Today Star Wars is one of the most dominant franchises in television. While Star Wars was originally best known as a movie series, recently its greatest success has come from the television series that have aired on Disney+ from The Mandalorian, to The Book of Boba Fett, to Obi-Wan Kenobi, to the critically acclaimed Andor. However, while the modern television series are the best known Star Wars stories on the small screen, they are far from the first. In fact, Star Wars has been appearing in television programming almost since the beginning.
The first Star Wars movie was released in 1977, and just one year later, one of the most bizarre and infamous pieces of Star Wars lore aired on television On November 17th, 1978 on CBS, the Star Wars Holiday Special aired for the first and only time. The Holiday Special told the story of Han and Chewbacca trying to get back to the Wookie home planet of Kashyyyk in time to celebrate Life Day. What unfolds across the show’s two hour runtime has to be seen to be believed. While all three of the major stars from the first movie appear in the Holiday Special, they are mostly side characters in a story that focuses on Chewbacca’s never before mentioned wife, child and father, who are waiting for him to get home in time. Huge chunks of the runtime are dedicated to this Wookie family preparing the house for Life Day, with extending cooking segments and other housekeeping chores. It’s also worth mentioning that for the most part, these sections of the Special only have Wookies speaking Shyriiwook (the Wookie dialect spoken by Chewbacca and his family) with no subtitles to let you know what’s being said.
Occasionally the show will break away from the housekeeping Wookies to visit another part of the galaxy, but that doesn’t take a break from the bizarre as it includes scenes such as a Tatooine bartender played by Bea Arthur singing a good-bye song to her patrons and a virtual reality exotic entertainer that existed in a proton chair.
The show was a critical dud, and has never aired since that original airing. The only part of the Holiday Special that you can officially watch is an animated short titled “The Story of the Faithful Wookiee” that aired partway through the Special and is best known as the first on screen appearance of Boba Fett. However, this being Star Wars, the special, in its entirety, was one of the most sought after bootlegs for years and today the whole thing is pretty easy to find on YouTube.
The actors from Star Wars would appear on different television shows throughout the late 70s and early 80s sometimes reprising the characters that made them famous, but The Star Wars Holiday Special was the only official canon piece of Star Wars to air on television for the first several years.
The next true Star Wars adventure to be made for television wouldn’t be seen until 1984, after the original trilogy had been completed. George Lucas had minimal involvement in the creation of the Holiday Special, and the end result still haunts him to this day. So, he took a more hands on approach for the next Star Wars television event, a special that focused on the Ewoks that had been introduced in the latest Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi. The original idea was to develop a half hour special, but it turned out that at the time the networks were more interested in content that could fill a two hour movie slot, so the idea was reworked to be a Star Wars television movie that took place on Endor with the Ewoks. The made for television movie titled The Ewok Adventure aired on ABC in the United States, but was released theatrically in some other countries under the title Caravan of Courage, the title that the movie is known by today.
While the television movie presented a more subdued story than what had been seen in the movie theater, the movie was still successful enough that a sequel was quickly put into production. Ewoks: The Battle for Endor was the second made for television movie, and aired a year later in 1985. Both movies featured human characters but focused primarily on the humans interacting with the Ewoks. In both cases, actor Warwick Davis received top billing for playing the Ewok, Wickett.
The success of the Ewok movies led Lucasfilm to develop further stories about the Ewoks, this time in the form of an animated Saturday morning cartoon. In 1985, Lucasfilm actually released two different cartoon series set in the Star Wars universe. There was one set on Endor focusing on the Ewoks, while the other was titled Droids and centered around the adventures of C-3PO and R2-D2 before the events of A New Hope. The two shows were packaged together as a single hour of Saturday morning programming. The two shows were advertised as The Ewok and Droid Adventure Hour. While Droids only lasted 13 episodes, Ewoks did better, lasting two seasons for a total of 26 episodes produced. Still neither series is as well remembered today as other Saturday morning cartoons that were released around the mid 80s.
Star Wars lay dormant on television for the next several years, and it wasn’t until the prequel trilogy was being released in the early 2000s that interest for more Star Wars content on television came back. Once again, Star Wars came to television in the form of an animated series, this time depicting the events of The Clone Wars. The year after Attack of the Clones was released, Cartoon Network aired a series of animated shorts titled Star Wars: Clone Wars. Each episode would depict an event that was happening during the massive galaxy wide war that took place between Episodes II and III.
The series was developed by Genndy Tartakovsky who is best known for his animated series Samurai Jack, and was the franchise’s biggest television success to date. The series received almost universal critical praise and would go on to win several Emmys. Star Wars: Clone Wars would end up running for three seasons, The first two seasons of the series were comprised of episodes that were around three minutes long and told of adventures throughout the galaxy. The series was slightly reformatted for the third season, which was made up of five episodes that were 12 minutes long each, and built up to the events of the third movie, with the series finale airing just two months before Revenge of the Sith was released in theaters.
The success of Star Wars: Clone Wars led to the production of another animated series that also took place during the Clone Wars. The second show was computer animated instead of the 2D animation of the earlier show, and had a title that was just different enough to be confusing. While the 2D series from 2003 was called Star Wars: Clone Wars, the computer animated series from 2008 was called Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Despite the two shows covering the same time period, the idea was not that the new show would replace the older show, but that it would simply serve as a continuation. However, if the two shows should ever contradict one another, the newer show would be the one to be considered officially canon. The Clone Wars was the biggest hit yet, with the series earning multiple Emmys and plenty of critics and Star Wars fans saying that it was the best piece of media to come out of the prequel era of Star Wars. The show would continue on until the day that Disney officially bought Star Wars, making it the final piece of Star Wars television that wasn’t developed by Disney.
Before we close, out there is one more television show that is worth mentioning, even though it never even happened. After the prequel trilogy was completed in 2005, it was announced that Star Wars would continue with a new live action, big budget television show that would be set between the two trilogies.
The series, titled Star Wars: Underworld was meant to take place in the era of the Empire and would be set in the seedy underbelly of the capital planet of Coruscant. The series was designed to be a major chapter in the Star Wars franchise, with an outline made for a hundred planned episodes to tell the story. The writers for the project were told to not worry about a budget, as they didn’t want concerns for budget constraints to get in the way of deciding where the show would go. In the end, that ended up being the show’s undoing.
While Star Wars is obviously a very successful franchise, it hasn’t always produced the most successful television, and the proposed show would have ended up costing far more than any television series had ever cost at the time. Part of the idea behind the development of the series would be that it would force the industry to move forward in figuring out ways and technologies needed to be able to create higher quality television projects while maintaining a similar production cost. However, that ended up not being possible at the time.
In an interview with George Lucas talking about the project, Lucas said that fifty episodes of the series had been written, but the project was sitting on the shelf for the time being, waiting for filmmaking technology to catch up with what they needed to make the project possible. In the end, that never happened. While the entire company has been sold to Disney, and Disney presumably has access to those fifty scripts in question, as well as the outline to the entire 100 episode plan, at this point, the series would exist along with The Mandalorian, Andor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and others as a Disney Project.