Ok. I get it. Everyone thinks that the Star Wars Holiday Special is a putrid pile of bantha-poodoo. A quick Google search shows a myriad of articles – many of which are written by people who are desperate to prove how cool and edgy they are for slagging the 1978 special. You won’t be getting that here. Now, before I get into expressing my love for this misunderstood part of Star Wars history, I will make some concessions. Is it campy? Yes. Is it dated? Yes. Does it make you cringe? Yes. Can you see examples of unhappy actors, embarrassed actors and actors who were contractually obligated to be there for the filming? Oh yeah. However, once you get past all of that, you realize that you are watching…well…a really cheesy variety show from 1978.
Variety shows were a staple of 1970s television. The only thing I can compare it to today, in terms of being such an integral part of modern television viewing is reality TV. Every channel has some kind of reality programming on at any given time. This was the case with the variety show. Having been around since the dawn of TV, the variety show morphed into a unique animal in the 70’s, as almost anyone with an ounce of fame or recognition had their own show. The Brady Bunch, Sha-Na-Na, Tony Orlando and Dawn and The Muppets all had their own shows with guest stars, musical numbers, comedy and other bits of entertainment that kept folks busy during those prime time hours on any given night. Just to show how crazed the variety show was in the 70s, CBS gave a couple of mimes a prime time spot. MIMES! Go ahead and check out Sheilds and Yarnell on Youtube. I will be waiting here for you.
With the variety show being such a huge part of 70s TV, and Star Wars becoming, not only a monstrous, money making hit, but also a world wide phenomenon, the decision was made to bring the franchise to TV to keep it fresh and at the forefront of the public’s mind, while the sequel, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, was being filmed. The end result is the entity we know as THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL.
Now that we have discussed the how, let us talk about the “why”. That is, “Why I love the Star Wars Holiday Special”. I still remember when I saw it back in 1978. I was 5 ½ years old and devoured any and all things that had to do with Star Wars. I missed the first hour or so of the special. I think I forgot it was on. I remember switching channels to CBS and watching. Some 42 years later, the only part I vividly remember was the scene where Han Solo feints a Stormtrooper into going through a railing and falling off of the walkway of Chewbacca’s palatial estate on Kashyyyk.
At the time, TSWHS was the only outlet for Star Wars besides catching the movie at the cinema or drive-in for the umpteenth time. This was a new Star Wars story that we could watch AT HOME. This concept might be lost to you younger folks, where streaming any Star Wars movie or TV show at the drop of a hat is commonplace, but in a world where that didn’t exist, this was huge.
So, why do I love the Star Wars Holiday Special? This can only be expressed as a list, because, quite frankly, writing that introduction took a lot out of me. So, I guess, these are my top eight reasons why I love the Star Wars Holiday Special.
- Well, first of all – It is Star Wars. Plain and simple. It is a part of the mythos and deserves the recognition. If you like the made for TV Ewok movies and the cartoons of the 80s, then this should be ranked right along with them. Collectively, they are all some of the earliest examples of Star Wars existing beyond the movies.
- Diahann Carroll as Itchy’s Holographic Wow. Even by 1970s standards, this is over the top. Borderline pornographic, Diahann Carroll’s portrayal of Itchy’s holographic fantasy who “feels her creation” is one of the more cringe worthy moments of the special. In a show marketed for children, this, without a doubt, made the parents of us 70s kids do a double take when she twirled her way into Chewy’s father’s mind.
- Jefferson Starship. What is a good variety show without a musical number? Several years removed from their appearance at Woodstock as Jefferson Airplane, and several years before their hit single “We Built This City” as Starship, Jefferson Starship provided both a musical interlude and some well deserved Imperial R and R for a lucky Death Star Trooper who was checking in on the Chewbacca household.
- Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman and Art Carney all have a role in the tapestry that is the Star Wars universe! Archie Bunker’s sister in law, ¼ of The Honeymooner’s comedic cast, and the greatest, worst straight man ever, have their places in the pantheon of Star Wars actors.
- The Boba Fett cartoon. It is what everyone refers to as the best part of the show. Sporting animation from Canada’s Nelvana animation studio, the Boba Fett Cartoon breaks up the camp just long enough to remind everyone that a new threat was going to make his way into theaters with the 1980 release of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
- Mark Hamil’s makeup. Mark Hamill Is wearing more makeup than the members of Kiss, as he and R2-D2 try to repair some part of some ship. Granted, he was in a horrible automobile accident prior to the filming. However, the lengths gone to cover the damage are pretty hideous. He looks like he fell asleep in a tanning booth while someone dyed his hair. A snapshot in time of an iconic character and the actor who played him.
- Carrie Fisher. I don’t know if she didn’t want to be at the filming of the special or if she was dealing with her personal demons during the production. It seems that she is very disconnected from her surroundings throughout the show. Regardless, this is the only time, outside of A NEW HOPE that we get to see Carrie Fisher, in full Princess Leia getup, sing. For such a normal activity, it is the most surreal moment of the entire special.
- The commercials! My copy, given to me on VHS by a friend of mine back in the early 90’s, is from the legendary WCBS broadcast out of New York. In between the special there are commercials for Star Wars toys, Hungry Jack biscuits, panty hose, make up, cars, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the infamous 11 o’clock news teaser with Rolland Smith, who informed the viewers that we all would be “Fighting the frizzies at eleven”. Not only are these commercials reflective of American culture at the time, but they are also a part of the complete experience of the Star Wars Holiday Special.
Happy Life Day!