The Star Wars Holiday Special: Unfortunately, It's Real

The Star Wars Holiday Special: Unfortunately, It's Real

You'd figure a big-budget TV movie continuing the story of Star Wars would be great, right? Well, you thought wrong.
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On November 17, 1978, America was subjected to a two-hour atrocity not seen since that fateful night. Millions tuned in, only seeing torture and an abomination of television programing. This being the infamous The Star Wars Holiday Special, which thankfully only ever aired that one time. But it’s Star Wars, of course it should be good, right? It’s Star Wars, why do I describe it like that? Well, the Holiday Special is the equivalent of The Room - so bad it’s good, bad in a way that can only be witnessed, just talking about it doesn’t do it justice. But the real question is how could they make something based off something so good so bad? What decisions were made to create something that easily could have ruined the franchise?

Star Wars had just come out, and became the cultural icon it is today. As soon as it got to that point, every company and marketing group in 1977 wanted a piece of that action, and George Lucas, who had successfully negotiated keeping all merchandising and licensing rights, wasn’t opposed to keeping the franchise going during production on the then-untitled Star Wars II (yeah originally it wasn’t Episode V, but that’s a different story). So, it wasn’t surprising when Lucasfilm had a meeting with CBS executives to get a television special produced. Lucas was not able to write or direct, or really be too involved with it, because of the commitments to the actual sequel film. However, Lucas did suggest the story to focus on a family of Wookiees celebrating “Life Day.” This would be the main story, and the family made into Chewbacca’s own family - a wife, a son, and a father named Malla, Lumpy, and Itchy, respectively. Somehow Chewbacca, who travels around the galaxy with Han Solo, found time to settle down and have a child the equivalent age of ten by the time of A New Hope.

From there, CBS hired the main cast of the original film - including Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and even James Earl Jones (and obviously not Alec Guinness or Peter Cushing). Kenny Baker (R2-D2) was the only actor from the film to not be involved in any way, as it was cheaper to use one of the remote controlled prop R2s in storage - David Prowse as Darth Vader appeared, though only via cut footage from the film. Now, one would think the team of writers hired on by CBS, all of whom had experience in television writing, would be able to fill an hour and a half or so with these characters and the Life Day plot. But these writers actually were mostly writing for variety shows, and CBS made the decision to make the special simply a Star Wars variety show type movie, with loosely connecting segments. They then brought in several well known actors to play roles (some playing several) for different segments. Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and yes, Bea Arthur were cast - Bea Arthur even got a musical number. The band Jefferson Starship (formerly Jefferson Airplane) were hired as well, to make a music video that would be part of the special. An animation house came onboard to make a cartoon - which is notable for introducing Boba Fett to the Star Wars universe, as a little sneak peek of the new villain for Star Wars II.

There isn’t much that has been written or even discussed about the actual production, though one can only imagine what it must have been like - the sets were cheap, Mark Hamill looked plastic due to heavy makeup being used to hide his scars from a car accident not long after filming of A New Hope, Carrie Fisher was obviously on something else when she sang the final musical number (yes there are three of them, plus the Jefferson Starship music video), and Harrison Ford appeared to rather be doing literally anything else. The first ten minutes is just Chewbacca’s family, and because they’re Wookiees, all they do is growl at each other, with no subtitles. Art Carney’s character brings Life Day gifts, and he gives Chewbacca’s father a rather risque hologram that plays in a giant VR type machine. It gets progressively worse and worse, the best part being the commercial breaks because if you find it with those breaks intact online, the 1970s commercials are just a blast. The animated segment isn’t terrible either, though the animation style itself leaves a lot to be desired. And it does give us a pretty cool intro to Boba Fett, so at least it does one thing right.

After that one airing, it was being torn apart by critics and audiences alike. On RottenTomatoes, which didn’t exist at the time but did compile the reviews to give a score, it is at 43%, but let’s be real, there isn’t too many reviews and the audience score is way lower. The special has never been aired again nor officially released on home media (save for the animated short being a bonus feature on the 2011 Blu-Ray box set), but bootleg copies are easy to find, whether it’s online or on sale from a vendor at a convention. George Lucas has been quoted as saying “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it” as well as making it clear he had pretty much nothing to do with it - the man who created Jar Jar Binks hates the Holiday Special, if that says anything. While the actual story is largely ignored, the characters of Malla, Lumpy, and Itchy continued to make some appearances in books and comics during the Expanded Universe era, and in the current “Canon” era, Malla is confirmed to be Chewbacca’s wife still, and the special is considered non-canon now, but no official word has come down about it. To answer the question about where it all went wrong, it really boils down to CBS had their ideas and what they said went, though I can’t assume Lucasfilm would have pumped out a high quality product either.

Despite the negative reception, many fans still watch it from time to time, not unlike The Room or Plan 9 From Outer Space. Sometimes we want to watch something so bad it’s good. Especially when it’s part of something many of us love. I personally watch the Holiday Special every year, and make fun of it all the way through like my own personal Mystery Science Theater 3000 - and the people who made that show did a RiffTrax for the special, so you actually can watch that. It’s a testament to the legacy of awful, with a single two-hour TV movie being still laughed at and parodied, even by current Star Wars filmmakers. I'm not saying to go on YouTube and watch it, but it's just a search away on there if you don't want the 1978 commercials if you want to witness the abomination. Hey, Disney owns Lucasfilm and Freeform, maybe we’ll see a 40th anniversary airing next year. Or they’ll save us the horror - which is really the most likely scenario.

Cover Image Credit: CBS/Lucasfilm

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Why High School Musicals Should Be As Respected As Sports Programs Are

The arts are important, too.
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When I was in middle school and high school, I felt like I lived for the musicals that my school orchestrated.

For those of you who don't know, a musical is an onstage performance wherein actors take on roles that involve singing, and often dancing, to progress the plot of the story. While it may sound a little bit nerdy to get up in front of an audience to perform in this manner, this is something you cannot knock until you try it.

For some reason, though, many public schools have de-funded arts programs that would allow these musicals to occur, while increasing the funding for sports teams. There are a few things that are being forgotten when sports are valued more than musical programs in high schools.

Much like athletic hobbies, an actor must try-out, or audition, to participate in a musical. Those best suited for each role will be cast, and those who would not fit well are not given a part. While this may sound similar to trying out for say, basketball, it is an apples to oranges comparison.

At a basketball try-out, those who have the most experience doing a lay-up or shooting a foul shot will be more likely to succeed, no questions asked. However, for an audition, it is common to have to learn a piece of choreography upon walking in, and a potential cast member will be required to sing a selected piece with only a few days of preparation.

There are many more variables involved with an audition that makes it that much more nerve-racking.

The cast of a school musical will often rehearse for several months to perfect their roles, with only several nights of performance at the end. Many sports practice for three or four days between each of their respective competitions. While this may seem to make sports more grueling, this is not always the case.

Musicals have very little pay-off for a large amount of effort, while athletic activities have more frequent displays of their efforts.

Athletes are not encouraged to but are allowed to make mistakes. This is simply not allowed for someone in a musical, because certain lines or entrances may be integral to the plot.

Sometimes, because of all the quick changes and the sweat from big dance numbers, the stage makeup just starts to smear. Despite this, an actor must smile through it all. This is the part of musicals that no sport has: introspection.

An actor must think about how he or she would respond in a given situation, be it saddening, maddening, frightening, or delightful. There is no sport that requires the knowledge of human emotion, and there is especially no sport that requires an athlete to mimic such emotion. This type of emotional exercise helps with communications and relationships.

Sports are great, don't get me wrong. I loved playing volleyball, basketball, track, and swimming, but there were no experiences quite like those from a musical. Sports challenge the body with slight amounts of tactic, while musicals require much physical and mental endurance.

The next time you hear someone say that it's “just a musical," just remember that musicals deserve as much respect as sports, since they are just as, if not more demanding.

Cover Image Credit: Cincinnati Arts

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Christmas Of Remembrance Series: My Last Letter

Christmas time is not about the gifts... It is about something far, far more special.

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Dear Reader,

Thank you for your time.

This is a series that I have dedicated to those I have loved and lost. It was merely a thought, then an idea, and now a realized creation. Christmas time… all winter really is a hard time for me. It holds this duality in my life of being both my favorite and also my least favorite and difficult time of year. It has been that way for years now.

In a way, this series aids my closure and healing further, and it allows me to tell my story in a way that, to me, is less scary (one of the many great facets of this platform). It was never my intention to write this in order to reach people, or encourage people, or serve as an inspiration to anyone. This was for me and only me. No one else. But, if these pieces of writing do impact someone, somewhere, or make them feel encouraged or inspired in some way or another, or just simply make them feel, then I hope you have enjoyed them. If I can make someone feel, then I guess I have done my job.

The life of an artist is often an uncertain one. The life of a human is a trying one. But life is a journey, and all journeys have their trials. Their tests. Their triumphs and rewards. And they all have their losses. What matters most is what you make of all of it. What lessons you learn. What changes you make. What life you create for yourself. What art you create because of it all. It can be very, very hard. But it can all be glorious at the same time.

At the heart of this series, my words, there is this deep and valuable belief of mine: Christmas (or the Winter Holiday that you may celebrate) is so much more about presents and cooking and shopping and all that other bullshit… it is about family.

The family that is related by blood. The family that surrounds your heart. Your Mom. Your brother. Your dearest friends. The bonds that make life valuable. Worth living. These bonds are soulful bonds, ones that are far more special than any mere trivial object. So… be with them. Forgive. Forget. Heal. Mend what is broken. Reassemble what has been shattered. And stop worrying so much. Laugh together. Cry together. Heal on another. Heal together. And may your new days be better, brighter, and full of love.

Happy Holidays.

Ty


A song for you...

"Sense of Home" — Harrison Storm / YouTube

If you liked this series, I invite you to check out my previous article below…

To My Fellow 孤, The Sons Without Fathers On Father’s Day

As well as this article by a fellow creator…

What You Learn Losing A Parent So Young

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