Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

When the Star Wars Universe Imploded

Believe it or not, there’s something even more despicable and fan-unfriendly that exists within the Star Wars universe than Jar Jar Binks, a nine-year-old Darth Vader, and the entirety of The Last Jedi…something that many people—including Star Wars fans—aren’t even aware of. It’s called The Star Wars Holiday Special, and it could very well be the most ill-conceived, ill-advised, half-whacked pile of Dewback dung that has ever been loosed upon our television screens.

For you few fortunate ones outside the loop, The Star Wars Holiday Special is a two-hour music and comedy variety program that first aired on CBS on November 17, 1978, more than a year after the original Star Wars first hit theater screens, and one week before the Thanksgiving holiday. Star Wars director George Lucas had created a simple story outline involving Chewbacca and his family, but with his work on The Empire Strikes Back calling, his idea was inexplicably passed on to a team of ’70s variety show writers, who took Lucas’ story and reworked it into something better suited to The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour or The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show.

After that first Friday night airing, cooler heads prevailed (including that of Lucas, who hated what had become of his original vision), and it was never seen on network television again. For most everyone, it was never even thought of again, and it disappeared from our collective consciousness as quickly and quietly as The Starlost, Ark II, and Quark. However, having watched it with my brother Scott that fateful Friday night, it sadly remained stuck in our consciousness forever, and even though we’d seen William Shatner sing ‘Rocket Man’ on the Science Fiction Film Awards earlier that year, the many memories of this viewing have remained far more disturbing.

Years later, sometime in the 1990s, our friend Steve lamented over the fact that he’d once seen a ridiculous Star Wars program on TV when he was a kid, and it was driving him crazy that he could find no history of it, nor anyone who remembered ever seeing it. Scott and I saved his sanity by admitting, yes, we’d watched it as well. Not long after, Steve took the plunge and purchased a bootleg VHS copy he’d found by chance at a comic convention, and during a gathering at his apartment one night we were once again subjected to an enchanting Life Day celebration with Chewie’s wife Malla, his father Itchy, and his annoying son Lumpy.

If you’ve never seen The Star Wars Holiday Special, you’re probably thinking to yourself, oh c’mon, is it really that bad? Trust me, it most certainly is, and after watching it again last night for only the third time in my life, I can honestly say that I wish I hadn’t. I thought I’d go with the commercial-free version this time around, in hopes a shorter overall run time (98 minutes) would help me survive the ordeal, but it did not. This thing is seriously atrocious, and about as uncomfortable and cringe-worthy as anything you’ll ever see. And I do mean ever.

I will say that the animated sequence, featuring the very first appearance of bounty hunter Bob Fett, is at least watchable, and easily outshines everything else in the special. But the rest of it—including a handful of songs, a quarter-hour of Wookiee grunts and groans without the benefit of subtitles, a sequence of virtual reality sex between Itchy and singer Diahann Carroll, and several sub-comedic moments with such popular TV personalities as Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur—can perhaps best be described as…well, how about ‘interminably reprehensible’?

Now, with the advent of the Internet, The Star Wars Holiday Special can be viewed with just the click of a button, and enjoyed in many different languages (Spanish, German, Italian), different cuts (the New York City cut, the HD commercial-free cut, a commercials only cut, and a new-to-me Baltimore cut), and different fan edits, blog reviews, and outright rants. But please, be forewarned if you’ve never seen it: it is truly awful, an abomination in ways you could never imagine, and therefore must actually be seen to be believed (I would suggest watching this short, well-done look at the history of the special while you decide which direction to take).

To this day, I still don’t know for sure what this Wookiee festival of Life Day is: with the show originally broadcast in mid-November, I’d always thought it was in honor of Thanksgiving, but now I’m reading that it’s also considered a celebration similar to that of Christmas. Of course, it could mean something else entirely—a day of remembrance for Wookiees who’d fought and died in the Clone Wars, perhaps—but to me it will always be a holiday that revolves around this planet’s annual day of giving thanks. So on that note…Happy Life Day, everyone!



16 comments on “When the Star Wars Universe Imploded

  1. geelw

    Yeah, I survived that crap and was scarred for life as a result. I actually need to get a move on and write up my VSAH post tomorrow, as I ended up picking a sort of Star Wars-inspired flick that’s actually not when you consider the source material…

    • Todd B

      Two responses to my post so far where the person has stated they were ‘scarred’ by the SWHS experience! And are you actually posting a VSAH review tomorrow? Because if you are…I don’t think we’ve set a date for the next installment yet!

      • geelw

        Oh, you kid! Nope, I was just reminding myself to get on the horn and not be a butthorn (you get five points if you get the movie reference made). That, and I changed my choice to a different film, lol. And yep, I was SCARRED for life, like a ton of other kids in school who sat through that SW “Special” mess. Not a single person I recall liked it and I remember a few who hadn’t see Star Wars NOT wanting to after that dreck.

      • Todd B

        I don’t think I necessarily became scarred for life during that first viewing, but once I watched it again in the ’90s, and it re-entered my consciousness after years of lying dormant in my subconscious, it was THEN that it became the life-scarring force (get it?) that it is today. And yes, I lost out on the five point bonus prize…but only because I’ve never seen Bulletproof!

  2. butterboy44

    Christ. You neglected to mention the fact that every human’s make up in the cast appeared to have been applied by a first year mall Mac counter trainee. The eyeliner on Luke and Han was so heavy I thought at times I was watching a Cure concert.

    Plus, why did the writers feel it necessary to include the phrase, “Happy Life Day” ad nauseum every minute and a half? Was it their way to pad the script bereft of any actual seasonal good will?

    Anyway, this Corellian freighter wreck scarred me almost as much as seeing Jaws in the theatre as an eight year old.

    • Todd B

      Ha, you think you were scarred then? You should watch it now…your adult self will go into cardiac arrest from boredom, disbelief, and a raging case of jaw-drop. And I know I’ve only seen it twice before, but I don’t remember being so aghast at the Itchy ‘mind porn’ sequence…this was network television, for crissake! And Mark’s use of heavy makeup may be the result of his car accident…but Harrison has no such excuse.

      And if you haven’t checked out that link to the show’s mini-history, I’d say give it a look…it’s pretty cool. And…Happy Life Day, brother.

  3. Dracula

    What was Lucas thinking? Wait, maybe all the smoke in Marin County had something to do with this?

    • Todd B

      Apparently, Lucas didn’t have much input with this thing, so I’m not sure if we can really blame him for it. And if there was smoke involved in these decisions, I’m guessing it was of the Panama Red variety.

  4. Seen clips but I’ve avoided the whole thing. Maybe it would have been better served as a celebration of Festivus.

    • Todd B

      Mike, clips are just not enough: I think it’s time to make The Star Wars Holiday Special an annual part of your family’s Christmas celebration. Your sons would especially appreciate it, and would no doubt repay your generosity with a few well-timed roundhouse kicks to the jaw.

  5. Kelly Benefiel

    I feel violated.

    • Todd B

      Maybe so, but sit back and wait for the backlash when I mention that you somehow felt more violated by the noir classic The Set-Up

  6. Diahann Carroll is so sexy in this, I can almost imagine it’s me with the mind melt headset on having a orgasmic time in a POV style, but I do think my hairy self is a little more attractive than that itchy guy and it’s brings me right out of the naughty dance vision and back to reality! …….. That Star Wars Holiday Special is the stuff of legends. Pure gold. WTF were they thinking. hehe

    • Todd B

      Don’t worry, I can’t imagine anyone being any LESS attractive than Itchy…perhaps Mrs Itchy, wherever she is. As for Diahann, I think it would be funny if somebody took that sequence and made it available for today’s VR headsets (along with the rockin’ Jefferson Starship video, of course).

  7. Dan B

    Wow very cool!! This is what happens when people get a hold of something they are clueless about, The Last Jedi anyone – at the end of that video George Lucas told Mark Hamill he’d come back to hand down the light saber to the next generation in 2011. Crazy…

    • Todd B

      Sorry for the delay in responding, Danny…I was busy cleaning up the gym! Anyway, thanks as always for the visit, but I have one big question: you watched the short documentary about the Star Wars Holiday Special, but have you actually watched the Star Wars Holiday Special?

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