With a Star Wars series in the works, the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special is sure to come up again, just like a bad acid flashback.
With George Lucas still milking every last drop out of the Star Wars series, I’m actually surprised the Holiday Special hasn’t officially come out, but it’s proven a major embarrassment to Lucas. (Although thinking back on it, how could it be any more embarrassing than Jar Jar Binks, or his dreadful adaptation of Howard the Duck?)
I do have vague memories of seeing the Holiday Special when it was on, my family had a VCR then, a three quarter inch once where it took four tapes to record a movie, and we did tape it, but I only have very vague flashes of it today. (I also used to watch the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror awards as a kid, and also have zero recollection of William Shatner’s infamous interpretation of “Rocket Man,” another masterpiece of so bad it’s brilliant ’70’s TV.)
At Vanity Fair, Frank DiGiacomo did excellent coverage of the Star Wars video game, The Force Unleashed, as well as the Star Wars Holiday Special.
As DiGiacomo reported, Star Wars had been out a year, Empire was still a year away, and the Holiday Special was seen as a way to bridge the gap and keep the space saga in the public consciousness. Except this would be a variety show extravaganza, which were big on TV at the time with Carol Burnett, Donnie and Marie, and Shields and Yarnell.
The Holiday Special was definitely along those lines, and you can also make the joke it was like The Love Boat in space with the original cast members Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, etc., as well as guest stars Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Diahann Carroll, Harvey Korman, and a musical number by Jefferson Starship. (Not to mention costumes by Bob Mackie.)
Fisher also agreed to do the special if she could sing, and legendary comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, who was one of the writers on this piece of work, recalled, “She was going through her Joni Mitchell period.”
A funny irony of the Holiday Special is that it focuses around the Wookies. (Which Vilanch thought was a mistake considering they couldn’t talk.) Lucas had an early version of the wookies in his first film THX-1138, and as the story went in the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, he was told by Warner Brothers to “put the freaks up front.” This phrase became Lucas’s shorthand for idiot studio executives, but with the Holiday Special he ended up following their advice.
The Holiday Special aired on November 17, 1978 from 8 to 10, and was seen by thirteen million people, but it also got beat out by The Love Boat, and part two of the mini-series Pearl, about the bombing of Peal Harbor.
The Holiday Special has never been repeated, and DiGiacomo reports running into Lucas, who declined to be interviewed for the Vanity Fair piece, but did tell the writer during their chance encounter that the show was a “travesty.” Lucas was also quoted as saying if he had time and a hammer, he’d smash every bootleg copy of the Holiday Special. Yet the story also reports a rumor that Lucas was thinking of including the Holiday Special as an extra on the 2007 DVD, but eventually decided against it.
There’s certainly plenty of bootleg copies out there, you can also watch it on YouTube, and one scene in Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” that never fails to crack me up is when he’s in an alley meeting a seedy looking dealer, and instead of buying drugs, the dealer slips him a copy of the Holiday Special instead, which makes Al jump for joy.