The Star Wars Holiday Special is infamous amongst Star Wars fans. To many it’s an embarrassment best left buried from the public eye. To others it’s a treasured and elusive piece of pop culture that is to be sought out enthusiastically. Further, if Jon Favreau, producer and writer of the upcoming Star Wars: The Mandalorian television series, had his druthers, he’d create an all-new Star Wars Holiday Special for Disney+!
At this past weekend’s Saturn Awards, Entertainment Tonight broached the subject of the Holiday Special with Favreau:
“I love the Star Wars Holiday Special, certain sequences more than others…. Maybe someday on Disney+, we’ll do a Holiday Special too. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
For those who may not know, what was the Star Wars Holiday Special? Well, historically it was Lucasfilm’s first foray into live action television, airing on CBS in November 1978, the week before Thanksgiving. It also introduced (via animation) the first character ever to wear Mandalorian armor, Boba Fett. This animated sequence also depicts Han and Chewie’s run in with the bounty hunter before their encounter with him in The Empire Strikes Back movie.
It also introduced elements of the Star Wars universe that are still with us today, like Mandalorian armor. Kaashyyk, the planet where the Wookiee Chewbacca comes from, is seen in the special for the first time. This planet’s appearance in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is its second.
It introduces Chewbacca’s long forgotten family, consisting of Chewie’s wife Malla, his son Lumpy and his father Itchy. Whether we’ll see any of these characters again is anyone’s guess. But it also introduced the concept of Life Day, a holiday where Wookiees, usually clad only in their fur, don bright red robes and gather around the Tree of Life on Kaashyyk. This holiday has continued to appear in such disparate outlets as the many comicbook adaptations, the supporting novel fiction and the former computer MMO game Star Wars Galaxies, where players could also don the red garb and celebrate this unique Star Wars universe holiday annually, usually around our own holiday season.
But why all the hate for this “lost” special? It featured all the stars of the film: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. R2-D2 appeared as well, but his usual operator, actor Kenny Baker, wasn’t available. The voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones, is also in the special. Significantly, this was the first time the actor was officially credited for the voice, since the original release of the 1977 Star Wars film didn’t include a credit.
It also had guest stars Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Harvey Korman (in three different roles, no less) and singer Diahann Carroll. Oh, and don’t forget the rock group Jefferson Starship. These guest cast decisions were made by CBS, who aired the special. Arthur, from the comedy Maude, and Korman, from The Carol Burnett Show, were both big CBS stars at the time. Also very popular at the time were variety shows, which featured comedy skits – as provided by Korman for the Star Wars special – and musical performances. Bea Arthur, Diahann Carroll and believe it or not, Carrie Fisher herself all perform songs for the special. These performances, including Jefferson Starship’s performance of Light the Sky on Fire (which was eventually released as a B-side single) have not aged well.
However, veteran actor Art Carney surprisingly played it relatively straight as a Rebel sympathizer Trader Saun Dann, who works with Malla to help get Han and Chewie onto Kaashyyk under the nose of the Empire, which controls the Wookiee planet.
Finally, Lucas himself only had limited involvement in the special, since he was in the midst of preparing the next Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back (filmed in 1979 and released in 1980). Though it was his own idea to feature a Wookiee dominated cast, it was also his choice not to air the poorly received special again. Outside of the animated sequence with Boba Fett, nothing of the special has ever been released as an extra for any of the official DVD releases of the movies by Lucasflim.
However, many bootlegged copies of this special exist, and will likely continue unless and until Lucasfilm does an official release. Maybe they will one day, as an extra when and if Favreau produces his own 21st century Star Wars Holiday Special for Disney +.
You can learn more about the original Star Wars Holiday Special here. Until then, Happy Life Day!