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...
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)
George Lucas (characters) (uncredited)
Bruce Vilanch (a sheepdog who later became a regular guest on Hollywood Squares)
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.