Star Wars Holiday Special
directed by Steve Binder
(20th Century Fox, 1978)

It's one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our time. Officially, it's known as the Star Wars Holiday Special, but I like to refer to it as "The Night the Force Went Out on Tatooine." Many an intimidated witness will tell you it never really happened, a secret government investigation concluded that those who claim to have seen it actually saw swamp gas, and George Lucas certainly isn't talking. What really happened the night of Nov. 17, 1978? Was it really just a misguided attempt to keep Star Wars alive in the minds of fans waiting for The Empire Strikes Back? Was it a hoax? A mindless prank played on Lucas? A Communist plot? Or something even more insidious?

Despite the best efforts of authorities, tapes of this unworldly event do exist -- I have seen it, my friends. OK, I admit it was a low-quality copy, somewhat fuzzy and impossible to examine closely, but I have every reason to believe what I saw was a recording of a real event. Any analysis of the tape is difficult at best, as it seems to make less sense than Samara's tape in The Ring, so I'll just describe a few of the horrors I witnessed.

Part Star Wars flashbacks, part variety show, part reality show -- all disaster -- the Holiday Special features the likes of Art Carney, Diahann Carroll, Bea Arthur and Jefferson Starship. It is ostensibly about Chewbacca's attempt to get home to his family on Kashyyyk in time to celebrate Life Day. Chewy is overdue, as he and Han Solo have encountered some unfriendly Imperial forces on their way home in the Millennium Falcon. That leaves us stuck watching Chewy's family (his wife Malla, father Itchy and son Lumpy) grunting to one another as they go about whatever it is Wookiees do at home -- for a good 10 to 15 minutes! Highlights include Lumpy being forced to take out the trash, Itchy barking at Lumpy for running around playing with his toy fighter, Lumpy amusing himself by watching a tabletop video of the galaxy's worst circus and -- lest I forget -- Lumpy's daredevil rail-walking exhibition. Ever wondered how to make Bantha Surprise? Do what Malla does -- follow the recipe of famous television chef Gormaanda (Harvey Korman). Did I mention the fact that the only actual communication going on all this time involves Wookiees grunting back and forth to one another? Eventually, a worried Malla starts calling around to see if anyone has word of Chewy's whereabouts, thereby dragging Luke, R2-D2, C3PO and Princess Leia into this disaster.

Things take a turn for the creepy when Saun Dann (Carney) shows up with Life Day gifts for everyone. Here we learn that Itchy is a dirty old Wookiee, as he takes great delight in firing up his "Mind Evaporator" unit to watch his fantasy woman, Mermeia (Carroll), perform a psychedelic video to a perfectly forgettable song. This scene is disturbing on several levels. Moving along, Imperial stormtroopers arrive looking for Chewbacca, search the house and intentionally break one of Lumpy's toys, thereby giving us the one and only remotely human moment in the entire show. Then, somehow or other, we end up watching a Starship video and, a little later, a cartoon featuring the very first appearance of Boba Fett. Then there's the infamous cantina scene from "Life on Tatooine," apparently the Emperor's favorite show. Just try to guess who the new proprietor of the cantina is now. Yes, it's Bea Arthur -- and she sings (when she isn't being romanced by Korman), thereby ruining all of the fun cantina memories of children everywhere. I won't tell you if Chewy makes it home or not, but I can tell you that Leia breaks out into song before the credits mercifully roll -- a Life Day carol to the tune of the Star Wars theme. If all this sounds bad, believe me when I say I have barely scratched the surface.

Why? How do we explain what is arguably the most ridiculous two hours in network television history? Frankly, that whole "trying to keep audiences familiar with these characters as the world waits for The Empire Strikes Back" theory doesn't hold water. This special, if it did anything, drove fans away from the Lucas fold. Perhaps Lucas was worried the second film would be a complete dud and thus tried to lower expectations among the fan base. Maybe he made some enemies at CBS and they tried to sabotage his entire career. Here's what really bothers me, though -- I don't remember watching this special in 1978. As an 8-year-old Star Wars freak, there is simply no way I would have missed anything even remotely related to the franchise. So why don't I, and countless others, remember this special? Could it be that benevolent members of an alien race came to Earth to wash these awful Holiday Special memories out of our fragile little minds so we might have a chance of growing up sane? Makes you think, doesn't it? That still doesn't explain why this video was made, though. You didn't hear it from me, but my research has led me to the startling conclusion that the special was actually an offshoot of Project Montauk -- it was nothing less than a top-secret government experiment to slow down time, based on the theories of Nicola Tesla. And guess what? It worked. Anyone brave enough to admit having watched the two-hour program will tell you that the show had to have been at least eight hours long.

by Daniel Jolley
2 December 2006

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