With an indefinite number of new Star Wars movies on the horizon, I ask that we all take a moment to recall a moment in television history that will live in ignominy: Nov. 17, 1978, the first and last time that “The Star Wars Holiday Special” was broadcast on television.
It’s been more than three decades, but, even now, its legacy lingers, much like the stench of something hard-boiled that was overlooked in an Easter Egg hunt and not discovered until July. At the time of the broadcast, I was a 10-year-old Star Wars junkie, and I’m proud to say I made it through most of the first hour without falling asleep.
Sure, it started out fine — Han and Chewie were on the Millennium Falcon, with Han promising to fly Chewie home to celebrate the Christmas-like “Life Day,” even if they had to make their way past the entire Imperial Fleet to do it. Wow! Action, adventure and derring-do! All of which the audience never got to see, because the story then cuts to Chewbacca’s home planet, where his father Itchy — probably short for “Itchbacca” — his mom Malla and his baby brother Lumpy — Lumpbacca? — are all waiting for him.
And that constitutes the entirety of the special. We get to watch the Wookiees wait.
Wookiees, I learned on that occasion, live in wood-paneled condominiums in the top of giant redwoods, where they enjoy appliances and home décor that would not look out of place in the residence of Mike and Carol Brady. There was Mother Malla, wearing a '70s-style apron that seemed strangely out of place given that none of the other Wookiees even bothered to wear pants. And for the first 20 minutes of the special, the Itchbacca family engages in what is probably very witty banter, at least to people who speak Wookiee. For the rest of us, it looks a lot like watching people in hairy suits groaning and grunting to each other without subtitles.
This lasts, I kid you not, for a full 20 minutes.
The best part was when the Baccas call up Luke Skywalker on the videophone. Luke answers, they exchange pleasantries, and then he tells Itchy’s impatient clan that he doesn’t know where Han and Chewie are. High drama, to be sure. Still, Luke speaks English, which is helpful, but he only gets about 30 seconds of screen time before the tale dutifully returns to the unintelligible suburban life of walking carpets.
That’s pretty much where I involuntarily checked out. I’ve since tried to watch the thing as an adult, but, even now, I find it impenetrable.
There are segments where Lumpy decides to pass the time watching television, so we get to see intergalactic cooking shows where a six-armed Harvey Korman stirs up three different bowls of batter. There are a couple of weird, spacey rock songs and a few other phone calls to people who don’t know where Han and Chewie are. There’s even a cartoon that actually tells a real Star Wars story introducing Boba Fett for the first time, although by that point, you’re too numb to notice. Han shows up at the end and hugs everybody, and then Carrie Fisher sings a Life Song carol to the tune of the John Williams' main theme.
It is almost tangibly boring.
George Lucas has said of this special that, "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it." After watching it, you will find yourself wishing Mr. Lucas success in those efforts.
Happy Life Day, indeed.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.