Cinema Obscura: The Star Wars Holiday Special

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell


Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

On May 25, 1977 George Lucas created with “Star Wars” the summer blockbuster, launching a saga which go onto be one the most popular franchises of all time, while giving nerdy males like myself something to fill all that time we had on our hands from you know not being able to talk to girls etc, while raking in $4.41 Billion in box office revenue from the films alone and this doesn't include the money generated from the countless spin off’s and merchandise”_because after all no home is complete without it’s glow in the dark lightsaber! 

Needless to say George Lucas has frequently tried to torpedo his cash cow with some shall we say interesting directions in which he chose to take the franchise with the first of these being in “Return of Jedi” which introduced the Ewoks, a creation which grew out of his desire to have a village of Wookies which somehow turned into these monstrosities which as we all know, were greeted by much disgust by the fan base, while also being one of the few cute and cuddly characters that people didn’t mind seeing being blown up. Still these would seem quite passable by the time that “The Phantom Menace” finally came out sixteen years later and unleashed the nowlegendary(and not in a good way) “Jar Jar Binks” which once again caused further venom to be unleashed by the fan verseas wellas the occasional burning effigy, as Lucas had finally managed to create something even crappier than those bloody teddy bears!!

Alas there would be something would top both these thing in terms of overwhelming badness, so much so that it would only ever be shown once in 1978 only to ever reappear on bootleg VHS copies as all those involved tried to forget it had ever been created. I am of course talking about “The Star Wars Holiday Special” and seeing how this December I am celebrating an “Alternative Christmas“ looking at the films which might be set at Christmas but are anything but traditional in the vision of the festive season they provide, in a series of reviews both here in this column as well as over my blog "From The Depths of DVD Hell", so what better time to revisit this rightfully forgotten cash in.

Riding high on success of “A New Hope” the story follows Han Solo and Chewbacca as they travel to Chewbacca’s home planet Kashyyk to celebrate Life Day with Chewie's family who comprise of his father Itchy, his wife Malla and son Lumpy all of which would be later retconned to Attichitcuk, Mallatobuck and Lumpawarrump, rather than taking the more sensible choice of just killing them off. Still these bargain basement Wookie costumes you best get used to watching, as they are your main company for pretty much the whole run time of this thing, while their various grunts and growls are even more nonsensical when they are the only characters on screen, often meaning that Art Carney seen here as the trader and family friend Saun Dann is left to try and string things together for those of us who don't speak Wookie, while the audience wonders why they aren’t getting to see their favourite heroes instead of these second rate characters

Meanwhile the Empire are busy searching for rebel agents on the planet after losing Han and Chewie, whose attempts to elude the Empire once again forms the mainback bone of the plot, which is intercut with random cameo appearances by Luke Skywalker, C3PO, R2-D2 and Princess Leia, aswell as several variety show style segments, musical performances and a cartoon, all of which add up to a two hour car wreck of a holiday cash in.

Still what is most interesting about this special is that all the cast return to play their characters, something unheard of for a special of this type and something which they would all later regret upon the release of the final product, with Lucas rarely commenting on it and seemingly refusing to acknowledge it’s existence, while Carrie Fisher would provide her commentary for the Star Wars DVD’s on the condition that Lucas gave her a copy, somthing which she openly admits to showing at parties, usually when she wants everyone to leave. Still these appearances outside of Chewie and Han Solo are pretty much glorified guest appearances with the majority of the special being left to Chewie’s family to irritate the audience with their painfully unfunny attempts at humour while preparing for Life Day or eluding the Empire.

Still if the antics of Chewie’s family were not annoying enough we also get even more unlikable characters introduced via various celebrities of the time who will no doubt beunrecognizableto most people not born back then, as they try to earn some cool points and no doubt an easy pay check off the back of the Star Wars craze, so hence we get Harvey Korman (yep i've no idea who he is either) showing up in three separate skits, with the most memorable of these being the mildly amusing “Cooking with Chef Gormanda” a four armed cook who Malla struggles to keep up with. Meanwhile his appearance as a malfunctioning droid in an instructional video is just painful to watch. Still slightly better is “Golden Girls” star Bea Arthur as a bar tender at Mos Eisley cantina, which also see’s a welcome return of the various residents and cantina band, though her bursting into “Good Night, But Not Goodbye” will have you quickly looking for the fast forward button.

This random musical interlude is not the only questionable musical moment, as Princess Leia even bursts into a song set to the tune of the Star Wars theme, which unsurprisingly didn’t catch on and hence why you always get folks trying to warble the instrumental version. I did wonder though why "What do you buy a Wookie for Christmas, when he already has a comb" didn't make the special.

Outside of the amateur hour operatic’s we also get musical performances by both “Jefferson Starship” and “Diahann Carroll” both of which quickly descend into 2001 style acid trip light shows , while Carroll’s performance is creepily watched by Chewie’s father as Carroll informs him that she is his “fantasy” while inviting him to “experience her”, while certainly not made any less creepy by the fact that Itchy is sitting in a machine pressing buttons which supposedly control the experience, which also brings into question if sex with a wookie is classed as bestiality?

So while the majority of the special is plain garbage there is still one good thing to come out of this and like the penny in the pile of shit, it is the first ever appearance of Boba Fett!! That’s right the coolest character in the whole of the Star Wars Universe made his debut here in the cartoon segment of the special, which take the term “Artistic License” to whole new level meaning that we get a rubbery looking R2-D2 and a version of Han Solo which bares a striking resemblance to Mick Jagger. Still it’s a fun first appearance for Boba Fett and is the only real reason to sit through the rest of the special which no doubt explains why it’s in the third quarter and not at the start.

To say that the special is flawed, is to put things lightly as honestly it deserves to have any copy in existence gathered up and burned and should in no reason what so ever be attempted to view while sober, with laces in your shoes or without atleast a couple of friends to heckle to hell out of it, neither of which I had for this last viewing which created an experience which is nothing short of cinematic root canal surgery”...you have been warned!!