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As I wrote about “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, The Star Wars Holiday Special has been mocked so often it’s almost cliche. But unlike the Band Aid song, The Star Wars Holiday Special has never helped anyone. And it has hurt everyone who has watched it. It may, in fact, be one of the worst things ever done on television (or to television, if you prefer).
George Lucas once said he wished he could destroy all existing copies of the special with a sledgehammer. Considering this is the guy who thought The Phantom Menace was great, you know the special has to be really, really bad.
In case you’re not familiar with the story behind The Star Wars Holiday Special (and if you’re not, please hand in your Nerd Card immediately), here’s how it went down. In 1978, Lucas was already hard at work on The Empire Strikes Back, but was pressured by 20th Century Fox to have something Star Wars-related for the Christmas season that year.
As they say, failure is an orphan, so no one claims any responsibility for what followed. Lucas allowed a holiday special to be made, but has repeatedly stated he had virtually nothing to do with making it. He basically okayed or vetoed sketch ideas, most of them devised by a crew of 70s variety show scribes (including the omnipresent Bruce Vilanch). Predictably, this led to a bunch of very bad, very 1970s variety elements. If you took out all the Star Wars characters and replaced them with Paul Lynde and Donnie and Marie, you would not notice any difference.
Lucas’s biggest involvement came with a 10-minute cartoon segment, which marked the first ever appearance of Boba Fett, thus explaining why this special still inspires huge Nerd Boners. But even if Lucas washed his hands of the thing, all of the main Star Wars characters appeared in the special, played by the original actors. They were not spared the stain of this special, which soiled everyone it touched.
The premise of the special: Han Solo tries to avoid imperial ships so he can get Chewbacca back to his home planet in time for Life Day. We see Chewbacca’s family for the first time (and never again), including his son, Lumpy (!) and his father, Itchy (!). The writers must have thought everyone would be fluent in Wookie by Christmastime, because 75 percent of the show consists of Chewbacca’s relatives barking at each other, with no subtitles.
And this is possibly the least insane aspect of the special. It features Art Carney as a trader, who protects Chewie’s family while also delivering a weirdly erotic hologram to Itchy. Harvey Korman appears briefly for no good reason, as does Jefferson Starship (!). And Bea Arthur plays the owner of the infamous cantina, who sings a song about ejecting rowdy patrons from the premises.
If you can stand it, some sadist has posted the entire thing to the web here. I defy anyone to watch the entire thing in one sitting, or not feel like you’ve shaved years off your lifespan every time you view it. Though it’s become a pop culture whipping boy, it is thoroughly deserving of that mantle.
It is so awful that it out-sucks another Star Wars Christmas cash-in: Christmas in the Stars, a 1980 holiday album with tunes such as “What Do You Get a Wookie for Christmas (When He Already Has a Comb?)”. Just in case you thought George Lucas raping his own franchise began with the prequels, just know that he was perfectly willing to sell out Star Wars when he had only one movie under his belt.