The Star Wars Holiday Special: A Bizarre Drug-Trip Space Christmas (Or Thanksgiving)
By Sarah Norman | November 17, 2023
A Strange Idea From A Galaxy Far, Far Away
Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to embark on a journey to a galaxy far, far away—a journey unlike any other in the Star Wars universe. We proudly present to you the Star Wars Holiday Special, a 1978 television extravaganza that's like the oddball cousin at a family reunion—endearing, unforgettable, and slightly, well, quirky. Airing on November 17, 1978, on CBS, this special is set in the beloved Star Wars universe, directed by the daring Steve Binder. Nestled snugly between the original film and the then-secretive sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, it features our favorite Star Wars stalwarts, with a side of the enigmatic Boba Fett thrown in for good measure. So, if you're a fan of lightsabers, Wookiees, and intergalactic festivities, buckle up, because this is one ride through the stars you won't want to miss. Ready for the cosmic rollercoaster of the Star Wars Holiday Special? Well, grab your blasters and hyperspace on over to the next page to uncover the mysteries of this delightful pop culture oddity!
The Piece Of Star Wars History Everyone Wants To Forget
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.
One Question: Why?
The existence of the Star Wars Holiday Special can be traced back to a galaxy not so far away—the entertainment industry's ingenious strategy to maintain the momentum of the Star Wars phenomenon during a challenging hiatus between films. With a three-year gap between movies, the creators sought a way to keep the beloved franchise in the public eye, and what better way to do so than by tapping into the popular television format of the 1970s: the variety special. This genre was a proven crowd-pleaser, and the Holiday Special presented an opportunity to bring the iconic Star Wars characters into new and uncharted territory, all while celebrating the spirit of the holidays. While it may not have achieved the lasting acclaim of the original films, the Star Wars Holiday Special endures as a testament to the creative lengths taken to keep the galaxy's favorite space opera alive and well, offering fans a one-of-a-kind holiday treat that's nothing short of a nostalgic, if slightly peculiar, delight.
George Lucas Put Quite A Bit Of Thought Into Life Day
George Lucas wasn't messing around when it came to the early days of Star Wars lore. A transcript from Lucasfilm’s director of publishing Carol Wikarska Titelman from interviews with George Lucas reads:
[Life Day] used to be a hallucinogenic experience. They used to chew a certain kind of root, and they would all freak out and experience this communal sort of hallucinatory experience. Some of the families still use that, but since it makes you sick afterward, many use the environmental transporter.
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.
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 Wookies 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 special effects Jedi Stan Winston, 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.
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.”
The Stormtroopers get in on the action too
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 Wookies 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.
The Force Was Not With The Star Wars Holiday Special
The Star Wars Holiday Special, released in 1978, elicited a resounding chorus of disapproval from critics, audiences, and even die-hard Star Wars fans. The response to the special was overwhelmingly negative, with many expressing their disappointment and bewilderment at its content and execution. Jerry Buck, in a scathing review for the Associated Press in November 1978, succinctly captured the prevailing sentiment, labeling the program as "bubble gum for the brain." This assessment echoed the general consensus that the special fell far short of the high standards set by the original Star Wars film, offering a disjointed and often perplexing narrative that left audiences with a sense of letdown and disillusionment. The Star Wars Holiday Special has since become infamous as a cautionary tale in the world of television and pop culture, serving as a stark reminder that even the most beloved franchises can stumble when venturing into uncharted territory.
The Cast Have Distanced Themselves From The Special
The cast of the Star Wars Holiday Special, including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, had varied receptions to the production over the years. Harrison Ford, in a 2006 appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, playfully avoided acknowledging the special's existence initially and humorously confessed that he had never seen it. Carrie Fisher, during a 2010 television program, Times Talk, revealed that she had obtained a copy of the special from George Lucas in exchange for recording commentary for the Star Wars trilogy. She quipped that it served as her secret weapon for clearing out unwanted guests at parties. In 2018, Mark Hamill candidly admitted that he hadn't watched the entire special. These reactions from the cast underscore the special's notoriety and the mixed feelings it evoked among those who were part of the iconic Star Wars universe, with many opting to distance themselves from its memory.
George Lucas really doesn't want you to watch the Holiday Special
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.
You Can Watch The Special Today Thanks To The Fans
The enduring infamy of the Star Wars Holiday Special owes much of its existence to the dedication of fans who took it upon themselves to preserve this peculiar piece of Star Wars history. After its lone television broadcast, the special faded into obscurity, seemingly destined to be forgotten. However, the advent of bootleg recordings changed its trajectory entirely. Fans who had recorded the special during its original airing began passing around these unauthorized copies, preserving the program for posterity. These bootleg copies found their way onto the internet, where they took on a life of their own, capturing the curiosity and amusement of a new generation of viewers. As a result, the Star Wars Holiday Special found an unexpected second life as a cult classic, thanks to the passionate fans who refused to let it fade into oblivion. It stands as a testament to the enduring power of fan communities and their ability to keep even the most infamous and elusive pieces of pop culture alive.
Star Wars Fans Have Brought Life Day Into The Real World
Star Wars fans are a resilient and passionate bunch, and they've managed to resurrect Life Day, the holiday that George Lucas himself may have wished to forget. Nostalgia has played a significant role in reviving Life Day's elements, bringing them back to the forefront of Star Wars culture. The internet has made it easier than ever to unearth 1970s rarities, even if it involves obtaining them through unofficial channels. Life Day has evolved beyond whimsical references, with appearances in modern Star Wars media like the 2020 LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, Star Wars Adventures comics in 2021, and a dedicated Marvel Comics one-shot in the same year. The Mandalorian, a cornerstone of the franchise, also gave Life Day a prominent profile, with the Fledgling Mythrol casually mentioning it within the first 10 minutes of the show's premiere episode in 2019. Despite George Lucas's initial reservations, Life Day has persisted and found new life within the ever-expanding Star Wars universe, a testament to the enduring power of fan enthusiasm and nostalgia.