|Star Wars fans celebrate Life Day.|
In the late 1970s, Life Day emerged as a Wookiee holiday celebrating peace, friendship, and community. It could have become a tradition, but any hope of that was lost when the Star Wars Holiday Special premiered. The one-off small screen event – a variety show wrapped in home-for-the-holiday mushiness and vague drama with the Empire – was abysmal and quickly faded from the official memory of the franchise. Fans, however, never forget. Now, thanks to worn-out copies of the broadcast and the people who distribute them, the Star Wars Holiday Special exists for people who didn’t catch it the first time it aired.
As a Star Wars holiday, Life Day pales in comparison to May the Fourth. Perhaps, it’s time for that to change. On Saturday night, Complex, a nightclub in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, hosted its first “Star Wars Holiday Special Life Day Celebration.” Fans arrived in their best Star Wars t-shirts and cosplay. They ate Hoth Pockets and drank themed cocktails. They danced to songs from the Star Wars Christmas album and cheered for a band playing the Cantina theme. It was fun, so much fun that I now believe it’s time for Star Wars fans to reclaim Life Day. Here’s why.
1. You Can Take Something Terrible And Turn It Into Something Magical.
|He’s not a Wookiee, but R2-D2 was ready to celebrate Life Day last weekend.|
I cannot stress the lousiness of the Star Wars Holiday Special. After the opening credits, there are about eight minutes where the only dialogue is in un-subtitled Wookiee. Yes, somebody, somewhere thought that would be a hook for television audiences.
Every time I watch this train wreck (yes, I have seen it more than once), I think about what could have made it better. I long for a massive disco extravaganza, a feature-length version of Meco’s dance floor reinterpretation of Star Wars and a bizarre dance-off between C-3PO and Darth Vader that lives on YouTube. It could have been this franchise’s equivalent to The Apple. Alas, it is not.
At Complex’s Life Day party, there was disco. Specifically, there was the subgenre known as space disco playing through the house system. It is, essentially, ’70s dance music with sound effects that sound like they came from ’70s sci-fi movies. Listening to that music, in that setting, felt like some wrong had been righted. Either that or there are simply other people who share an appreciation for Star Wars and disco.
2. You Can Mourn The Loss Of The Expanded Universe.
|In memory of the Expanded Universe.|
Inside Complex, there was a small shrine set up by the door. Tall candles were adorned with the saintly faces of characters like Mara Jade and Jaxxon. A small sign, written in the style of the movies’ opening crawls, explained the purpose of the candles. At some point near the middle of the night, our MCS gave a shout out to the characters lost in the demise of the Expanded Universe.
When the powers-the-be announced last spring that Expanded Universe wasn’t canon, hearts broke across the fandom. What better way to celebrate those who once thrived in the Star Wars universe than to pour one out on Life Day?
3. Celebrate The Fett.
|Show some love for Boba Fett on Life Day.|
There are a few worthwhile elements of the Star Wars Holiday Special that fans embrace. One is the animated sequence that first introduced audiences to Boba Fett. As you know, over the course of the film and toy releases, Boba Fett emerged as a fan favorite character. Life Day is a perfect time to celebrate your fascination with the infamous Mandalorian.
At Complex’s Life Day party, there were a couple of people sporting Boba Fett cosplay. You don’t need to be in costume, though, to pay tribute to the bounty hunter. A friend of mine showed up in a Boba Fett-inspired outfit complete with a gorgeous pair of Adidas from the sneaker company’s Star Wars collaborations. I must admit that I coveted her shoes a little.
4. It’s A Good Bar Holiday.
|The Jimmy Psycho Experiment at Complex’s Life Day Party|
My favorite part of the Star Wars Holiday Special is a scene inside a familiar cantina, where Bea Arthur plays a bartender who shows that a (free) round of drinks and song can settle down an ordinary crowd. In this whole mess of a special, the cantina scene stands out as something genuinely lovely. Where it can appear as if everyone else involved in this special showed up because it was a job, Arthur seems to actually enjoy her role. The comedic actor, then best known as TV’s Maude, sings with heart and shows empathetic connections to the creatures surrounding her.
That we’re at a Life Day party inside a bar makes perfect sense. It’s a good way to celebrate, particularly if there’s a Cantina Band on stage. Saturday night, The Jimmy Psycho Experiment, three musicians wearing alien masks reminiscent of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, took on that role. The band usually plays at Devil’s Playground’s Star Girls burlesque shows in Los Angeles, so they know how to work the Star Wars fans. On this evening, they played a version of “Imperial March” that sounded as though it were composed by exotica master Les Baxter.
5. You Can Explore Cultural Artifacts.
Sometime after the disco jams and before the Jimmy Psycho Experiment performance, Christmas in the Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album played. It’s pretty cheesy, but the album is notable for a few reasons. One is that it was produced by Meco, from Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk (an album I prefer). The other cool piece of trivia is that one of the vocalists on the album is John Bongiovi, later known as rock star Jon Bon Jovi.
As goofy as these holiday tunes are, they got the crowd going. A guy in a red camouflage Santa suit ran out to the dance floor with a guy in a punk rock denim vest. Someone with a lightsaber moved across the floor as if it were the Soul Train line.
As all this was going on, commercials that aired during the Holiday Special played on a screen backing the stage. We watched ads for medicines that have long past their cultural shelf life and promos for old TV shows.
I was only a year old when the Star Wars Holiday Special aired, so, if I saw it, I don’t remember it. As for the Christmas album, I don’t remember hearing that when it came out either. Catching glimpses of the original wave of the Star Wars phenomenon now, as we await the third cycle of films, is a trip. Not everything from that era held up well and that includes certain parts of the Star Wars universe.
6. It’s Probably More Exciting Than SantaCon.
|Jedi Santa Claus|
I’ve only seen groups of bar-hoppers in Santa hats on the streets of Los Angeles, so I can’t really say if SantaCon is good or bad. However, I can say that I’m personally more excited to hang out in bars with Star Wars fans.
On Saturday night, someone showed up dressed as a Santa Claus Jedi. It was particularly appropriate since Wookiees wear red robes on Life Day. Someone else carried a modified lightsaber that glowed red and green. The holiday Star Wars looks were most impressive.
7. It’s Another Excuse To Break Out A Costume.
|Yoda puppet is ready to party for Life Day with Princess Leia.|
Costumes can be beautiful. They’re also, oftentimes, time-consuming and expensive to make. So, if you are the sort of person who has a Star Wars costume on hand, you might as well have another chance to wear it out in public. Life Day is good for that.
I didn’t see anyone dressed as a Wookiee on Saturday night, which is understandable. That’s a pretty cumbersome costume and one would imaging that dancing in a dark, crowded club in a big fur suit isn’t terribly fun [Ed note: it is, I’ve done it]. While I would have loved to see some more costumes directly inspired by the holiday special (Diahann Carroll’s fantasy lady or, perhaps, Jefferson Starship), really, anything Star Wars related would work.
8. It’s Also An Excuse To Make More Fan Art Or Try A New Star Wars Craft Project.
|Sad Life Day Chewbacca from Super Emo Friends.|
While hanging out at the party, John Giovanazzi, the co-owner of Complex (and a Star Wars fan) told me about the time he spent making themed snowflakes and the Expanded Universe saint candles. Holidays are good for crafts and there are a lot of Star Wars crafts inspired by the franchise. Try making a TIE Fighter pi?ata or even a Life Day wreath. Or, if you’re into baking, make Princess Leia cupcakes.
It’s also a good time to make some Life Day-inspired art. JSalvador, the guy behind Super Emo Friends, did that with a portrait of Chewbacca that he brought to Complex. “I feel like he’s just ashamed and embarrassed,” says JSalvador, whose pop culture art often features characters in sad or otherwise awkward situations, of the image. “I think the whole Star Wars galaxy looks at [the Holiday Special]like it’s this shameful thing.”
9. At This Time Of Year, Nerd Holidays Are Necessary.
|Nika Harper and Miles Taber MC Complex’s Life Day party.|
The Holiday Special originally aired on November 17, so a lot of fans use that date to commemorate Life Day. Wookieepedia makes the argument that Life Day corresponds with Thanksgiving. I’m not totally convinced by that. There are presents in the Holiday Special, so I tend to associate it with other holidays that involve gift-giving, like Christmas or Hannukah or birthdays. Not that any of this really matters.
At the end of the year, there are various holidays that involve family and tradition. It’s not always awesome. Maybe you’re dreading the “What are you doing with your life?” questions from family members. Maybe you’re keeping your fingers crossed that no one brings up politics at the dinner table. Maybe you’re far away from home or don’t otherwise have much contact with your kin. That’s where something like Life Day is necessary. Nika Harper, one of the MCs for Saturday night’s event, says that Life Day “means an incredible time among friends and people who share the same interests. I can walk into a room and know that I should be friends with everyone there.” Make it a day to hang out with people whose company you enjoy, a day to nerd out over something you love.
10. Sometimes, You Have To Embrace The Cheese.
It’s really easy to not take fandom seriously. After studying the films, the books and every bit of related lore that you can, you’ll have fiercely-held opinions about who best fits a certain role, why certain directorial choices need to happen. You’ll know so many details that arguing over minutia is inevitable.
However, it’s just entertainment. It’s meant to be enjoyed. Even when the franchises we love release material of questionable quality– like the Star Wars Holiday Special— it can be fun. This doesn’t mean we’re mocking anything or being mean-spirited. It’s a matter of finding something we love in the midst of a haphazardly-constructed TV event that somehow found a following thanks to YouTube and old school VHS bootlegs.
Nika Harper laments that there isn’t an official DVD release of the special. “Everybody hates it and wants it to go away,” she says, “but we think it’s the funniest, greatest thing.”
I have a hard time watching the Holiday Special. When I do watch it, it’s usually with multiple breaks. I can tell you how that those minutes of Wookiee interaction in the beginning of the special are hard to watch, but I should add that I love the ’70s decor in their living room. As awful as something might be, there can very well be something in it that’s eye-catching. Sometimes, you have to embrace the awful parts to understand that something is really kind of special.
Previously by Liz Ohanesian