The Star Wars Holiday Special is universally agreed to be the single worst thing to ever bear the Star Wars name. Happy Star Wars Day everyone! May the 4th be with you. Today I thought I’d review one of the most notorious TV specials ever made. Believed to be myth by even the most dedicated Star Wars fans, The Holiday Special was the very first follow up to A New Hope in 1978. It only aired once, but it was so unbelievably bad that George Lucas has been trying to bury it ever since. Thanks to fanmade video recordings and underground bootleg copies, The Holiday Special will never disappear. For once, Lucas wasn’t fully to blame for the specials failure. The entire original cast returned to appear in what was essentially a 2 hour variety show. One so bad, I have to talk about it separately.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… – The paper thin plot is strung together by Chewbacca needing to come home in time for Life Day. Life Day is the Star Wars stand-in for Christmas. I have no idea what the meaning of the holiday is supposed to be. Harrison Ford clearly doesn’t want to be here as Han Solo and is mostly seen with Chewie escaping TIE fighters in the Millennium Falcon.
Kashyyyk – The first baffling decision was having the opening 12 minutes be nothing but horrific Wookiee growls (with no subtitles). That decision can be blamed on George Lucas, because it was literally his only contribution. The Holiday Special features the first appearance of Chewie’s home planet Kashyyyk. Along with an entire awkwardly named family no one needed to see. There’s Chewie’s wife Malla, grandpa Itchy, and son Lumpy. It’s only between growls that unbearably long variety segments are watched by the family.
Circus hologram – Lumpy first watches a truly bizarre hologram of a colorful alien circus for no apparent reason. The whole segment ties into nothing and feels more like a drug trip.
Message from Luke – That’s followed by Malla and Lumpy reaching out to Luke Skywalker accompanied by R2-D2. All he does is work on an engine in his X-Wing uniform and give Chewie’s family encouraging words. It’s especially awkward given the fact that Mark Hamill has a stiff tan and stares directly into the camera without blinking.
Trading Post – The first major celebrity in the special is Art Carney of all people. He plays a Rebel trader named Saun Dann who services an Imperial guard. He’s also a friend of the Wookiees who gives presents to Chewie’s family. The only worthwhile part of this extended segment is an appearance from Darth Vader aboard a Star Destroyer. Although it’s clearly James Earl Jones overdubbing a scene from A New Hope in order to tie-in to the plot. Stormtroopers and Imperial officers are thus sent to Chewie’s home to search for them.
Cooking with Gormaanda – The first “comedy” segment is Harvey Korman playing one of three different characters. He plays the brown faced four armed alien Julia Child Chef Gormaanda in a segment where Malla follows her cooking video in the kitchen. It’s easily the worst part of the special, but it’s so ridiculously bad that it’s laughable. Especially for the “Stir whip stir whip whip whip stir” line.
Itchy’s fantasy – Itchy’s Life Day present is the point in the special when you really start to question what you’re watching. Chewie’s father literally watches a pornografic virtual reality simulator. By pornographic, I mean that he gets turned on by Diahann Carroll fulfilling his fantasy by singing in a trippy psychedelic acid trip. The first of far too many endless original songs is “This Minute Now.” It’s uncomfortable and I wanted it to stop.
Message from Leia – That’s followed by Princess Leia and C-3PO giving their own message to Malla about her missing husband. This segment is exactly the same as the Luke and R2 message. Except that Anthony Daniels is actually playing 3PO. Unlike Kenny Baker who had no involvement. You can tell Carrie Fisher was definitely out of it while filming.
Jefferson Starship music video – When the Empire breaks in, one of the Imperial officers smiles while watching a Jefferson Starship music video on a holographic device. The band is only in the special because they have “Starship” in their name. The song “Light the Sky on Fire” is catchy, but they play the entire 5 minute song for what feels like an eternity.
The Story of the Faithful Wookiee cartoon – Lumpy later watches a starlog that is easily the only highlight of the awful special. It’s significant for being the very first animated Star Wars project and first appearance of fan favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett. I’d go so far as to call it worthy of being cannon if the 70’s animation wasn’t so crude. The adventure picks up where A New Hope left off. Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2 make contact with Han and Chewie as they crash into the system Panna. They’re searching for a talisman that infects humans with a sleeping virus. Boba Fett has a great introduction atop a giant beast that he leads with a prod. Fett’s friendly partnership soon reveals him to be working with Darth Vader. His appearance was possible due to an uncolored image of the bounty hunter before The Empire Strikes Back was released. It’s all downhill when the cartoon ends.
Instructional video – The most mind-numbingly boring segment features Harvey Korman playing another unfunny character. This time he’s an Amorphian android instructor with frequent malfunctions. Lumby uses his instructional video to build an entire fictional transmitter from scratch.
Cantina closing – Bea Arthur is about the furthest celebrity from Star Wars you can get. Yet she’s given an entire segment and song that doesn’t tie into anything. It’s just Arthur playing Cantina bartender Ackmena on Tatooine before getting shut down by the Empire. Harvey Korman once again holds us hostage by playing a flirtatious alien with a disturbing drinking hole on top of his head. The song “Good Night, But Not Goodbye” goes on forever as she slowly closes up to the tune of the Cantina song.
Life Day – The special is brought to a merciful end when Chewie finally makes it to Kashyyyk in time for Life Day. Han defeats the Stormtroopers and very awkwardly interacts with the Wookiee family. Chewie’s reunion is filled with tender growls that lead up to the actual Life Day celebration. Which consists of unexplained balls of light that take the family to space wearing vaguely cultish red robes. More Wookiees are seen in red robes that were obviously used to cut down on fur bodysuits. The life tree ceremony unites Luke, Leia, Han, C-3PO, and R2-D2 for a final cheesy
Christmas Life Day message. If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, they actually force Princess Leia to sing to the tune of the Star Wars theme song.
In conclusion, The Star Wars Holiday Special was absolutely painful to watch. I never knew it existed until I saw a poster in a Star Wars book of mine. I’m glad I could find the special on YouTube, because it really needs to be seen to be believed. The decisions are so wrong that it’s a miracle Star Wars continued to be the success it was. Variety shows are barely relevant today, so I was more bored than anything. I can’t say that I was angered by it since none of it is cannon. Although parts of the special have been referenced and/or repurposed throughout the years. Kashyyyk is practically identical to how it appears in Revenge of the Sith. Chewie’s family is never seen again, but I’m pretty sure Solo was hinting at their existence. Boba Fett’s inclusion was likely forgotten by the time he appeared in The Empire Strikes Back. It wasn’t until episode 1 of The Mandalorian that Life Day was overtly mentioned in cannon. More surprising is The Story of the Faithful Wookiee being added to Disney+ separate from the special they choose to ignore. The Star Wars Holiday Special is like a fever dream that messed up the franchise before it was cool. “May the force be with you.”
P.S. I’ve supplied the full movie underneath for those brave enough to watch it.