Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps. An extended version of this review is available in our book, Reel Shame.
Malla and Itchy smile for the camera.
In the Star Wars films you don't get much of a sense of what the characters do in their spare time. How does Darth Vader kick back? What does Obi Wan watch on TV? Is Grand Moff Tarkin a workaholic? Just about the only leisure activities we know of long ago in the Star Wars universe are weird holographic chess and Luke's forays into animal cruelty ("I used to bull's-eye womp rats in my T-16 back home.")
Coming to the rescue of curious Star Wars fans like ourselves is The Star Wars Holiday Special, a TV offering that originally aired on November 17, 1978, (A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, ya might say), and shows us a day in the life of a Star Wars character's family's life, including a lot of what passes for popular entertainment across the galaxy. George Lucas himself was not involved in the actual production of the Special, though it does feature nearly every major character from the first Star Wars film, all played by the original actors. The Star Wars Holiday Special also introduces us to Chewbacca's family, and features the first ever appearance of Boba Fett. All this and numerous musical numbers fill up two hours of terminally cheesy 70's TV.
The Special takes place on the Wookiee holiday Life Day. At the Chewbacca household, Chewie's family nervously waits for the Wookiee alpha male to arrive. The Chewbacca household is made up of his wife Malla (played by Mickey Morton... Hey! That's not a girl's name!), his son Lumpy, and Chewie's tragically ugly father Itchy. Yes, you read that last sentence correct, Chewie's closest family members are named Itchy and Lumpy.
There's Bea Arthur, but boy has Rue
McClanahan let herself go!
Meanwhile, in stock footage culled from Star Wars, Han Solo and Chewie avoid Imperial Star Destroyers. ("Why do I always think gettin' you home for Life Day is gonna be easy?" moans Solo.) Malla and Itchy fret and then call various Star Wars characters on their video phones, including a transvestite Luke Skywalker (well, OK, maybe it's just that his stage makeup is a bit overdone) and Princess Leia. Then some Imperial troops search the Chewbacca residence, then leave. Chewbacca arrives, and the family celebrates Life Day with a ceremony that must be seen to be believed.
That's the entire plot -- not really enough to fill two hours. Coming to the rescue are a raft of guest stars, including Art Carney, Beatrice Arthur, Diane Carol, Harvey Korman, and the musical talents of Jefferson Starship. They might as well have called it the Star Wars Comedy Revue, except for the fact that most of the really funny stuff is completely unintentional. Witness: the minutes-long "Wookiee"-dialogue scenes, consisting of nothing but that honking, moaning language they use. We're supposed to figure out what they're talking about by body language and context?
Lumpy: Haaaaarnk! Hooo hrrrrnk! (Mom! What did you get me for Life Day?)
Malla: Snort snrrnnk! Hrrrrrung! (Nothing, if you don't clean that bantha sty you call a room!)
Itchy: Hrunk hrunk hrunk hooot! (Hey kid! C'mere and pull my finger!)
The guest stars fill in the gaps between Wookiee conversations with short comedy sketches and musical numbers. You can tell this is science fiction, because the creators of the show try to make us believe that Bea Arthur can sing. Folks, we don't think any special effects budget is large enough for that. Nevertheless, Arthur croaks her way through a scene involving the Mos Eisley cantina, its cast of alien scum, and a giant rat.
Let's face facts: Itchy is one ugly Wookiee!
Harvey Korman is the guest star most often on screen, with a faintly-amusing Galactic Julia Childs impression, an appearance as an alien on Tatooine who is smitten with the Bea Arthur barkeep character (again, this is fantasy), and a terminally unfunny "instruction video" bit that involves repeated video editing. Korman is most noted for the time he spent as a straight man to Carol Burnett and Tim Conway, and without them, his own comedic bits seem a bit -- well, straight. He can be funny (see Blazing Saddles), but he isn't doing a very good job here.
The most offensive guest star, however, is the rank sentiment that pervades every scene. The original Star Wars movie had its moments of cheesy "I love you man" affection, but nothing can quite prepare you for the sight of Han Solo wrapping his arms around every Wookiee within reach. And how much more sympathetic could they make Itchy? Look, they had a stormtrooper rip the head off his stuffed bantha!
And just when you think this video couldn't hurt you any more unless it popped out of the VCR at high speed and hit you straight in the face, Carrie Fisher begins to sing. Yes, she sings. And for a second you'll think, "Hey, they're dubbing her," and then you'll think, "No, if they were dubbing her it would sound better." The song itself is intended to be an inspirational variation on the Star Wars theme, but none of that intention shines through.
The one bright spot in this mess is the animated short that Lumpy watches on a portable TV thingee. Animated in a style similar to the movie Heavy Metal, it has neat designs and a story that moves at a good clip. Luke takes a Y-Wing to rendezvous with Chewie, who has inexplicably bound Han up and hung him by his feet from the ceiling. It turns out Han has contracted a deadly disease, and Chewie has to rely on the enigmatic Boba Fett to cure him. This was Boba Fett's first appearance, and it's pretty cool. Most surprising, it's actually consistent with his later appearances.
Boba Fett models a gun he stole
from Marvin the Martian.
"He was very very mad,"
reports the bounty hunter.
The worst thing about the Special is that after seeing it, we have come to hate Wookiees. We hate everything them. Malla is okay, but Itchy is the ugliest darn creature in the galaxy, and we wish someone would stuff Lumpy, that stunted little proto-Ewok, into a trash compactor. Why, of all the characters available, did the producers structure an entire two hours around stupid Wookiees?! And who the hell came up with that extra "e" at the end of the word "Wookiee?"
Like so many of the films we end up watching, TheStar Wars Holiday Special is a curiosity best left to extremely hard-core fans and to the corners of history. No matter how appealing it sounds to begin with, we guarantee this viewing experience can bring you little but pain. Fast forward to the animated sequence (let the Force be your guide) and turn the VCR off immediately after it ends. Trust in these words: you'll hate the rest of the special, and hate leads to the Dark Side.