Nether Regions 12.12.12: The Star Wars Holiday Special
Posted by Chad Webb on 12.12.2012
Think Jar Jar Binks is the worst part of the Star Wars universe? Think again. Here is a review of that notorious, calamitous TV special just in time for the holidays...
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin in the movie-zone that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL
Starring: Mickey Morton, Peter Mayhew, and Harrison Ford Directed By: Steve Binder (and David Acomba uncredited) Written By: Pat Proft, Leonard Ripps, Bruce Vilanch
Rod Warren, and Mitzie Welch Original Release Date: November 17, 1978 Running Time: 97 minutes Missing Since: Never Released On Any US Format Existing Formats: None Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Bootlegs are Everywhere
As a child of the 1980's, the Star Wars franchise was as much apart of my youth as it was many young kids at the time. I am what you might call a normal follower of the series. I own the original trilogy on DVD, yet have mixed feelings on the prequel trilogy. Having never been a die-hard fanatic of this universe, The Star Wars Holiday Special simply eluded me. Certainly I have had the opportunity to purchase a bootleg copy or watch it online, but until now I had not done so. Friends would talk about how terrible it was and I meant to give it a whirl just to witness the laughable awfulness with my own eyes, but never did. Alas, that period is over now. My existence will now be divided between the phase where I had not watched this special and everything afterwards, call it Pre and Post-Star Wars Holiday Special Meltdown.
Bea Arthur getting down with her bad self at the Mos Eisley Cantina.
Geez, where to begin? The moment the opening credits rolled and the viewers at home saw the list of guest cameos, they should have known that it would be a long night. The Star Wars logo emerges as a robotic game show announcer rattles off the list of nonsensical stars. More on them later. It is Life Day on the planet Kashyyyk, which is home to the Wookiee Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). He is on his way there with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to celebrate the holiday with his family, wife Malla (Mickey Morton), son Lumpy (Patty Maloney), and father Itchy (Paul Gale). Unfortunately Han and Chewbacca's trip in the Millennium falcon is interrupted by a couple of Imperial Star Destroyers. Meanwhile, Chewbacca's family is anxiously awaiting his return and is growing worried. They are visited by Saul Dann (Art Carney), a local human trader and friend who brings them gifts. They also speak with Luke Sykwalker (Mark Hamill)and R2-D2, who are working on his X-wing starfighter, and with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) who are in a separate location. Neither pair knows what is happening with Han and Chewbacca. To make matters worse, Imperial forces arrive at the house and begin searching the premises for rebellion sympathizers or propaganda. Will Chewbacca make it home in time for Life Day? The suspense is killing you...
There are various versions of The Star Wars Holiday Special floating around the net. Obviously it aired in different parts of the continent, so the quality of the transfer from TV to VHS to DVD to Internet Stream varies depending on what you click on. The one I saw left the commercials in, some of which I skipped, but I could not help but stop and gasp in awe at the fact that baseball great Reggie Jackson once had a candy bar named after him called "Reggie." Moving on, the picture was a bit blurry and fuzzy at times, but mostly you're watching mounds of hair stumbling around, so it matters little. They have the special on YouTube from time to time, but those get taken down at a regular rate, so I recommend just Googling the title and it should bring up various shady sources.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is a head-scratching and legitimately torturous affair. Most of the movie contains the Wookie characters uttering their moaning dialect. Since I do not understand this language, I was forced to do research to grasp the subtleties of their daily routines. More than anything else, these scenes are just soul-rippingly dull. Unless you're deaf, the incessant wails and cries will grow increasingly irritating, similar to the effect Rocky Balboa has in Rocky V when he's suffering from brain damage. A little of the Wookiees goes a long way, and after this is over you'll want an extended break from them I assure you. It truly is baffling that anyone would help to make and release this and think it was acceptable family entertainment for the holidays. I realize The Star Wars Holiday Special has acquired a cultural legend sort of legacy due to its "underground" status, but make no mistake, it is as bone-crunchingly bad as you've heard. There is a RiffTrax for it, and a sample I watched was hilarious, but I would never buy the commentary because the notion of revisiting this atrocity sends shivers up my spine.
Introducing Boba Fett… the cartoon.
Now let's go over the history behind this epic catastrophe. Here is a quote from George Lucas himself in a May 2005 interview with StaticMultimedia.com: "The special from 1978 really didn't have much to do with us, you know. I can't remember what network it was on, but it was a thing that they did. We kind of let them do it. It was done by... I can't even remember who the group was, but they were variety TV guys. We let them use the characters and stuff and that probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but you learn from those experiences." Lucas did not have a lot of involvement with the project, but it should be noted that this is what happened when he turned the reins totally over to another entity. Hopefully Disney doesn't supply a bomb like this. Lucas damaged the legacy enough as is. David Acomb was initially selected as the director. He was a student with Lucas at USC, but he dropped out. Lucas was happy about that, but ultimately Steve Binder would assume control and well, we got...this. It was broadcast in its entirety once and never re-aired, thank the Lord.
Back in the 1970's, variety specials were trendy so someone thought it would be wise to incorporate the variety TV theme into the Star Wars universe. The result is a string of bizarre segments featuring a collection of people you'd never expect in this galaxy far, far away. Art Carney from The Honeymooners is a supporting character and aside from a minor nod to that show, he doesn't really strive for laughs. Harvey Korman (Blazing Saddles) pops up in three different parts. First he is a parody of Julia Child as Chef Gormanda, who has four arms and can work much faster than Malla can cook. The "beat, beat, beat, stir, whip" mantra will induce haunting nightmares. Second he appears as an Amorphian android in an instructional video for Lumpy's circuit breaker module. Yeah. His last character is that of the barfly Krelmin at the Mos Eisley Cantina who drinks through a hole on the top of his head. If any of these bits were meant as comedy, the jokes flew way over my head as I'm sure it did for the majority of others. Who is the bartender that serves Korman at the Cantina you ask? Why Beatrice Arthur from Maude and The Golden Girls of course. Her insulated sequence unfolds as a required video message for all Imperial forces. Arthur is named Ackmena and she is frantic to close the Cantina due to the newly announced curfew. She interacts with the assemblage of aliens, dances with them, and yes folks even sings a song. Good grief...
But that's not even the major WTF scene, although the special is saturated with them. At one point, Art Carney's Saul sits Chewbacca's father Itchy down in front of a virtual reality machine. The program starts and Diahann Carroll appears, describing herself as Itchy's fantasy and invites him to "experience" her. Clearly it's insinuated that Itchy is watching porn or engaging in virtual reality sex. People told me about this gag years ago, so I was waiting for it to a degree, but I was shocked and perplexed to actually see its suggestive trippiness. Yes, this happens. I'll bet that's why interest in the special has grown. When it is described to others, they can't believe what they hear is true until they seek it out on their own. Perhaps you were pining for Cirque du Soleil circus acrobatics performed by small holographic images in brightly colored suits. Well, that wish will be granted. Are you a Jefferson Starship fan? You are in luck because Saul employs a peculiar video of them performing "Light the Sky on Fire" to distract one of the Imperial guards. And in case you were curious as to what the Star Wars main title music would sound like with lyrics sung by Carrie Fisher, the conclusion bludgeons you with that pathetic rendition, leaving you wanting a necessary few weeks to recover.
Most will cite the cartoon interlude as the sole high point during this excruciating endeavor. The reason is because this animated tangent introduced the popular bounty hunter Boba Fett (Voice of Don Francks) to the world. But praising this part amidst the enormous mound of excrement is like giving a thumbs up to Transformers: Dark of the Moon because it's not as bad as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Both are horrid, just at different levels. True, this cartoon is along the lines of a traditional Star Wars adventure, but the drawings are incredibly weak and in terms of continuity compared to the primary storyline, it raises many questions and generates endless confusion. Don't forget, Chewbacca's son Lumpy is viewing this on his little computer video set-up, so effectively he is watching a fictional tale? Or is this a dramatization of real events? Or are the events going down in real time, but somehow Lumpy has hacked into a mysterious surveillance feed? Who knows and seriously, who cares? The word is this cartoon was attached as an Easter Egg on the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-Ray set, but I can't confirm this as I don't own it. The most emotional moment of The Star Wars Holiday Special occurs when an evil Imperial guard destroys Lumpy's stuffed Bantha (an elephant-sized creature with horns). The poor kid's stuffed animal. You bastards!
Everybody be lovin' Life Day!
If you haven't guessed by now, Life Day is the Wookiee equivalent to Christmas. I realize I didn't explain that. I know it was bugging all of you. The ceremony/celebration has Chewbacca and the fam marching like monks while they hold magical snow globes. Every song in The Star Wars Holiday Special is mind-numbingly appalling. Transforming these characters and this universe into anything musical is the Grand Daddy of moronic decisions. The acting is abysmal from the whole cast. Everyone, with the exception of maybe Carrie Fisher, phones in their performance, but she embarrasses herself plenty so that balances out. Well, I suppose James Earl Jones escapes with his dignity in tact. It's hard to bash the voice of Darth Vader. Mark Hamill also went overboard with the make-up it seems, but to be fair, he had been in a motorcycle accident shortly before this was filmed so he could be concealing wounds. He and Harrison Ford exude an aura of goofy and uncomfortable. Peter Mayhew, Mickey Morton, Paul Gale, and Patty Maloney only have to walk back and forth muttering indecipherable Wookiee sentences. I swear, that first sequence with them felt like years of my life had been subtracted.
At 97 minutes, close to two hours with the commercial versions, The Star Wars Holiday Special will feel like the longest, likely most painful movie experience of your life. Several elements from this have been integrated into the general Star Wars canon...because that matters. The motivation to hand over the concept was birthed because George Lucas was concerned that fans would need to see their favorite characters between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Ask and yee shall receive. I'm not sure if Disney will ever release this on DVD/Blu-Ray. The consensus up until now seems be that it will stay buried, so if you want to partake, you'll have to cut a corner or two. My one regret is not that I watched The Star wars Holiday Special. I'm glad I finally bit the bullet. This could be considered an important notch in the belt. But I wish I had not done so alone and...sober. What was I thinking?
Happy Life Day! If an actual date was created for this and you know what it is, seek help.
Final Rating = 1.5/10.0
Here are some random quotes from people associated with Star Wars commenting on the special:
"The horrible Holiday Special that nobody talks about." - Anthony Daniels (C-3PO)
"If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it." - George Lucas
"I mean, I like the ten minute introduction of Boba Fett, but that's about it." - Steve Sansweet (Lucasfilm Head of Content & Fan Relations)
*Below is a video that contains George Lucas' bit on the special from Robot Chicken, along with thoughts from Bruce Vilanch and Harrison Ford's interview with Conan O'Brien in 2005.