Can you truly call yourself a Star Wars fan if you’ve never seen the 1978 ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’?
Of course you can.
Indeed for your own sanity, you should avoid watching this at all costs.
And back before the Internet, it was easy to not watch this. It was only ever shown on TV once. And that was a year before I was born. And also in the States, which is not where I live.
It was never made available to buy on VHS, or DVD.
So without the Internet I would never have been able to see this.
The Internet is, in many ways, a wonderful creation that has made possible many things that were once inconceivable. But being able to watch the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ whenever and wherever you want is not one of the more positive aspects of the current age.
I first watched it on YouTube a few years back. At the time, the only way I could find to access it was by watching it in ten minute instalments. On the first instalment there were lots of comments underneath by bewildered people, wondering what it was that they had let themselves in for. As I moved through the different instalments, the number of comments below the videos began to decrease and it was almost a ‘badge of honour’ to make it to the end, where there were very few comments indeed.
These days you can watch the whole thing, uninterrupted, on a variety of platforms.
I’m not sure that actually represents progress.
I didn’t want to watch it again.
But for the sake of completion in my quest to write about everything Star Wars, I felt I was morally obliged.
Plus it was something to do.
On re-watching it, I discovered it wasn’t as bad as I remembered.
It was much much worse.
I don’t think I could watch it for a third time.
And the next time I hear anyone moan about ‘The Phantom Menace’…
Anyway, time for the pretty pointless spoiler alert:
Spoiler Alert: It is possible that I will reveal plot details about the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ in the text that follows. But I won’t be doing it on purpose, because I didn’t actually notice a plot when I watched it. So if there are any plot details and I reveal them and that is what ruins this absolute car-crash of a TV show for you then I’m sorry. But it seems unlikely.
Oh it starts promisingly enough. The opening shots are of the Millennium Falcon outrunning some Star Destroyers. We see Han and Chewie in the Cockpit. The dialogue isn’t the most convincing. But it’s Han and Chewie! From actual Star Wars!
The premise is set, Han is trying to get Chewie back home for ‘Life Day’, which is presumably the Wookie equivalent of Christmas.
It’s a bit stupid, but this is fundamentally a Christmas Special so no-one was expecting ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ at this point. It was a bit of harmless fun. Everyone loved the 1977 movie so why not make a Christmas Special? Something for all the family to watch together.
And the premise of getting Chewie back home seemed reasonable. After all, the ‘difficult journey home for Christmas’ has proven a winning formula for many a Christmas movie and TV special.
Naturally you assume you’re going to be with Han and Chewie on their adventures.
Shortly after that opening scene we’re sort of given the opening credits. A loud TV announcer tells us what we can expect from the upcoming spectacle. And we can definitely expect to see all of the original cast. Luke is there, Leia is there, we’ve already seen Han and Chewie and we’ve also got C3P0 and R2D2 (although Kenny Baker, who played R2D2, was not involved and so we’re told that R2D2 is playing himself. Which is an early indicator that all is not as it should be). But that’s not all, we’re getting Darth Vader too, voiced by James Earl Jones no less. Sure there are a lot of guest stars, most of whom I’ve had to look up, but they mostly seem to be people who were well-regarded in either film or television. Oh and there are some music acts, which is another alarm bell really, but at this point there doesn’t seem to be too much to worry about. This isn’t going to be a sequel to the 1977 movie. This is going to be something else. But it could still be fun right?
Oh you poor misguided fool. This is not going to go the way you think…
So, the opening credits end and we join Chewie’s family.
That’s right. Chewie has a wife and child. And also a father who appears to live with his wife and child. They were actually introduced in the opening credits, but they came after the original cast. So we knew we were going to see them, but it’s a surprise to see them this early. But perhaps we’re just checking in with them before we return to the main adventure.
And that belief will keep you going for a few minutes until you realise that, no, this is it. This is where we’re going to be for the whole thing.
We’re not going on the adventure with Chewie. We’re stuck at home with his stupid family.
And for about ten minutes they talk to each other. In Wookie. Which is not English. So you sit watching three actors, in costumes that are a good deal cheaper and less convincing than those used in the movie, growl at each other. And the costumes don’t allow for much in the way of facial expressions so it’s not all that easy to work out what’s going on. Also, although Chewie’s family home is in a tree, it does look, on the inside, like the kind of home that someone who lived on Earth in 1978 might have. Rather than someone who lives in, y’know, Star Wars…
And it really doesn’t get any better.
The original cast pop up for unconvincing cameos as we’re told the story of Han and Chewie’s situation through poorly written dialogue, some of which is in the aforementioned ‘Wookie’. There is literally no action. There are some skits involving the guest stars. None of which are especially funny. There’s one particularly surreal bit when Chewie’s dad (who is called Itchy) watches Diahann Carrol via a ‘virtual reality’ headset, in which she describes herself as ‘his fantasy’. And he does seem quite turned on. Which is unsettling on a number of levels.
It is beyond terrible. I’d say it’s ‘so bad that it’s good’ but it’s really hard to watch so I’m not sure that it even merits that dubious accolade.
And Darth Vader is not in it! There is one scene, which is essentially an unused scene from the original movie, and which has been dubbed so that the original dialogue has been replaced to something that better fits whatever narrative we’re supposed to be watching here. And yes, James Earl Jones does say the words in this updated dialogue but it’s very disingenuous of them to have claimed, in the opening credits, that Darth Vader was in this. And in that scene he is talking to a character that definitely died in the first movie. And he’s quite recognisable because he’s the guy that shortly before the Death Star is blown up, warns Governor Tarkin that, in fact, there is a possibility that the Death Star might get blown up.
Darth Vader does also briefly show up again in the only good bit of this atrocity. Which is a short cartoon. But even in that he only has one or two lines. And actually it’s not a great cartoon, but in the context of everything else on screen, it is a masterpiece of storytelling. It’s mainly about Boba Fett, and to be fair he’s much better in this cartoon than he ever was in the movies.
But aside from that happy interlude, everything else is awful.
Obviously Chewie does make it home, as do the rest of the original cast, even though it was clearly only Han that was travelling with him. Indeed that’s a point that’s reinforced multiple times throughout the running time, so I’m not sure how Luke and Leia end up there at the end.
But they do.
Which means that Leia can sing.
Because that is how the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ ends.
With Princess Leia singing to Wookies.
Best character – Animated Boba Fett
As the only remotely good thing about this whole thing is a fairly bad cartoon predominantly about Boba Fett then he gets the dubious honour of being the best thing in it. Because I couldn’t, in all honesty, credit any of the characters in the live action bit as being anything other than genuinely dreadful.
Worst character – Lumpy
It’s a tough one, as no-one emerges from this with any credit. But if one character annoyed me slightly more than everyone else, it was Chewbacca’s son, Lumpy. It’s no wonder Chewie stays away from home so much.
Unsung hero – The audience
Anyone who manages to sit all the way through this is a hero in my book. And I’ve sat though it twice now. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but I suspect that calling myself a ‘hero’ at this point would be selling myself short…
And that’s all I have to say about the very worst thing to ever be produced in the name of ‘Star Wars’. Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be writing about something that was better.
Only a little better though…