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.