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Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Star Wars Holiday Special...

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... or WTF, George?

The infamous Star Wars Holiday Special has been a hole in my Star Wars education - as well as my DVD collection - until the start of this year when I finally caved and paid a few pounds on eBay for a bootleg.

Despite the best efforts of Royal Mail to smash the living daylights out of the DVD case, it arrived quickly and I eagerly put the disc in the player and sat back to enjoy...

The conceit is quite straight forward: Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) are racing back to Chewie's homeworld (Kashyyyk) in time for the important celebration of Life Day (it's like our Christmas), but are being pursued and harassed by Imperial stardestroyers.

Meanwhile, on the forest world of  Kashyyyk, Chewbacca's family are nervously awaiting his arrival. It turns out Chewie's home is your average American suburban home of the late '70s - but located hundreds of feet up the side of a giant tree - complete with flat-pack furniture, sink and oven etc as well as knickknacks and framed photos of loved ones on the shelves.

Chewie's wife, Mallotobuck aka Malla (Mickey Morton) even watches cookery programmes on her flat-screen TV (a bit of prophetic set design there)and there's a general sense that this is, somehow, all supposed to be a comedy... only it isn't funny (except in the "laughing at it" sense, rather than the "laughing with it" sense).

The Imperials have established a blockade around the planet for fear of Rebel activity, but human trader Saun Dann (Art Carney) turns up with Life Day presents for the family - delivered with some of the flatest, most lifeless acting I've ever witnessed - which includes a model kit for Chewie's son, Lumpawarrump aka Lumpy (Patty Malone) and what amounts to a porno tape for Chewie's dad, Attichitcuk aka Itchy (Paul Gale).

The tape gets plugged into what appears to be a hairdryer and beams images into Itchy's head of Diahann Carroll as a holographic water creature who 'oohs' and 'ahhs' inappropriately through a prolonged musical number, while the grey-haired wookie gurns like Les Dawson.

A detachment of Imperials then show up, looking for Rebels, which gives Saun Dann the rather random excuse to demonstrate Malla's Life Day present - a music box that plays a hologram of Jefferson Starship (!!!)

The centrepiece of The Holiday Special is a short animation, that looks like a cross between French-style comic strips and Marvel's comic book take on the Star Wars Universe, and marks Boba Fett's debut appearance.

Now this is rather odd if you think about it, because Lumpy is watching this cartoon (secretly) while the Imperials search their house - yet it also features his father, Han Solo, Luke, Princess Leia and the droids. So is it a piece of fiction in the Star Wars Universe? How does that work? It hurts my head just trying to work out the logic of that...

However, that cartoon is easily the best bit of The Holiday Special and probably worth the cost of the DVD on its own.

The home stretch begins with a couple of unfunny sketches featuring Harvey Korman, the second of which, set in a cantina on Tatooine, also stars the gravel-voiced Golden Girl Bea Arthur as bartender Ackmena and devolves into yet another easily fast-forwardable musical number.

After the Imperials leave and Harrison Ford drops off Chewbacca - then bails as quickly as possible - things get truly surreal as the wookie clan are suddenly clothed in red capes and walking towards a glowing sphere while holding snow globes.

The inside of the glowing sphere turns out to be the Top Of The Pops studio, filled with similarly red-cloaked wookies and then - for no readily apparent reason - out comes C3-P0, R2-D2, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the lovely, but probably stoned, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) who proceeds to deliver some saccharine message about how we're all alike (or something) then bursts into song!

I couldn't believe this bizarre piece of Star Wars history actually lasted an hour and a half, but I can see why George Lucas would rather we all forgot about it... hence the rather cheeky quote, attributed to him, on the DVD cover: "If I had time and a hammer, I'd track down every bootleg copy and smash it..."

Shown only once, as far as I am aware, on November 17, 1978, it seems a shame that Lucas can't take this in good humour and simply release a cleaned-up, official DVD of the show. Sure it was a mistake, but it's done, it's out there and fans will want to see it. The more Lucas tries to deny it, the more bootlegs people will buy because that's the only route available to them.

However, I now also suspect that Colonel Kurtz was not contemplating the Vietnam War but had just watched The Star Wars Holiday Special when he spoke those famous words: "The horror, the horror..."

6 comments:

  1. And yet it's still better than the prequel trilogy!

    ReplyDelete
  2. So is it a piece of fiction in the Star Wars Universe?

    You just blew my mind. I saw this when it first aired and eventually bought a copy in the 90s. I had NEVER noodled through the "origin" of the cartoon in the SW Universe.....

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh, and kelvingreen.....Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha.....my thoughts exactly!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think part of the show's "innocence" comes from the fact that it's from a period before Lucas saw Star Wars only as a way to peddle toys!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I always thought the Col. was referring to life with his wife.
    --Goes to show...

    Re: the Holiday Special, I dug the animation element, too, and had more or less the same thought about the rest of the show.

    There was a second Television special a few years later, following a young sister and brother hiding from the Imperials. It was no better in my memory.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ah, you're referring to the two live-action Ewok movies: http://her0press.blogspot.com/2007/11/star-wars-film-night-caravan-of-courage.html and http://her0press.blogspot.com/2007/11/star-wars-film-night-battle-for-endor.html

    I have great affection for those two movies - but then I'm a sucker for all things Ewok. At least - compared to the Holiday Special - they had stories (and no musical numbers).

    ReplyDelete

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