?I know what you are thinking, Topless Robot has gone and lost its mind. But believe it or not the infamous travesty that is the Star Wars Holiday Special is not entirely without merit. If you can somehow overlook the hours of scenes spoken entirely in Wookiese, the ghoulish visage of an overly made-up Mark Hamill, singing Bea Arthur, Jefferson Starship lighting the sky on fire, etc., there are some things about the program to appreciate. In fact, I’ll just be totally upfront with you and say that in terms of sheer entertainment value, the Star Wars Holiday Special is way more fun to sit through than The Phantom Menace (after all, Jar Jar’s got nothing on Harvey Korman). So put aside your prejudices and keep an open mind, and just maybe you’ll surprise yourself by actually looking back fondly at the show. Who am I kidding? It’s a gigantic steamer and we all know it. But it does have its good points. Seriously. Here are eight of them.
Editor’s Note: The Star Wars Holiday Special is an atrocity against god and man. You think it’s going to be so bad it’s good, but it’s not — it’s so bad that nothing in life ever seems quite as good again. Despite what this list says, you still shouldn’t watch it. It’s not worth the suffering. -Rob
8) It Is Utterly Unique
In 1978 variety shows were already sputtering out, so to attempt to revolve the format around Star Wars was a misguided idea from the start. It was a quickie cash-in on a movie that instantly changed the way Hollywood did business yet producers tried to tether it to a dying TV format. Impossible though it may seem now, at the time no one knew if Star Wars would be an enduring franchise or not. The irony here is that the awfulness of this whole shebang could have conceivably killed any future cinematic adventures for the Star Warriors. You can watch the entirety of this monster above. I’m guessing that by this point everyone reading this list has not only seen it but has their own bootleg DVD of it shamefully squirreled away somewhere. If this isn’t the case, be sure to marvel in how it is a perfect time capsule not only of music and fashion but of an era when nonsensical jokes and pointless musical numbers were smushed together and packaged as a television event. For better or worse, we will never experience anything like this again. That genuinely makes me a little sad. Nostalgia is funny like that.
7) Art Carney
I’m sure there are Star Wars Holiday Special historians out there who can tell the exact circumstances that led to Art Carney getting cast in the show. My guess is that it was one of three factors: a huge paycheck, he was goaded into it by a Star Wars-loving family member or he just wanted to be part of the then-current pop culture zeitgeist and figured it was either showing up for this or jetting it to Studio 54. He plays the typically Lucas-named Saun Dann, a friend to the Wookies whose job as a trader provides them with such necessities as cookie dough and softcore porno (more on that in a minute). Although he is relegated to delivering groaners — example: “why all the long hairy faces?” — his inclusion does class up the proceedings somewhat. He also comes out of this fiasco with his dignity intact… well, about as much as possible given that most of his screen time is shared with actors in monster suits who grunt at him. But compared to Harvey Korman’s hamminess and the weird pathos that Bea Arthur decided to infuse into her portrayal of the Mos Eisley Cantina’s bartender, Carney is downright Emmy-worthy here. If nothing else, his participation resulted in confused parents watching this train wreck unfold telling their kids about how terrific The Honeymooners was.
6) The Weird Sex Stuff with Chewie’s Dad
As it turns out, elderly Wookies are extremely horny. We didn’t need to learn this lesson, but we are all stuck with it now, so deal. The “Holographic Wow” sequence of the special showcases Diahann Carroll as a virtual reality sex symbol who spouts pseudo-erotic lines to Chewie’s dad like “I exist for you” and “I can feel my creation.” Meanwhile, old Itchy has more wood than a Kashyyyk forest. It’s not exactly an appropriate scene to be featured in what is ostensibly a kids’ special. From a production point of view, I suppose it makes sense to break up 45 minutes of Wookie tedium with a G-rated sex scene. But tonally? This is a bizarre yet awesome move. It’s these kind of admirable (and still batshit crazy) decisions that make the Star Wars Holiday Special both a curiosity and a cautionary tale.
5) The Previously Unseen Footage from Star Wars
It amounts to little more than a re-dubbed scene featuring Darth Vader talking with Chief Bast and another with some footage of Tatooine hi-jinks that predicted the bullshit “comedy” of The Phantom Menace, but these glimpses of previously unseen Star Wars footage are fascinating. Remember, in 1978 access to this sort of stuff was only available to Lucasfilm employees. That seems unimaginable in our current era of YouTube and fan projects like Star Wars Begins, but back then any glimpse into the Lucasfilm vaults was welcome.
4) Ralph McQuarrie’s Kashyyyk Designs
?Wookies live in gigantic tree houses. What could have come off as an extremely goofy concept was instead perfectly executed on-screen thanks to the conceptual work of Ralph McQuarrie. The idea of where Wookies reside was a leftover concept from an early draft of Star Wars that was dusted off and elaborated upon for the special. It’s no small feat to pull off a design that is visually appealing and functional, but McQuarrie did so beautifully here. There are plenty of problems with the Chewie’s family sequences of the show, but poor set design is not one of them.
3) The Droids’ Existential Crisis
At the climax of this opus, all of our heroes gather to celebrate Life Day and listen to a seemingly drugged-out-of-her-gourd Princess Leia sing an atrocious bastardization of the Star Wars theme. Everyone is having a hell of a time except for C-3P0 who uses the occasion to lament his own lack of sentience. Yes my friends, the robot Debbie Downer has struck again and this time he is bitching about how he and Artoo cannot completely enjoy the festivities going on around them because THEY ARE NOT ALIVE. I totally get how his special spawned existential crises amongst most of its viewing audience, but for the droids to suddenly be spewing Kakfa-esque dialogue is another manner entirely. What’s amazing about this little throwaway line is that after it is spoken 3P0’s personality suddenly makes total sense (you’d be a bit pissy too if you stared into the abyss and saw nothing but unrelenting blackness). As for R2, well it’s pretty clear how he copes with leading a pointless existence.
2) It Gives Viewers a Better Look at the Creatures in the Cantina
In what is arguably the silliest moment in the special, Bea Arthur turns up as Ackmena, a bartender at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Like a cosmic version of a character in Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” she’s quick with a joke but there’s someplace that she’d rather be. So when she breaks into what showbiz types would refer to as the eleven o’clock number, “Goodnight, But Not Goodbye,” she turns the once-jaunty Cantina band melody into a downbeat dirge that I’m praying Adele will eventually cover. While all this going on, viewers get to really see the awesome (and cheesy) creatures who frequent the Tatooine watering hole. Many of these monsters were only glimpsed for seconds in Star Wars. Others, like the Shistavanen Wolfman, were replaced in the special editions. Because many of these aliens have been lost to George Lucas’ penchant for revising history, it’s great to see Rick Baker and Rob Bottin’s design work shine. Too bad the song is so awful though. Here’s another glimpse at the creatures as they appeared in a sketch on The Richard Pryor Show (some NSFW language):
Man, if only the Holiday Special was this good…
1) The Cartoon
Was there really any doubt what would take the top spot here? The cartoon segment that introduces Boba Fett and features the voices of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher is widely regarded as the only worthwhile thing to come out of the Star Wars Holiday Special. Hopefully this list will change your opinion on that somewhat…though probably not. What we all can agree on however is that the animated sequence is pure joy. Even the folks at Lucasfilm, whom have distanced themselves from the program over the years, realize the brilliance of the cartoon to the point that they included it as an Easter egg on the recent Blu-ray release. Of all the official animated Star Wars projects that have seen the light of day over the years this one remains my favorite. I’m willing to guess that a large chunk of you feel this way as well. Could somebody please get on the ball and make this into an ongoing series already?
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.