The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
This past week’s Simpson’s Christmas episode featured a short bit with Comic Book Guy watching and enjoying every minute of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, which aired on CBS November 17, 1978. I watched it back then and through the miracle of videotape preservationists and the inspiration from comic book guy I can watch it now. I dug out a pristine DVD-R of dubious origin, with provenance from a VHF terrestrial broadcast from the Baltimore, Maryland region, and popped it in. Low and behold it still sucks and managed to put me asleep not once, but on three separate occasions.
The story has Chewie (Peter Mayhew), in co-pilot with Han (Harrison Ford) attempting to get back to his home planet to spend time with his Wookie family during Life Day. His family consists of his wife Malla, dad Itchy (above) and son Lumpy (below) who worry that Chewie has not yet arrived for the holiday. They live in an astro-turfed tree house clad with interesting gaming tables, media playback devices (that suspiciously look like a cassette tape recorder), lots of stairs, and Archie Bunker chairs. They are befriended by fellow rebel Art Carney (yes, Ed Norton).
Art Carney plays a junk dealer/trader (years before Watto) who runs a shop a lot like a Spencers Gift or a Walgreens. Here Wookies can purchase tacky crap like minature fish tanks and Chia-Wookies. Later as the story progresses Carney even goes into his Ed Norton routine in front of an Imperial officer, snatching an imaginary fly from the air, with the officer responded in Ralph Kramden prose “Will you get on with it!”.
Mark Hamill appears tinkering in a garage, presumably on Tattooine, with R2, touching base with the Wookies by way of a video-phone (years before Face Time). What is up with Hamill’s makeup?
Along the way we also see Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and C3PO who reassure the Wookies that Han will deliver Chewie safe and sound. Meanwhile Han and Chewie fly around in the Falcon, yelling in a cockpit which looks like a set from Plan 9 from Outer Space. Harvey Korman plays multiple roles, including a bizarre segment as a Shields and Yarnell like android that teaches young Itchy how to build an Illudium Q-36 explosvie space modulator. Diahann Carroll and the Jefferson Starship also perform two dreadful musical numbers; thankfully at separate intervals in the special.
Of interest to Star Wars fans are the later appearances and closeup views of Rick Baker’s original Cantina monsters, which appear in a bar run by Bea Arthur! I could not dream this stuff up in a nightmare.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is probably best know for a well-conceived animation segment which features the original appearance of bounty hunter Boba Fett (more closely resembling Jango Fett). There’s also an alien co-pilot that reminds me a bit of a Mon Calamari (Admiral Ackbar).
The animation closely resembles portions of Heavy Metal (1981), especially the Taarakian Warrior sequence, down to the bird-like beasts that Boba and Taarna ride. If I thought it worth my time I’d do some research and likely confirm some of the same animators worked on both segments. I might be wrong. The holiday special also gives us glimpses of Fett’s nefarious and double-crossing ways and effective gadgetry, including a projectile lasso.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is quite a curiosity and there are entire web pages dedicated to the feature. Upon one single viewing it is clear that the older executives at CBS had no clue what Star Wars was about and how it connected with the younger generation. Star Wars was exciting and heroic with a terrific sense of humor. In this TV mess we see Art Carney delivering awkward and dated shtick from the 50’s. Still, this surreal time capsule is an essential addition to any child of the 70’s video arsenal and worth a look for historians, morons and revisionist filmmakers. Ben Affleck allegedly studied the special as a template for the look of Argo (now I am just lying).
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