The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Written by Steve Binder, David Acomba

Run Time: 96 (painful) minutes

A long, long time ago, in a decade far, far away called the 70’s, a movie named “Star Wars” was released…You may have heard of it. To call it a “hit” would be an understatement. It took over the popular culture like a virus…one of the earliest examples of a true “meme”, and for a wonky 9 year old boy like myself, Star Wars was in my every thought…how couldn’t it be?

Naturally, the Powers That Be (…Powers That Were?) were intent on extracting every last hard-earned allowance dollar out of every kid’s pocket. We gleefully obliged Lucas Inc. with repeated trips to the movies to see Star Wars over and over and over again. Yes kids, this was in a time before NetFlix. Back then, there were big dark rooms called “theaters” and you would “go to” and pay to sit in for 90 minutes while you watched bright lights flashing on a wall. Yes, those were primitive times indeed.

With the Star Wars money machine in high gear, enter producer/director Steve Binder, the brain behind many TV and film productions, most notably Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special. For better or worse, he managed to sell the idea of a Star Wars musical television show starring the original cast and additional new characters, most notably and infamously, Chewbacca’s family: Wife Malla, father Itchy and his son Lumpy (!)

The story takes place primarily on Chewbacca’s home world Kashyyyk where his family awaits his arrival for “Life Day”…but the Imperial forces have other plans and…oh dear, we’ll get to all that soon. Besides the Star Wars cast from the original film (Luke, Han, Princess Leia, et. al.) The Star Wars Holiday Special features popular 70’s TV personalities Bea Arthur (from the TV show “Maude”, remember?), Art Carney, Diahann Carroll, and Harvey Korman who plays several different alien “roles” throughout this bizarre production.

Sooo…..OK, let’s get this over with.

Special Monster Shack Extra: I have included links to all the strange interludes in the movie in case you want to watch any of them for yourself. If you don’t, yeah, I understand, but do yourself a favor and at least see the Bea Arthur “Cantina Bar” scene (Interlude 6)…it’s awesomely cheesy!

After opening credits we get a quick establishing shot of the Wookie homeworld, Kashyyyk. No, the “y” key is not sticking on my keyboard, that’s how it’s spelled. Oh, and it’s pronounced “ka-zook”…that makes sense.

Anyway, Chewbacca’s endlessly irritating son, Lumpy, runs around the house with a toy X-Wing fighter making a nuisance of himself and pissing off Grandpa Itchy, who looks like he’s way overdue for a trip to the dentist. We quickly learn that Chewbacca is late for his return home, and to make things worse, it’s Life Day eve!

I have to pause here and point out a very odd production decision: the Wookie family speaks in Wookie language with no subtitles. IT DRIVES ME CRAZY!

Here, let me transcribe the opening scene when Lumpy irritates his Grandpa Itchy:

Lumpy: wezzzzaaaakakakaweeeech…eechaeeechaeeecha?

Itchy: grrrrummppaapagggrrr!

Lumpy: eeeetttshsm…

Itchy: gmmpppggg!!!!

It’s unfathomable that anybody could believe that this was a good idea. Did someone think that the Star Wars universe would be somehow more authentic with 90 minutes of actors gnashing their teeth and grunting in fur suits?

Anyway, to cheer up little Lumpy, Itchy plugs in a 3-D recording for him to watch.

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Weird Interlude 1: Neon Circus
======================

It’s some sort of really weird circus…yeah, I guess using the word “weird” was probably unnecessary. Anyway, this “extravaganza” continues for 3 minutes…three minutes! before the tape runs empty and the show fades away leaving poor Lumpy staring at an empty table.

Meanwhile, Malla dials up “Traffic Control” on their computer. A quick scan of the galaxy results in the regrettable result: “No starships in area”. Now she’s really worried and rings up Luke Skywalker using their hidden transmitter.

“Hey R2, look, it’s Chewbacca’s family,” says an obviously unenthused Luke. (Seriously, Mark Hamill is really phoning in his lines here, but who can blame him?)

When Malla explains that Chewie is way over due, Luke reassures her that he’s surely fine and probably just held up by an “asteroid storm”. Plainly eager to wrap up the call, Luke makes up some sort of excuse about fixing a big laser gun or something and ends the transmission with a half-hearted “don’t worry…he’ll be there.”

Cut to a local trading post run by a kindly shop owner named Suan Dann (Art Carney). He’s currently busy dealing with a rude off-duty Imperial guard who’s come to browse his wares. (So that’s what all these Imperial guys do in their free time…shopping!)

For some reason Malla chooses this spectacularly bad moment to call and ask about Chewbacca. Suan Dunn takes the call and through eye-rollingly bad word play, conveys to Malla that Han and Chewie are safe for the moment without arousing the trooper’s curiosity.

Oh?, Just how bad is this dialog, you ask? Well, how about: “You might even say your (cough-cough) ‘carpet’ is being safely washed by an old woman…by ‘hand’…’solo'”

Yeah. Ouch, right?

More empty banter ensues, which comes as no surprise since 99% of this movie is empty banter anyway. The soldier eventually swipes a nick nack off a shelf and leaves. Whew…that was TOO CLOSE!

======================
Weird Interlude 2: Chef Gormaanda
======================

Back at the Chewie household, time drags on (tell me about it!) as Malla and Lumpy fart around the house grunting and snorting. The next interlude is the first of several Harvey Korman skits. This time it’s a cooking show where he plays a purple-haired, four-armed alien chef named Gormaanda preparing “Bantha Surprise”. (Oh, that’s rich, but aren’t banthas native to Luke’s home planet of Tatooine?)

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Harvey Corman is pretty funny, and he certainly delivers his performances with gusto, but in the end there’s only so much one man can do with this material.

The cooking show sketch drags on for a few minutes (Poor Harvey…) before we cut to Chewie and Han Solo in a heated space battle. The Empire has calculated their destination and have imposed a blockade around the entire Kazyyyk planet…and on the eve of Life Day no less! Does not the evil Empire have a soul?!

Speaking of Kazyyyk, Suan Dann shows up at Malla’s house with Life Day gifts for everybody because he’s such a sweetheart. Itchy’s gift is a “proton pack” (i.e., memory stick…but proton pack sounds way cooler) containing a musical number by the popular 70’s singer Diahann Carroll. (Billed as “Mermeia Holographic Wow” in the credits…) With the proton pack plugged into the viewing device (which looks exactly like one of those old beauty salon hair driers), Itchy leans back and begins mumbling and grunting in pleasure.

======================
Weird Interlude 3: Mermeia Holograph
======================

Allow me to interrupt and point out that this scene is really odd, even for this movie. Suan Dunn’s whole build up to the video bit is made out like it’s supposed to be super sexy or something. Granted, Diahann Carroll is attractive, but why in the hell would a Wookie think that? Not only are they two different species, they’re from two different planets! Look at it this way, do you think Malla is hot? Wait, don’t answer that.

Regardless, it’s just really, really gross how Itchy reclines in his greasy easy chair and grinds his rotten gums together while murmuring “hghghhhhhhggg…grchchchhhhhhh”. Yech!

When Itchy’s show wraps up, Malla calls Princess Leia and C3PO to ask if they know anything about Chewie’s whereabouts…but why would they know? Oh, nevermind. Suan Dann reassures Her Royal Highness that he’ll take care of Chewbacca’s family until he arrives. What a relief. Malla ends the call and invites Suan Dann to the kitchen to eat, and I am NOT making this up, “Wookie Ookies” (!) Oh, what I could say about that…but it’s just too easy.

Meanwhile, after a whopping 2 minutes of flying, Han Solo and Chewbacca break through the Imperial blockade. Wow, that was easy. In order not to reveal their presence and lead the troopers to Chewie’s house, they decide to conceal the Millennium Falcon on the “North side” of the planet…Uh, the North side?! Then what? Catch a bus?!

Back home, a squad of Imperial Storm Troopers knock at the door and push their way inside. (Yes, they knock first, how polite.) While the Storm Troopers ransack the house, the Commander interrogates Malla about Chewbacca. Suan Dann distracts the intruders by babbling a hundred miles an hour, and since nobody in the Empire has an IQ over 70, Malla’s contraband transmitter goes unnoticed even though it’s stashed behind the patently fake bookcase right in front of their faces.

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Weird Interlude 4 : Space Band
======================

Suan Dann continues with the distraction by plugging in another one of his “proton packs”. Yes, another musical number that has nothing to do with the story, or Star Wars, at all. This time it’s a spacey, tripped out Jefferson Airplane performance that runs on and on for 5 solid minutes. Oops, I forgot the explanation marks at the end of that sentence, allow me to rewrite it: 5 solid minutes!!!

Upstairs, Lumpy turns what looks like a Wookie version of a PC and watches a poorly animated Star Wars cartoon. (Nerd trivia: Boba Fett has a brief cameo…his first appearance in the Star Wars saga, yes, even before The Empire Strikes Back) As with every other strange break in the action, this cartoon doesn’t add anything to the plot, so I’m going to skip it.

======================
Weird Interlude 5: Android How-To
======================

When the troopers leave, a dispirited Lumpy pokes through his toys and finds an electronic transmitter (or something). Turning on the device spawns an instructional video featuring an android played by, you guessed it, Harvey Korman. As with all the other skits in this movie, it runs for way too long and adds absolutely nothing to the story. (Whatever story there is…)

So, when this silly skit finally sputters to an end we jump to the Mos Eisley bar where the bartender Ackmena, played by Bea Arthur(!), feverishly serves a variety of multi-colored drinks to a crowd of aliens.

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Weird Interlude 6: Mos Eisley Bar
======================

Right away we must endure a tedious, bland flirting scene between Ackmena and another alien (once again played by Harvey Korman) who, wait for it, drinks through the top of his head because, hey, he’s an alien. After a while, word comes over the loudspeaker that there’s a planetwide (!) curfew in place, so she’ll have to close the bar early.

When the drunken alien clientele refuses to leave, Ackmena breaks out into a long song as she says good-night to the reluctant patrons. Naturally, all the original Star Wars monster costumes and sets are put to good use again (Greedo, Walrus Face, the band, etc.). But seeing the actress who played Maude dance with them is just too weird. (If you don’t know who “Maude” is, then look here. Thanks for making me feel old.)

Wow. OK, that was odd.

Back home with Malla and the other fuzz balls, the Imperial search party returns to base, but the commander leaves a token Storm Trooper behind in case Chewbacca should return any time soon.

Unsurprisingly, Han and Chewie do show up right then and dispatch the Storm Trooper in a totally non-violent way when the guard stumbles over a piece of firewood (!) and plummets off the porch to his death. I mean, the Good Guys could never initiate violence, it always had to be self-defence. (Remember all that Han shot first crap? You don’t? Damn, I’m a geek.)

Just wondering, but what the hell was the point of the railing in the first place if it gives way at the slightest contact?! Sadly, Lumpy survives the encounter without being blasted into smithereens. I was really hoping the Storm Trooper could have fired off one wild shot into Lumpy’s head. (I freely admit that seeing Lumpy blown away would have been satisfying after 85 minutes of listening to “grpapsphhhh! grrrmmmmmfffff!”)

Inside the house a clumsy family reunion of sorts ensues before Han Solo excuses himself and wishes them all a happy Life Day. (I can imagine Harrison Ford fleeing the set as fast as he could.)

“You’re like family to me,” Han says (with a straight face, no less) before heading back to the Falcon. (As you recall, it’s parked on “the North side of the planet”, so he’s in for a long walk…)

Poor Harrison Ford…I’ve read that he still regrets appearing in this oddity and to this day refuses even to watch it. Smart man.

Now for the big finale…the greatly anticipated Life Day celebration. This grand ceremony comprises of hundreds of red-robed Wookies carrying candles towards a portal in outer space! Seriously. Outer space. You know…that place with a temperature of -423 and no air.

It’s weird.

It’s bizarre.

I’ve run out of words for weird and bizarre.

OK, good grief, Princess Leia breaks out in a Life Day song…that’s the final straw, I’m outta here!

Dennis Grisbeck (Sept 2016)

NOTE: PLEASE watch watch this movie HERE before it disappears forever!

Afterthoughts

The Star Wars Holiday Special is something you have to see to believe. It perfectly captures the essence behind the question: “What were they thinking!?” Reviews of this creation range from “The worst 2 hours of television ever” to the AV Club’s “…I’m not convinced the special wasn’t ultimately written and directed by a sentient bag of cocaine”.

It’s unclear how much George Lucas actually had to do with this show. Word on the street (i.e., Google and IMDB) indicates that he (wisely) had very little, if anything, to do with it, although there are rumors that he was sent shooting dailies for approval. Who knows? It’s not like anybody is going to admit having anything to do with this production.

So, let’s leave it at that and allow this mutant piece of crazy pop-culture return to the murky past for good.

Read more about The Star Wars Holiday Special at

IMDB

3 comments to The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

  • Guts3d

    Whew! That one slipped past me back in the 70’s, thank God. I bought the Rifftrax version and was able to endure
    that, I cannot imagine watching it without help. Or booze… Great review!

  • @Guts: Can definitely recommend booze. This one also slipped by me on the radar back in 1978. I guess I was outside playing…remember those days..when kids played, outside?! 🙂

  • Guts3d

    Playing outside? That is a vicious rumor started by the enemies of video games and entertainment.

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