Quite possibly the worst television program ever made. It aired on November 17, 1978 on CBS.
Avalyn's writeup supercedes mine, so here's a transcript of a TV Guide advertisement of that dreaded show.

AN ALL NEW TELEVISION SPECIAL

A long time ago,
in a galaxy far,far away...

STAR
   WARS
tm
HOLIDAY SPECIAL

Starring
MARK HAMILL
as Luke Skywalkertm
HARRISON FORD
as Han Solotm
CARRIE FISHER
as Princess Leiatm

With   
ANTHONY DANIELS   
as C-3POtm
PETER MAYHEW   
as Chewbaccatm
R2-D2tm
as Himself   

And    JAMES EARL   
JONES   
as the voice of   
Darth Vadertm

Luke Skywalker and Han Solo battle evil imperial forces
to help Chewbacca reach is imperiled family on the Wookee planet--
in time for Life Day; their most important day of the year!

WITH THEIR SPECIAL GUEST STARS:    DIAHAN CARROLL               
              BEATRICE ARTHUR    THE JEFFERSON STARSHIP     
                 ART CARNEY    AND HARVEY KORMAN        

8PM CBS 2

The Star Wars Holiday Special, as noted above, was originally aired by CBS on the fell evening of Friday, November 17, 1978 (coincidentally, the day before the Jonestown Massacre), in the USA. Up until around 1980, it was rebroadcast to a handful of Scandinavian countries as well as Australia, and possibly other countries, and it has not been rebroadcast since. It features all the stars of the first Star Wars movie, with the exception of Sir Alec Guinness (who obviously had enough sense not to sign his movie contract until the "TV special" clause was removed).

Ah, but the best-laid plans... everyone involved with the Special, particularly the writers and directors, and not least of all the actors, manages to fuck it up in the grandest sort of 1970s tomfoolery imaginable. Come to think of it, it's kind of like watching Telemundo's Sabado Gigante in English, complete with really bad, annoying musical numbers, puppets, and highly contrived, poorly-acted sketch comedy. It's even got a bit of Sabado Gigante's trademark T&A.

Dispensing, for the moment, with the comparisons, the Special has got Harrison Ford doing his Han Solo bit, which isn't any great departure from his role in the movies; Mark Hamill looking like a drag queen (he'd been involved in a car accident shortly after the release of the first Star Wars movie and was plastered with several pounds of stage makeup and, inexplicably, black eyeliner); a very obviously braless Carrie Fisher singing a wacky Christmas carol while hopped up on space cocaine; Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Kenny Baker (R2-D2), who, at that time (and through much of the 1980s), were the spokespeople for the Star Wars franchise, and as such basically make little more than a promotional appearance here; James Earl Jones is back, overdubbing his own Darth Vader voice in some stock footage from the movie; Peter Mayhew is, of course, Chewbacca, who along with Ford is the main character.

The special starts off in typical 1970s variety show splendor -- a narrated cast list of the stars, most of whom are (quite rightly) looking a little out of their element, and a narrated "also starring" list of the guest stars.

Guest stars include Art Carney (of The Honeymooners), Diahann Caroll (a Studio 54 regular?), Harvey Corman (of The Carol Burnett Show), Beatrice Arthur (who could forget Maude?), and 1970s übercorporate rockers Jefferson Starship.

The action starts shortly after the grandiose opening credits with Han and Chewie in the Millennium Falcon being pursued by some stock footage of a Star Destroyer. Our heroes manage to elude the Empire by jumping to hyperspace, amid Han's promises that he'll get his hirsute companion back to his home planet Kashyyyk in time for "Life Day," which is, for all intents and purposes, a thinly veiled and alien synonym for Christmas.

"Roaaaaaarrrrr!" pleads Chewbacca.

"Look, I know it's the most important day of the year!" Han mumbles. "Don't worry, pal, I'll get you there on time."

Following the Rebels' hyperspace hijinks, we cut to planet Kashyyyk, where we're treated to what seems like an eternity of Chewie's family heroically awaiting the return of their breadwinner -- which basically consists of them grunting at each other and running around in seemingly ether-induced, aimless circles. This carries on for a good 15 minuntes or so, without subtitles. This segment had me seriously wondering whether the producers had sent some good ol' boys to strong-arm Hunter S. Thompson into writing a segment for the special.

If you can make it past the first 20 minutes or so without having a stroke, seizure or panic attack of some sort, you possess a heartier constitution than I. Eventually, we get treated to Chewie's wife Mala calling Luke Skywalker on a videophone and growling worriedly at him. Luke assures her that Chewie and Han are probably passed out drunk in some intergalactic whorehouse, or something, and hangs up on Mala. Art Carney drops by and manages to curtail the activities of some Stormtroopers looking for Chewie, while at the same time furtively supplying Chewie's father Itchy (yes, his name is actually "Itchy") with some virtual reality porn starring 1970s disco diva Diahann Caroll. She gives the usual phone sex phrases and Itchy becomes (very disturbingly) "very excited." After the Golden Age-era disco delight, the Stormtroopers return and Chewie's buddy Art Carney again comes through with a holographic video of Jefferson Starship, which enthralls the Stormtroopers. Starship performs some rollicking rock/disco number while looking like glow-in-the-dark rejects from Cirque du Soleil. This leads me to believe that Marty Balin and company from Jefferson Starship don't actually mind their "corporate rock" stigma, given that their contribution to the Special is greatly enjoyed by Galactic Empire drones, who may as well be representations of the Polo shirt-wearing, SUV-driving, golf-playing yuppie of today. Following that is a poorly-drawn cartoon featuring the Star Wars universe debut of the venerable bounty hunter, Boba Fett.

Toward the end of this mess, Han and Chewie show up and Han, visibly embarrassed, demonstrates his wookie-hugging skills, which he has honed to an art form -- he repeatedly embraces, with much gusto, each member of Chewie's family. Then Princess Leia appears and sings her appalling Life Day carol, though not without some serious chemical assistance; you can tell that she's quite fucked up, as you can see her trip slightly over some scenery, and in close-ups of her face, you can see that the pupils of her eyes are enormous. (In later interviews, Carrie Fisher admitted that she has no memory whatsoever of recording the Star Wars Holiday Special.) According to Mark Hamill, the producers asked that he sing a song, too, but (thankfully for us) he refused. Finally, Chewie and his family don Emperor's Guard-like red cloaks and go walking in open space towards a large and shimmering star, after which we're mercifully treated to the closing credits.

Sandwiched in between these victuals of madness are musical numbers by would-be torch songstress Bea Arthur, as the owner of the Mos Eisley cantina (that's right, you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than Bea Arthur's bar), a cooking show starring Harvey Corman in drag, and more stock footage of the Empire pursuing Han and Chewie.

I highly recommend avoiding this unless you plan on watching it with some chemical assistance of your own, or unless you're of the school of extremely cynical, bitter cranks who will deconstruct anything. If you can, try to find a copy with the preposterous 1970s commercials intact. They provide the only bits of comic relief to be found in this vomitous mass of Star Warsology that isn't mind-chokingly painful.


An interesting footnote to this debacle is that George Lucas, the grand-daddy of all things Star Wars, has completely disowned the entire Holiday Special production, and has said in interviews that if he had the means, he would have every bootleg copy and master recording destroyed. Such is his loathing for this effort which, for the record, he was not associated with. He's not even in the credits, although I suppose his granting a license to the producers of this anal fissure of a TV special makes him guilty by association.

None other than superstar makeup effects guy Stan Winston is responsible for the Wookiee costumes. I guess even the pros have to start somewhere.

Additionally, for the morbidly curious, bootleg copies on NTSC VHS or DVD can be had on eBay, or digital copies are usually not too hard to find on your favourite P2P file-sharing system. And of course the whole thing is available on YouTube.


This part should really be scrolling vertically up the screen, but...

Directed by
David Acomba
Steve Binder (who went on to direct other nerve-grating children's shows, such as Zoobilee Zoo and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! in the 1980s)

Written by
George Lucas (characters) (uncredited)
Pat Proft
Leonard Ripps
Bruce Vilanch (later a regular guest on Hollywood Squares)
Rod Warren

Starring (full cast list)
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford as Han Solo
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Kenny Baker as R2-D2 (in the actual credits, R2-D2 is listed as Himself)
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca
Beatrice Arthur as Ackmena (putting the "Ack!" back into "Ackmena")
Art Carney as Saundan
Diahann Carroll as Holographic Wow
Harvey Korman as Krelman/Chef Gormaanda/Amorphian instructor
Mickey Morton as Mala, Chewbacca's patient wife
Paul Gate as Itchy, Chewbacca's crotchety old father
Patty Maloney as Lumpy, Chewbacca's whiney rugrat
Yûichi Sugiyama as Ringleader
Marty Balin, Craig Chaquico, and Paul Kantner as The Jefferson Starship
Gabriel Dell as Boba Fett (voice)
Arthur Rowton as Zutton (Snaggletooth)
Leslie Schofield as Chief Bast
David Prowse as Darth Vader (uncredited)
James Earl Jones as Darth Vader (voice)

Credits culled from the IMDB.

The whole thing can be watched, if you're brave, here.

In case you're wondering what the hell Princess Leia was singing, you'll now know. Carrie Fisher isn't that bad a singer, but considering that the lyrics are abysmal and she was totally high at the time...

Inside some kind of ceremony hall, there's a bunch of Wookies in red robes. There's a platform at one end of the hall. Luke, Han and Leia run onto it. Han mumbles about how glad he is that he can be here, and then:

LEIA
(to Wookies)
This holiday is yours, but we all share with you the hope that this day brings us closer to freedom, and to harmony, and to peace. No matter how different we appear, we're all the same in our struggle against the powers of evil and darkness. I hope that this day will always be a day of joy in which we can reconfirm our dedication and our courage. And more than anything else, our love for one another. This is the promise of the "Tree of Life".

Some horrible twangy instrument starts playing the Star Wars main theme slowly.

LEIA
(singing with eyes glazed over)
We celebrate a day of peace.
A day of harrrr-mon-y-y-y-y-y-y.
A day of joy we all can share together joyously-y-y.
A day that takes us through the darkness.
A day that leads us into might.
A day that makes us want to celebrate....the li-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ght.
A day that brings the promise that one day, we'll be freeeee...to live...to laugh...to dream...to grow...to trust...to loooooooooove...to beeeeeeeeeeee.

Leia and the music abruptly stop.

Cue credits.

Well, we'd watched the Charlie Brown Christmas stuff, How the Grinch stole Christmas, and the various animated J. Arthur Rank cartoons, as well as the National Lampoon Christmas Vacation movie and Elf in preparation for the holiday season. As someone who spent his time on the left coast, I don't really associate Christmas with snow, but my wife being from practically Canada misses the ice, the snow, the bone-chilling cold and so forth - so we were trying to get more in the mood. Being a churchgoer helps, as you notice with some pique that it's harder to find parking as many start to show up in the weeks preceding Christmas to not obviously just show up for Christmas.

So we decided, given that Star Wars is pretty big right now, to watch the Star Wars Holiday Special, presented by CBS. 

It was most certainly a disaster, but not necessarily that bad a show. But they did make some strange decisions which, in typical George Lucas fashion - messed it up. The primary audience of this sort of thing included a heavy percentage of children - as evidenced by the fact that Star Wars' prime merchandising was in toys.

As it opens, obviously borrowed footage from Star Wars interspersed with Han Solo and Chewbacca arguing in a makeshift set establish that they are trying to get back to Kashyykk for the Wookiee celebration "Life Day". Han wants to go back, citing the danger, but Chewbacca clearly objects - the holiday is clearly of deep importance to him. 

Pretty quickly you realize that the "starring" announcements at the beginning of the show, regarding Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and so forth amount to "token appearances by" with much of the show being the Wookiees preparing for "Life Day" as a framing device to cutaways and performances. The clear problem with this is that Wookiees don't use any recognizable language - so we're subjected to a significant amount of hairy people standing around growling and grunting and farting at each other. This is poorest right at the beginning, where we're subjected to what feels like ten straight minutes of duelling snarls.

There's a reason why in the Star Wars movies themselves, Chewbacca is a man of few words, and usually says something immediately answered by Han Solo. growl growl snarl roar growl "Yeah, I can SEE that there are four of them, Chewie, what do you want me to do about it?" Without that device, listening to minute after minute of Wookiee conversation is really tiring.

Turns out Chewbacca has a family, though I didn't catch the relation. His wife?mother? Malla, his son?younger brother? "Lumpy" (not making this up), who looks like a cross between an Ewok and The Annoying Orange, and his father?father in law? "Itchy" (still not making this up) who looks like a Yeti with dentures.

To simmer the little brat "Lumpy" (I swear, NOT MAKING THAT UP) down "Itchy" (not making that up either, FOR REAL) puts on some kind of hologram low-rent Cirque du Soleil which does a performance in fizzy 70s green screen. The device looks like a cross between a chopped down poker table and what is clearly the business end of four Radio Shack portable cassette players.

And this is why I think so many people rage hard against the special. What they were expecting was another Star Wars episode, what they ended up with was a variety show. I can't imagine what it would have been like to have any of a number of small children expecting an hour of his or her Star Wars characters, and have Art Carney show up instead. How do you explain that kind of bait and switch to someone in single digit ages who still wets the bed?

But as an adult seeing this for the first time, I'm actually appreciative of the next bit, a clever one involving Harvey Korman in blackface as a cross between Julia Child and Aunt Jemima albeit an alien one, who appears on a screen as the Wookiee matriarch turns it on. Explaining to the watching "Malla" how to prepare "Bantha Chunks". The gag is that Malla dutifully follows along with the instructions to chop the Bantha loin, and then, after covering it with sufficient liquid in a pot, adding spices and then performing a complicated set of steps involving whipping and stirring. With a whisk in one hand and a spoon in the other, Korman intones scoldingly "whip, whip stir, whip, stir stir, whip whip". But apparently you need to beat with a masher at the same time, so another arm shows up from underneath the counter, and now Korman's character is going "whip beat, stir, stir, whip beat beat, stir stir". Malla, who only has two arms, tries to keep up and gives up eventually in annoyance as the on-screen chef keeps using new arm after new arm to add instruction after instruction.

But even then, the gag is sort of ruined because Malla can neither react facially very much, as a Wookiee, and her growling would have over-shadowed the required dialog.

And that's really how the rest of the rest of the show goes, I'm not going to go through it in detail. Suffice it to say Art Carney shows up as a trader who is contacted at first by the Chewbacca family with a secret transmitter hidden in a wall. He informs them that the "shag carpet" that they ordered, made by Han... Solo, in other words will be arriving shortly. After the Imperial Officer in his shop (which is why he's being so cagey) simply leaves, taking what he wants (complete with 70s pornstache and Spaceballs helmet) he leaves to visit their house personally to drop off a "proton pack" and some "Life Day" gifts. Malla gets a transmitter of sorts that displays Jefferson Starship, and "Itchy" (I swear, I am not making that up) gets to put a 50s hair dryer on his head and watch a disco diva wearing a cross between a cloche and a chandelier sing breathlessly about how she is his fantasy.

Intiguingly, there was a Nelvana cartoon that was "removed for copyright reasons" in the YouTube version I saw. Which is amazing, because if you think about it, whoever uploaded this was more concerned about falling afoul of a small Canadian animation studio than the giant media juggernaut that is Disney. It introduced a new character, Boba Fett, who we later saw in The Empire Strikes Back.

There are cameos: as the family are increasingly worried about Chewbacca's lateness, they contact Luke Skywalker who is fixing an engine along with R2D2 (while wearing a very feminine haircut and far too much makeup) who says he should be there shortly, and an obviously stoned-to-the-gills Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa who along with C3P0 expresses the same assurances. Meanwhile the Empire have come to the door, they're searching for rebel activity and believe one member of the household (who is missing) is probably a rebel. After searching the house and subjecting them to Bea Arthur, they leave posting a stormtrooper on guard.

Which bears a mention. The Empire insists that everyone watch a short documentary of how depraved and debauched non-Empire territory is, so they show the interior of the Creature Cantina which turns out to be run by Maude. At first she has to deal with a lovesick customer (again, Harvey Korman) who has taken her "Come back soon, I'll be waiting" as a sign of affection and not simply the well-wishes of a bartender. She deals with the stress of this by singing the Creature Cantina theme as a slowed-down, East-European ballad reminiscent of Ms. Von Schtupp in Blazing Saddles, one wailing clarinet short of a parody of a Yiddish klezmer number.  Meanwhile Korman's character gets drunk by pouring liquor into a hole at the top of his head. It is at this point that most people realize how truly evil and depraved the Empire is. And how silly this special is.

Naturally Solo and Chewbacca arrive, like the cavalry, in time to save "Lumpy" (I swear on my mother's life I am not making that up). Turns out that he got the Imperial forces to leave by using a language-translating transmitter to fool the officers into returning to base, which the stormtrooper left on guard notices. Instead of shooting him on the spot the stormtrooper chases him outside to shoot him there and stands stock still for about two minutes, giving Solo and Chewbacca enough time to jump him and make him fall from the treehouse (a drop of several hundred yards, clearly killing him.) Happy Life Dayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.....

Art Carney saves the day again, apparently having "identification" helps (we never understand why) as he calls it in to the Empire as the stormtrooper robbing them all blind and fleeing AWOL. This leaves the family free and happy to have their Life Day meal (holding hands together in "Grace" first) and then  get into their long choir robes and go to Temple^H^H^H^H^H^H some kind of Wookiee gathering where they just stand there and hold on to glowing clear egg-shaped stones.

Amazingly, everyone managed to make it to Kashyykk (pronounced Kah-shoo-k according to the Imperial officer before) and surrounded by Wookiees, Luke, and the droids, a clearly coked-out Carrie Fisher belts out a heartwarming song to the theme of Star Wars and close credits.

George Lucas apparently would like every extant copy of this thing destroyed, but for the life of me I cannot see why. Oh, sure - it was an embarassment to the franchise in many respects and I'm sure caused more than a few tears to be shed in a few households back in the 1970s. But the performances by Korman, Arthur and Carney are pretty solid and it's nice to see those three have their swan song.

If anything, Lucas should have run with the joke and put in the "enhanced director's version" putting in new CGI elements and maybe punching up the jokes.

 

 

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