ⓘ Star Wars Holiday Special
The Star Wars Holiday Special is a 1978 American television special set in the universe of the Star Wars science-fiction media franchise. Directed by Steve Binder, it was the first Star Wars spin-off film, set between the events of the original film and The Empire Strikes Back. It stars the main cast of the original Star Wars and introduces the character of Boba Fett, who appeared in later films.
In the storyline that ties the special together, following the events of the original film, Chewbacca and Han Solo attempt to visit the Wookiee home world to celebrate "Life Day". They are pursued by agents of the Galactic Empire, who are searching for members of the Rebel Alliance on the planet. The special introduces three members of Chewbaccas family: his father Itchy, his wife Malla, and his son Lumpy. The program also features the rest of the main Star Wars characters, including Luke Skywalker, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader and Princess Leia, all portrayed by the original cast except R2-D2, who is simply billed as "himself". The program includes footage from the 1977 film and a cartoon produced by Toronto-based Nelvana featuring the bounty hunter Boba Fett. Scenes take place in space and in spacecraft including the Millennium Falcon and a Star Destroyer; segments also take place in a few other locales, such as the Mos Eisley cantina from the original film.
The special is notorious for its extremely negative reception and has never been rebroadcast nor officially released on home video. It has become something of a cultural legend due to the underground quality of its existence. It has been viewed and distributed in off-air recordings made from its original telecast by fans as bootleg copies, and it has also been uploaded to content-sharing websites.
On Life Day, Chewbacca, accompanied by Han Solo, is headed home to see his family. Along the way, the duo are chased by two Star Destroyers, but they escape into hyperspace. Meanwhile, on Kashyyyk, Chewbaccas family is preparing for his return. Hoping to find the Millennium Falcon, his wife, Malla, runs a computer scan for starships in the area but is unsuccessful. Malla contacts Luke Skywalker, who, along with R2-D2, is working on his X-wing starfighter. Luke tells her that he does not know what happened. Malla contacts Saun Dann, a local human trader. He tells her through a carefully worded message that Han and Chewbacca are on their way and should be arriving soon. Malla then attempts unsuccessfully to prepare a meal, the instructions of which are being aired via a local cooking show by an eccentric four-armed alien cook, Chef Gormaanda Harvey Korman.
Saun arrives with Life Day gifts for everyone, including a virtual reality fantasy program featuring Diahann Carroll for Itchy. Back on the Falcon, Chewbacca and Han have just come out of hyperspace not far from Kashyyyk. Han notices an increased Imperial presence, so they decide to land in an unguarded area to the north. As they enter the atmosphere, Lumpy hears the roaring of the ship. Believing Han and Chewie might be arriving, Malla opens the door, but instead finds two stormtroopers and officers. The Imperials force their way into the house. An officer orders a search for Chewbacca. As they search, Saun and the others attempt to distract them with food and Mallas music video box which features a video by Jefferson Starship. When the music finishes, the head officer orders the search to continue. The head officer tells Malla to keep Lumpy busy while they search his room, so Lumpy and the viewing audience watches a cartoon on a viewscreen of one of his fathers many adventures:
During a search for a talisman, the Millennium Falcon crashes on the water planet of Panna with the main characters onboard. They run into Boba Fett, who saves Luke from a giant monster and claims to want to help the Rebels. They all board the Falcon, where Han has been infected by a mysterious sleeping virus caused by the talisman. Luke then contracts the virus as well. Fett and Chewie go into Panna City to get the cure. Once they get into the Imperial-occupied city, Fett instructs Chewie to stay behind - so he can contact Darth Vader. On the Falcon, as C-3PO is caring for Han and Luke, R2-D2 intercepts the transmission between Vader and Fett. Evading the Imperials, Fett and Chewie return to the Falcon with the cure. After everyone recovers from the virus, they learn of Fetts true allegiances. Fett blasts away in his jetpack, promising that they will meet again. Everyone then escapes from the planet aboard the Falcon and heads back to the Rebel base.
Lumpy works to create a translation device that will fool the Imperials into returning to their base by faking their commanders voice. To do so, he first must watch the manual for the device, being presented by a malfunctioning, incompetent robot also played by Korman. While the Imperials are searching downstairs, the living room viewscreen activates, announcing that Tatooine is being put under curfew by the Empire because of "subversive forces". The video is announced as required viewing for all Imperial forces and much of it features Ackmena Bea Arthur running the Mos Eisley cantina. Ackmena is approached by an admirer: Krelman, an amorous alien, who has misunderstood something she said to him recently. Ackmena announces last call, and upon being ignored, sings a farewell song. Lumpy uses this opportunity to put his plan into motion, faking a repeated call for the Imperials to "return to base". They leave, but one stormtrooper stays behind and realizes that they were tricked. He finds Lumpy and destroys the machine, then chases Lumpy outside.
Han and Chewbacca arrive. Chewie protects Lumpy as Han dispatches the stormtrooper. After they are reunited, an Imperial officer appears on the viewscreen, giving a general alert for the missing stormtrooper. Saun quickly responds that the trooper stole supplies and deserted. The danger averted, the family prepares to go to the festival at the great Tree of Life. They hold glowing orbs, and appear in space wearing red robes. Wookiees walk into a bright star and arrive at the Tree of Life, where many are gathered, including C-3PO and R2-D2. Luke, Leia, and Han also appear. Leia gives a short speech and sings a song in celebration. Chewie remembers his adventures during the events of the original film. Finally, the Wookiee family sits around a table and bows their heads.
Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2 in the films, was not involved in the special. The droid was performed entirely by a radio-controlled unit, operated by Mick Garris Lucass receptionist. In the credits, R2-D2 is credited by announcer Art James as playing himself.
Because James Earl Jones was originally uncredited in Star Wars, the special marked the first time he was credited as the voice of Darth Vader.
Mallas mask was repurposed from a Chewbacca mask from the original film. The names of Chewbaccas family were later explained to have been nicknames, their full names being Mallatobuck Malla, Attichitcuk Itchy, and Lumpawarrump or Lumpawaroo Lumpy.
While outlining the original Star Wars and planning its potential sequels, Lucas imagined a "film just about Wookiees, nothing else." After the original films success, its cast made a few appearances on TV variety shows. According to Charles Lippincott, who was head of marketing of the Star Wars Corporation, CBS brought the idea of doing a TV special to him and Lucas, although there is some internal dispute about this claim. According to J.W. Rinzler, "Everybody agreed that a television special was a good idea." Lucas was busy moving his production company to a new location, which was not heavily involved in the special. According to Lucasfilm producer Gary Kurtz:
It did start out to be a lot better. We had half a dozen meetings with the TV company that was making it. In the end, because of work on promoting Star Wars and working on the next film, we realized we had no time. So we just left it to them and just had the occasional meetings with them, provided them with access to props and the actors, and that was it.
Though Lucas is uncredited, it was his idea to build the narrative around Chewbaccas family. CBS hired experienced variety show writers and producers, including writer Bruce Vilanch, who was concerned about the decision to center the special on a species who grunt in a fictional language without subtitles. Regardless, Lucas would not budge on his vision. The special went through two directors. The first, David Acomba, was brought in through an attempt to "make us different in variety shows", according to Lippincott. Acomba, a classmate of George Lucas at USC film school, was unfamiliar with a multiple-camera setup, which caused some problems. Acomba also felt that there was a divide between himself and the producers, and chose to leave the project after finishing only a few scenes, including the cantina and Jefferson Starship. He was replaced by Steve Binder, whose only contact with Lucasfilm was a "Wookiee bible" detailing how the species should look and behave. Stan Winston was hired to design the Wookiee family.
The special was broadcast in its entirety in the United States only once, on Friday, November 17, 1978 the week before Thanksgiving, on the television network CBS from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time EST, pre-empting Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk. It was also broadcast on the Canadian television network CTV from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time, in New Zealand on TVNZ, and in Australia on the Seven Network.
All the acts were loosely linked together with material which involves the Wookiees preparation for Life Day on Kashyyyk, Han and Chewies attempt to bypass the Imperial blockade and make it to Chewies family, and the Imperial garrisons search for rebels. The plot strings together a series of musical numbers, celebrity cameos and other variety show acts. These include songs and comedy routines by such 1970s talents as Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman and Bea Arthur, and a circus-style acrobatics routine including uneven bars and juggling. The most notable segment is an animated cartoon featuring the onscreen debut of Boba Fett.
4.1. Segments Music
Original music was composed for The Star Wars Holiday Special by Ken and Mitzie Welch, while Ian Fraser was brought in to adapt John Williams orchestral themes from Star Wars. The special features four songs:
- "This Minute Now" is sung by Diahann Carroll. Carroll – who is supposed to be an image created by a virtual reality machine – tells Chewbaccas father, Itchy, that she his "fantasy" and suggestively invites him to "experience" her.
- Finally, at the end of the special, Carrie Fisher sings a song in celebration of Life Day to the tune of the Star Wars main theme by John Williams.
- Later, Bea Arthur, who plays Ackmena, proprietress of the Mos Eisley cantina, sings "Good Night, But Not Goodbye" set to the "Cantina Band" theme. Some of the same aliens seen in the cantina in Star Wars reappear, including the band Figrin Dan and the Modal Nodes, as back-up musicians.
- "Light the Sky on Fire", performed by Jefferson Starship, which is presented as a 3D music video watched by one of the Imperial guards; during production the song was given the working title "Cigar-Shaped Object Vanished Without a Trace" the song was included as a bonus 45 rpm single in the Jefferson Starship greatest hits collection Gold.
4.2. Segments Comedy
Harvey Korman provides comedy in three of the specials skits, including the cantina skit with Bea Arthur where he plays a love-struck barfly who drinks through a hole in the top of his head. He also performs two solo routines: one as Chef Gormaanda, a four-armed parody of Julia Child the four arms allow her to work much faster than Malla can keep up with and one as a malfunctioning Amorphian android named Dromboid in an instruction video watched by Lumpy. Art Carney has a more integral role in the story, playing a trader named Saun Dann on Kashyyyk who is a member of the rebellion and helps Chewies family. His segments are also largely played for laughs and at one point includes a scene alluding to his character Ed Norton from The Honeymooners, where an Imperial officer demands that he "get on with it" while Carney dallies with a prop, thus introducing the Jefferson Starship performance.
4.3. Segments Cartoon
The high point of the special is generally considered to be the animated segment known as "The Faithful Wookiee", which is the first official Star Wars cartoon. It was written by Lucas and produced by Toronto animation firm Nelvana Ltd., which later produced Droids and Ewoks, two Saturday-morning series based on the franchise in 1985 on ABC. Lucas requested that the visual style be inspired by Moebius. The vocal talents of the main cast are featured. Intended as an in-universe flashback, Luke wears a yellow jacket similar to his outfit at the end of A New Hope.
The cartoon introduces Boba Fett, whose appearance was based on footage of the unpainted costume from The Empire Strikes Back, and according to Nelvana co-founder Clive Smith, their suggestion to "scuff up his costume a little bit" influenced the characters live-action appearance. The final costume design made a public parade appearance two months before the Holiday Special aired. The simplified color scheme for the cartoon was later repeated for Fetts appearance in Droids.
According to the official Star Wars website, Fett was voiced by Don Francks in the special. Inverse also credited the role to him based on his work in later Nelvana productions.
5.1. Reception Critical response
The Star Wars Holiday Special has become notorious for its extremely negative reception, both by Star Wars fans and the general public. Jerry Buck, in a November 1978 review for the Associated Press, called the program "bubble gum for the brain." Anthony Daniels, in a documentary promoting the worldwide tour of Star Wars: In Concert, notes with a laugh that the Star Wars universe includes "The horrible Holiday Special that nobody talks about". Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club wrote, "Im not convinced the special wasn’t ultimately written and directed by a sentient bag of cocaine." George Lucas did not have significant involvement with the films production and was reportedly unhappy with the results; however, Patty Maloney, who played Lumpy, stated in 2008 that Lucas was sent dailies of each days shooting for approval.
David Hofstede, author of What Were They Thinking?: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, ranked the holiday special at number one, calling it "the worst two hours of television ever". Shepard Smith, a news anchor for the Fox News Channel, referred to it as a "70s train wreck, combining the worst of Star Wars with the utter worst of variety television." On the review-aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 29% approval rating, based on 14 reviews, with an average rating of 3.03/10.
5.2. Reception Recognition
The special was ranked at #3 in "The Five Goofiest Moments of the Star Wars Mythos" in the 62nd issue of the UKs Star Wars magazine. TV Guide ranked it at number 11 on their "25 Most Hilarious Holiday TV Moments", mentioning that it was "unintentionally hilarious." Both TV Guide and TV Land ranked the special at #59 on their "Top 100 Unexpected Television Moments" in a five-part special that aired from December 5 until December 9, 2005. In 2008, the Star Wars Holiday Special was selected to be shown at the Paley Center for Media by 59% of voters in an online poll of Christmas specials which allowed users to vote on five titles, beating A Charlie Brown Christmas 34.6%, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 31.3% and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 28.4%, among others.
In December 2018, a comedy play was released about the specials production, entitled Special.
5.3. Reception Reception from cast and crew
George Lucas himself disliked the special. In a May 2005 interview, Lucas was asked if the film had soured him on working in television. He replied:
The special from 1978 really didnt have much to do with us, you know. I cant remember what network it was on, but it was a thing that they did. We kind of let them do it. It was done by. I cant even remember who the group was, but they were variety TV guys. We let them use the characters and stuff and that probably wasnt the smartest thing to do, but you learn from those experiences.
The official Star Wars site states that the special "delivered mixed results" and states that its highlight was the Boba Fett animated segment. The official site also says, when referring to the fan interest in seeing the Wookiees on screen, "the 1978 Holiday Special didnt cut it." The official site also refers to the Boba Fett animated segment as "a cult classic". In 2006, Harrison Ford made an appearance on Late Night with Conan OBrien, and claimed to have never seen it.
On the 2010 television program Times Talk, New York Times columnist David Carr asked Carrie Fisher about the special; she said that she made George Lucas give her a copy of the special in exchange for recording commentary for the Star Wars trilogy so that she would "have something for parties.when wanted everyone to leave." In 2018, Mark Hamill admitted to not having seen the entire special. In 2020, he jokingly asked U.S. President Donald Trump to pardon the special.
6. Versions and availability
The Star Wars Holiday Special was mostly forgotten after its only airing in 1978, until some time in the early-to-mid-1990s when individuals came forward and offered original videotape recordings of the TV airing. These have since been duplicated and reduplicated so that most copies of the special available today are based on second- to sixth-generation VHS dubs. Some of these fan-made copies include the original commercials that aired during the show, as well as the news breaks.
It soon became a cult classic among Star Wars fans. While originally shared or sold as a bootleg video at conventions or via outlets such as eBay, peer-to-peer file sharing networks have made the special more widely available to fans curious to see it for themselves. Online video sites such as YouTube have also hosted clips of the special. However, the special has not been officially released. The so-called "Platinum Edition" DVD mentioned in a review by Lawrence Person on Locus Online was an April Fools hoax.
Animation cels sold in the mid-1990s came from the specials animated Boba Fett segment. Segments of that cartoon appear in the 2002 Attack of the Clones web documentary "Bucket Head" and Jeremy Bulloch, who portrayed Fett in the original films, introduces the segment as coming from the Holiday Special. In 2004, the official Star Wars site confirmed that documentary filmmaker Kevin Burns was allowed access to the original print for use in his Empire of Dreams documentary; however, the segment using footage from the holiday special was ultimately left out of the final cut.
The entire Fett cartoon appeared as an Easter Egg on the 2011 Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray set, making it the only portion of the special to be officially released in any home video format.
The comedy troupe RiffTrax, which is composed of Mystery Science Theater 3000 alums, has released a satirical running commentary on the special.
6.1. Versions and availability International distribution
The program was seen in Canada on CTV on the same evening as the CBS broadcast. Toronto CTV station CFTO-TV aired the program at 7 pm, an hour earlier than seen on the nearest American outlet, WIVB-TV in Buffalo, New York. It was also distributed and seen in Australia and New Zealand. It was shown on Swedish SVT on May 31, 1979 as Stjarnornas krig - och fred literally "Star Wars - and Peace", a pun on the Swedish title of the first film. The special was also broadcast in Venezuela on Venevision, Honduras on Canal 5, Brazil on TV Bandeirantes on Christmas Day, 1981 and at least twice in Argentina. It aired in France on January 1, 1979, on TF1, in a shortened 72-minute version, dubbed in French. It aired in the Republic of Ireland on RTE 2 on Christmas Day 1979.
7. Related media tie-ins
- A press kit was released prior to the special to promote its airing.
- In 2007, Hasbro released a Boba Fett action figure, using the likeness from the animated cartoon and titled "Boba Fett Animated Debut".
- Jefferson Starship released their song from the special, "Light the Sky On Fire", as a single, with their 1974 song "Hyperdrive" as the B-side.
- Prior to the specials airing, the Kenner toy company considered creating a toy line based on the special. While the project was canceled because of the unpopularity of the special, several prototype versions of the figures are known to have been created. Those depict the Chewbacca family and seem to be simply modifications of Kenners officially released Chewbacca figure.
8.1. Role in greater Star Wars continuity Canonicity of the special
Despite the unpopularity of the special, Lucasfilm maintained its status as part of the continuity, placing it halfway between Episodes IV and V. From 1978 to 2014, most elements of Holiday Special fell under the S-canon, a secondary level of canon superseded by other licensed works.
This was clarified in 2007 by Leland Chee, who maintains Lucasfilms internal continuity database called "the Holocron". According to Chee, the Holocron contained at least 28 entries about The Star Wars Holiday Special by that point. These placed all elements referred to in other works, such as Life Day and Chewbaccas family members, in the C-canon. He stated that elements not subsequently referred to were given the lower rank of S-canon. Chee also confirmed that Leslie Schofield appears as an unnamed character in The Star Wars Holiday Special and not the character he played in A New Hope named Chief Bast. Previously this confusion had caused fans drawing on a hint in the Customizable Card Game to question whether Basts death aboard the Death Star was genuine.
After Lucasfilm was acquired by The Walt Disney Company, the Holocron was retired. Only the episodic films and animated series beginning with The Clone Wars were declared to be part of the new canon. J. J. Abrams sarcastically referred to the holiday special as canon in a 2015 interview.
Life Day was mentioned in the first episode of The Mandalorian.
8.2. Role in greater Star Wars continuity Later appearances
After being introduced by the special, the character Boba Fett and the planet Kashyyyk have gone on to play integral roles in the franchise, making their first film appearances in The Empire Strikes Back and Revenge of the Sith, respectively. Apart from this, more specific references to The Star Wars Holiday Special have been made including:
- An untitled 1979 newspaper comic strip by Russ Manning which featured another venture by Han, Luke, Leia and Chewie to Kashyyyk for Life Day.
- Galactic Battlegrounds 2001 is a LucasArts game which explored Itchys past. As seen in the game, he is a great warrior in his younger days, fighting many battles.
- Agents of Chaos I: Heros Trial 2000, ISBN 9780345428608 is a novel in The New Jedi Order series, in which Malla and Itchy make appearances.
- The Star Wars streaming series The Mandalorian 2019 features a gunfighter who uses a weapon very similar to the one used by Fett in the special. In addition, the shows pilot episode features a character directly referring to Life Day.
- Wookiee World 1985 is issue #91 of Marvel Comics Star Wars publication. It featured Chewies family in another adventure on Kashyyyk.
- Rebel Dawn 1997, ISBN 9780553574173 is the third book of A. C. Crispins The Han Solo Trilogy novels. It dealt with Solos early years and his early relation with Chewbacca and his family. Malla and Chewies marriage is depicted in this book.
- Zen Pinball 2 2012 featured a Star Wars table. Upon losing, Boba Fett says "well meet again, friends" to the player, which is a direct quote from his character in the Holiday Special.
- In 1979, one year after the specials broadcast, Lucasfilm published Star Wars: The Wookiee Storybook, a childrens storybook which reunited characters from the special.
- The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookiee Cookiees and Other Galactic Recipes 1998, ISBN 9780811895118 gives an official recipe for "Wookiee cookiees", a different name for "Wookiee-ookiees" from the special.
- The Unifying Force 2003, ISBN 9780345428523 is the final book of the New Jedi Order series. It features Lumpy, who takes up Chewbaccas life debt to Han.
- A Forest Apart 2003 is an e-book by Troy Denning, also released in print as a supplement to his book Tatooine Ghost. A Forest Apart focuses on the exploits of Lumpy, after Malla allows him to go to Coruscant with Chewbacca.
- The Star Wars Encyclopedia 1998, ISBN 0-345-40227-8 by Stephen J. Sansweet is an official guide to the fictional Star Wars galaxy, which features elements from the special.
- Star Wars: Complete Locations 2005, ISBN 9781465452726 mentions that while Luke, Obi-Wan and the droids are in the cantina in Star Wars, Ackmena is in a nearby room negotiating for a raise in her pay.
- Star Wars: Galaxies 2003 was a popular MMORPG that allowed the player to visit and explore Kashyyyk. While there, the player can explore the customs of Life Day, as there are several Wookiees dressed in red robes, as in the special. Lumpys stuffed bantha from the special can also be seen in the game. The official site for Star Wars: Galaxies even had a webpage dedicated to explaining these features in the game and the customs of Life Day.
- Chewbacca 2000 is a four-issue comic book series by Darko Macan, which featured Itchy and Malla recalling stories of Chewbaccas history.
- HoloNet News 2005 featured an issue about Chef Gormaanda. Featuring a new recipe, it was explained that she had won a cooking award.
- Tyrants Test 1996, ISBN 9780553572759 is the third and final book of Michael P. Kube-McDowells "Black Fleet Crisis" trilogy. It featured Lumpy and his rites of passage.
- The Visual Dictionary of Star Wars, Episode III 2005, ISBN 9780756611286 explains that the gunner of one of the Oevvaor jet catamarans in the film was Itchy.