The Star Wars Holiday Special: A Bizarre Drug-Trip Space Christmas (Or Thanksgiving)
If this looks like Art Carney talking to a Wookiee, that's because it is. Art Carney as Saundan and Patty Maloney, as a Wookie named Lumpy. Photo by CBS via Getty Images
The galaxy far, far away was a gold mine after the success of Star Wars: Episode IV in 1977. Why not a holiday special? That somewhat reasonable thinking is what gave us the Star Wars Holiday Special, a kind of variety show, kind of a drama, starring Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman, and Art Carney. It's about “Life Day,” which is essentially Wookiee Christmas. None of the special makes sense, it barely connects to the larger plot of Star Wars, and your favorite characters are hardly in it, and that’s why you have to see it.
After airing in 1978, the special was shelved by George Lucas who was so ashamed of the hour and a half long show that he tried to deny its existence for years. Thankfully hundreds of fans recorded the special, VHS tapes have circulated for years, and now it lives online. The holiday special is truly so strange and it will melt your brain, you’ve got to see it.
What The Millennium Falcon Is 'Life Day?'
It’s not Christmas, it’s not Hanukkah, it’s something else entirely. The only thing that the characters care about in this special is getting Chewbacca home for life day, a “time-honored holiday observed by the Wookiees on their forested home planet of Kashyyyk in the galaxy's Mid Rim.” At least that’s what the Star Wars wiki says, there’s really no way to know what’s going on with this holiday because none of the characters in the special ever explain it to the audience. Even if they did there’s a good chance that retaining the information would be impossible to retain because of the psychotic storyline of this strange holiday special.
Most Of The Special Is In Wookiee
Aside from a cold open with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon the audience spends most of the special watching Chewbacca’s family (characters who we’ve never seen since) speak Wookiee with no subtitles. There’s nothing but groaning and bleating, it’s as if the audio for the special was recorded in a goat farm. If you’d like to feel like you’re going insane just watch the first 12 minutes of the special.
Imagine being a parent to a young science-fiction fan who just needs to watch the Star Wars Holiday Special? They turn on CBS, sit down with some hot chocolate (or whatever hypothetical seasonal drink you’re serving) and BOOM, nothing but Wookiees.
Hope You Like Hologram Mimes
Do you remember how cool it was when Chewie and C-3PO played hologram chess on board the Millennium Falcon? Wasn’t it cool when the chess “pieces” clobbered each other? What else can these things do? Audiences found out in 1978 thanks to the holiday special and it turns out that the technology can be used to watch inane performances by creepy mimes. Chewbacca’s son, Itchy, watches a holo performance of 3D mimes that are sort of like Cirque Du Soleil performers but, you know, not good.
The Wookiees Look Incredibly Jarring
Back to the Wookiees. Chewbacca has always looked pretty good even in his earliest incarnation in 1977. It’s clear that the Wookiees that make up this special aren’t made with the same care as Chewie. Why were Malla, Itchy, and Lumpy (yes those are their names) not as lovingly constructed as their hairy buddy? Could it be that even Lucasfilm knew that we were never going to see these characters again? Created by Stan Winston, a special effects Jedi, the costumes look like something that you can buy in a costume shop, and the human faces beneath the masks are just present enough to give off some series uncanny valley vibes.
Diahann Carroll, Space Goddess
Early on in the special Chewbacca’s father, Itchy, becomes as fed up with waiting around for life day as we do and straps into a virtual reality machine. Once he’s jacked in he finds a futuristic Diahann Carroll (Porgy and Bess, No Strings) waiting for him. She tells Itchy that she’s his “fantasy” and that she wants him to “experience” her. You know, normal kid stuff that you’re expecting to see in a holiday special. After seducing itchy while wearing a silver jumpsuit Carroll sings “This Minute Now,” a song about wanting to spend the rest of time reliving a single minute with an old Wookiee. To be fair, the scene looks very cool.
Princess Leia Is Super Mean To Chewbacca's Wife
Miraculously, members of the Star Wars universe that the audience actually recognize show up in this special for brief flickers of time. Luke (Mark Hamill) is on hand to shout at the wookies for all talking at the same time, and Leia (Carrie Fisher) makes an appearance on a video screen while acting like the last thing she wants to do is talk to Chewbacca’s wife. In the brief sequence she’s seriously not in the mood to talk about Life Day or missing wookies, either because she can’t be bothered to appear in the segment or she has actual work do to seeing as how she’s in charge of the Rebel Alliance. C-3PO is on hand to do most of the talking which is somehow more annoying than the Wookiee chorus from the beginning of the special.
There’s A Performance By Jefferson Starship
If this special weren’t already one hundred percent cuckoo bananas this is the moment where the whole show goes off the rails. Plotwise, not much has happened. Basically, Chewbacca’s family is waiting on him to show up at home for Life Day but he’s late. In the interim Imperial stormtroopers have taken over Chewie’s house and they’re looking for signs of the Rebels. Mid-search, a stormtrooper sits down at a video screen and watches a performance of "Light the Sky on Fire" by Jefferson Starship.
The performance is supposed to be in 3D, but it just looks like the band is out of focus and bathed in purple light. Like everything in the special, the song is so, so, so very long. Too long. How long? The band has never actually stopped playing the song. The stormtrooper seems to like the performance even if the band had declined since the departure of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady back in 1970.
Most Of The Special Is About Creatures Watching Other Things On TV
The Star Wars Holiday Special would have been better, or at least easier to understand if it had been billed as the “Star Wars Variety Hour” or the “Star Wars Collage Of Things That Are Tangentially Related To That Movie You Like,” because so much of the special is spent watching characters watch TV. There’s a cooking show with Harvey Korman as Chef Gormaanda, a bizarre four armed version of Julia Child who cooks Bantha. A storm trooper watches Jefferson Starship, Itchy essentially watches adult programming, and Lumpy watches a how-to video starring Korman as a malfunctioning robot. Aside from the Starship performance each segment is what you might refer to as “comedy.”
At one point the stormtroopers actually stop what they’re doing to watch a an episode of “Life on Tatooine” that a narrator describes as “unedited” and with a “lack of moral value.” This segment stars Bea Arthur as a gruff, singing and dancing bar maid who has to fend off an amorous patron who drinks through a hole in his head (also played by Harvey Korman, who must have had a lot of time on his hands in 1978). The segment seems to be happening in real time with the rest of the special, but the physics of that will melt your brain if you think about it for too long.
There’s An Animated Segment Starring Boba Fett
Finally, fans get what they have been waiting for since the climax of A New Hope: Luke, Han, Chewy, and Leia are back together for more space shenanigans. Except this time around they’re animated and most two of the main characters are asleep for most of the segment. This section of the special is presented as if Lumpy is watching a recording of what’s been happening to his father, but it’s not clear why it’s animated or why it has voice over to explain to the audience that a pre-Empire Strikes Back Boba Fett is “Darth Vader’s right hand man.”
In the segment, Luke and the droids investigate a crashed Millennium Falcon on a water planet before meeting Fett and fighting him off with words. It’s not the most exciting thing in the galaxy but compared to the rest of the special it’s a heart racing experience.
Storm Troopers Trash Chewbacca’s House
It’s not out of the question that stormtroopers would bust up Chewbacca’s house, that’s in line with their characters. The weird thing here is that Chewy has a house. And a family. He’s a smuggler who spends all of his time flying around with Han Solo and moving clandestine equipment or fighting for the Rebel Alliance, how does he have time for a family? The better question is why does his family put up with his disappearing act and continue to wait up for him day and night? Chewbacca’s a great smuggler and a crack shot, but he’s not a good father. Did he learn nothing from Itchy?
The Life Day Celebration Is Beautifully Bizarre
Anyone who makes it to the end of the Star Wars Christmas Special is rewarded with a truly bizarre sequence where Chewbacca and Wookiees from all over the galaxy (finally) celebrate Life Day. After making home in the nick of time, Chewbacca and his family hold a set of light-up crystal balls and dissolve into space. When they reappear they’re wearing red robes with a bunch of other Wookiees, sort of like they’re in a cult. The Wookies walk into an orb of white light and after the commercial break they appear at a giant tree monolith thing. Somehow, R2 and C-3PO are also there.
After a speech from 3PO, Luke, Leia, and Han show up (it’s not clear if they did the light orb space transport thing) and Leia sings a song about whatever Life Day is to the melody of the Star Wars theme. If you’ve never been high before it feels exactly like watching this scene.
The Special Ends With Wookiees Praying
After Leia sings her tribute to Life Day, Chewbacca has a flashback to scenes from A New Hope before sitting down to dinner with his family and praying over their light up crystal balls.
If you’ve never watched this special it is completely worth watching one time. Repeat viewings are only for people who have a drastic need to punish themselves.
It’s obvious why the special has never been released on home video or made a part of official Star Wars canon, but there’s something so perversely pleasing about knowing that this special is out there whenever we need a jolt of that Life Day spirit.
Tags: Art Carney | Bea Arthur | George Lucas | Harvey Korman | Star Wars | Star Wars Holiday Special
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