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The Star Wars Holiday Special
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, @revolutionsf, © 2001

Format: TV
Genre:   Science fiction / comedy / musical cheese
Released:   November 17, 1978
Review Date:   August 22, 2001
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

It really happened.

That's the answer to the question most people ask, when the Star Wars Holiday Special comes up. Some of us saw it in its first and only airing on November 17, 1978. Because of, well, pretty much everything about it, you're justified if you doubt your own memory.

Here is the deal, for those who heard about it only in the 2-second reference by "Weird Al" Yankovic in his "White and Nerdy" video.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is a Christmas special like every other holiday cartoon and show from the 1970s and 1980s, from Alvin and the Chipmunks to Yogi Bear, with hijinks ensuing around a holiday theme. Christmas is a big time for the kids. Cartoon making folk must capitalize on it, or they are insane. The Star Wars people did the same thing.

They didn't just do a clip show, or a making-of special. They went all-in. The only Star Wars at the time was the very first one. This was more of that: a full-length adventure, two hours of broadcast time, counting Parkay margarine and Schlitz Malt Liquor bull commercials. It fits neatly after Star Wars and before Empire Strikes Back in continuity. It had the entire cast of the first film. Well, except for Alec Guinness, since Ben Kenobi was dead. Most likely, Guinness would have said "Bah, humbug!" to the whole thing anyway.

Speaking of Scrooge, one thing that makes it most special to me is that George Lucas has disavowed it. Star Wars officials have pooped on the possibility of a DVD since before there were DVDs. I bet they even said, "If a digital video disc one day exists, we won't put it out on them."

What's the big deal? The two Ewok movies are on DVD. Where, I ask, is the justice? The only joy I find from Lucas on this topic is the Robot Chicken Star Wars special, where an animated George, voiced by George, goes into therapy over his anger toward the Special.

This is the only thing Star Wars that isn't on DVD. Even the Ewoks cartoons are out there. It's so much goofy fun. It's a camp spectacle the way only the 1970s could do it. Art Carney (Norton from The Honeymooners) plays a shopkeeper friendly to the Rebel Alliance. The infamous and deadly Bea Arthur is the barkeep in the Mos Eisley cantina. Harvey Korman (Blazing Saddles, The Carol Burnett Show) plays a chef and an alien in Mos Eisley who hits on Bea.

Jefferson Starship performs. The ones who did "Somebody To Love" and "We Built This City." Their name must have gotten them the gig. Good thing the "Me So Horny" craftsmen Luke Skywalker and the 2 Live Crew weren't around then.

It has the first appearance anywhere of Boba Fett, in a 15-minute cartoon with Luke and the droids. Everyone loves Boba. You can't un-appear him in it.

Bea Arthur sings. So does Princess Leia. Not at the same time or with Starship, though.

All of this happens amid scenes of Han Solo and Chewbacca (what a Wookiee!) returning home for Life Day. Chewbacca's family awaits him on the Wookiee home planet, and are held hostage by Stormtroopers who know Chewie and Han are coming.

You want to see it already. Admit it. If you cannot, I will admit it for you.

Everyone can agree that the coolest Star Wars character is Chewbacca. The scenes with his wife Mala, father Itchy, and son Lumpy are silly and sitcom-like. They are completely spoken in Wookiee, with no subtitles. The spotlight on Chewie is well-deserved. Han and Chewie get screen time aplenty together. Chewbacca got the short end of the lightsaber everywhere else, from Leia and the no-medal incident in Star Wars to his sales-ploy death in Star Wars novels.

There's a sweetness to the Special, but not that cloying, soul-crushing Ewok sweetness. I defy you not to go or at least think "Awww" at the reunion of little Lumpy and daddy Chewie after the rescue.

It's like every other variety special of the time: Hollywood Squares level celebrities, song-and-dance numbers, and goofy comedy. It holds up to the test of time because at its heart, it's more Star Wars -y than many things that came after it. It has character, drama, and action amid the campy goofiness. And this is only the second Star Wars-related thing ever filmed.

Any fan who pooh-poohs it must be called out. Relax. Enjoy some Wookiees. You, sir and/or madam, take yourself and your fandom way too seriously. Get out of here before that thing up your patoot crawls up someone else.

Fast-forward through a few parts, and it's a live-action Star Wars story that holds together better than Phantom Menace.

In all likelihood, this is the only live-action gathering of these characters there will ever be besides the original trilogy. The Star Wars Holiday Special has a unique place in nerd history.

There is an action figure of Mr. "Boba Fett painted like the Holiday Special version.

Copies are out there on the Google and the eBay and at your finer sci-fi conventions. and the whole thing is on the YouTube. If you don't think you're ready for the whole thing, here's a 15 minute version. You know you want to watch.

So if you have not seen it, there remains a new hope.

If you don't want to see it, I question your tolerance for geekitude, sir and/ or madam, and I insist you turn in your badge.

I apologize. That is not in the spirit of Life Day.


The Rifftrax guys did their thing with the Special. "The party's over! Thank you for being a friend!"


 
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