It’s hard to imagine a world without Star Wars. Harder still to imagine what people thought in 1978 after seeing what the future of the galaxy far, far away would hold in store beyond A New Hope. This took the form of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. But is it as bad as people say?
The first live-action edition to the Star Wars universe, after the cinema-defining first film, was not The Empire Strikes Back. But in fact this lesser-known, lesser-loved holiday special. The 98-minute made-for-television special first aired in November of 1978 as part of that year’s Thanksgiving holiday celebrations.
It was essentially a variety show with a series of short segments that included comedy, musical numbers and even the first-ever Star Wars cartoon (more on that later). Being a one-off television special, there was no great effort put into the production which was of notably lesser quality than the original film that already lacked studio backing at the time.
Contemporary critics have compared the special to being like a bad episode of Saturday Night Live. The special was likely never intended to leave any kind of mark, but the colossal impact of the original Star Wars could not hold back fans who were eager to see their favorites in action again.
Is the Star Wars Holiday Special good?
The plot, such as it is, involves the Wookiee celebration of Life Day, meant as a stand-in for Thanksgiving. The rebels go to the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk but are pursued by Darth Vader and his Imperial agents. However, the frantic nature of the special ensured that even those who were paying attention may have failed to grasp any such plot points.
Beyond the original cast, there were a multitude of appearances by celebrities of the 1970s including Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Bea Arthur, and even the rock band Jefferson Starship. Looking back on the footage now, it’s hard to believe that any of it is meant to take place in the same galaxy as the films. The tone is simply so different that it feels like a fever dream.
So reviled was the special that it has now earned a kind of unique reputation among its creators. George Lucas, who was relatively uninvolved in the production has said that “he would be happy if every copy could be tracked down and burned.”
Perhaps the greatest use of the special can be found with the late Carrie Fisher. She had said on multiple occasions that she had asked Lucas for a copy of it so that she could put it on at parties when she wanted people to leave. Truly iconic. It’s also possible that Fisher’s personal copy is the only legitimate one in the world as the special has never been officially released to the public and is now famous for its bootlegging potential.
It wouldn’t be until 1980 with the release of The Empire Strikes Back that viewers would get another chance to see the galaxy again. But not all was lost for the special. There was one segment that did secure a place of respect in fans’ collective consciousness.
The aforementioned cartoon segment, called The Faithful Wookiee, was more warmly received than its live-action counterparts. This cartoon featured the first appearance of Boba Fett who would quickly become a favorite, as well as the origin of the disintegration rifle as seen in The Mandalorian. Recently the cartoon was made available on Disney +.
The legacy of the Star Wars Holiday Special is a complicated one. But is it as bad as people say it is? Yes. Yes, it is. At least the parts that aren’t a cartoon.
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