Thanks to its controversial innuendo, misguided comedy, and scattershot narrative, The Star Wars Holiday Special may never appear on Disney +.
In mid-November of 1978, CBS aired The Star Wars Holiday Special – a bizarre, ill-fated, and often incoherent Star Wars-themed variety show so notoriously unpopular that even today, Disney + has no plans to add the special to its roster of highly lucrative Star Wars content. The new LEGO-themed Star Wars Holiday Special may have hit the platform directly, but the original remains an outcast for a reason.
Directed by Steve Binder, the special was designed to foster fan interest during the period between the original Star Wars and the forthcoming The Empire Strikes Back. The special features the main cast of Star Wars, including Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a singing Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and the first appearance of Boba Fett, in animated form. The main plot revolves around “Life Day,” a Wookiee holiday that spurns Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to travel home to Kashyyyk (accompanied by Han Solo) to visit his family. This might not sound like the most disastrous formula for a holiday special, but according to Esquire, with its reported 13 million viewers, The Star Wars Holiday Special didn’t even qualify as a top-ten broadcast when it aired.
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The subsequent ignorance to the Special by both LucasFilm and Disney speaks to how the content left viewers dismayed. In direct defiance of Star Wars convention, there’s a heavy emphasis on powerfully unfunny sketch comedy; Bea Arthur croons and flirts with barflies inside the Mos Eisley cantina, Harvey Korman plays the four-armed intergalactic Chef Gormaando in a cooking show spoof, and then, to offset the comedy, Jefferson Starship offers up a rather lengthy and psychedelic music video. Many have argued that the animated Boba Fett sequence qualifies as the special’s high watermark, but the truth is that even this sequence leans heavy on corny jokes and slapstick.
Arguably, the special’s greatest missteps pertain to Chewbacca’s Wookiee family and their Life Day celebration, which is interrupted by Imperial soldiers. Because Wookiees only communicate in growls and grunts, the Life Day plot makes for an alienating experience. To make matters worse, there’s a now-infamous scene in which Itchy (Paul Gale), Chewie’s father, is depicted groaning with pleasure in front of his family while hooked up to a virtual reality console featuring a seductively clad Diahann Carroll, who asks Itchy, “Oh, we are excited, aren’t we?” Suffice it to say the scene carries suggestive implications that seem inappropriate for a family special, and viewers and critics alike have responded with confusion and discomfort.
According to Insider, Mark Hamill was so horrified by the special’s script that George Lucas had to call in a favor to get the actor to appear, and even Lucas himself developed regrets later on. One popular story alleges that Lucas once told the audience at a convention that, “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every bootlegged copy of the program and smash it.” Even TV Guide panned the special as “unintentionally hilarious.”
Like such cult classics as The Room or Troll 2, the special does appeal to a certain demographic of fans through its “so bad it’s good” charm. Even current shows like The Mandalorian have snuck in sly references to the special. Certain diehard fans are so vehement, in fact, that there’s a petition at change.org to make the Holiday Special available on Disney +. At this time, there are fewer than 60 signees, which might suggest that the special will always be a fringe interest. All told, The Star Wars Holiday Special remains a rather dubious and embarrassing chapter in the Star Wars legacy. The powers that be at Disney + seem to realize they have little to gain from making the special available to today’s viewers, and as of now, there are no plans for a re-release.
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