. Something like this is a unique product of the Seventies: there's no way it would have been sanctioned even a few years later. For that at least, I have to render some faint appreciation for The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Anyhoo, if... if... you want to find out more, check out StarWarsHolidaySpecial.com. And if you just want to see how this fiasco begins, here's the opening courtesy of YouTube...


Lee Shelton said...

I saw this when it originally aired. It was so bizarre and surreal that in the following years I began to wonder if it was just a bad dream. I would ask people if they remembered seeing a Star Wars special on TV and they would just look at me like I was crazy. Thanks to the Internet, I learned a few years ago that I was in fact quite sane. George Lucas was the crazy one.

Ranger Jake said...

I am appalled that Lucas signed off on such a train wreck. It is somehow worse than the R2-D2 anti-smoking comercial.

Eric Wilson said...

Who knew Chewie was a deadbeat dad that left his family and only came back around the holidays?

Chris Knight said...

"Who knew Chewie was a deadbeat dad that left his family and only came back around the holidays?"

Very funny :-) And a lot of people have noted that over the years.

There is a rationale that Star Wars has established. Chewbacca was one of a number of Wookiee slaves that the Empire was transporting. Imperial officer Han Solo freed them. For his act of insubordination Solo was kicked out of the Imperial Navy. And for that, Chewie felt that he owed Solo what the Wookiees call a "life debt". Chewbacca vowed to spend the rest of his life at Han's side until the debt was repaid. Which Han thought was a big nuisance at first, to have this "big walking carpet" following him everywhere. But the two soon became friends and partners, and not long afterward Han won the Millennium Falcon in a high-stakes card game with Lando. Even though Chewie has saved Han's life dozens of times over, he still considers himself indebted to Han.

Rather than being seen as a negligent father, Chewie's family considers it the highest honor that he is making good on his life vow to Solo. And Solo in turn has become an adopted part of Chewie's family.