First episode date
November 17, 1978
Adventure, Family, Musical
Light the Sky on Fire
Steve BinderDavid Acomba (uncredited)
November 17, 1978
George Lucas, Bruce Vilarich, Pat Proft, Rod Warren, Leonard Ripps, Mitzie Welch
Han Solo), Luke Skywalker), C-3PO), Princess Leia), Chewbacca),
Beatrice Arthur(Bar Proprieter)
The Nightmare Before Christmas,
The Polar Express,
The Santa Clause,
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Star Wars Holiday Special is a 1978 American musical science fiction television film set in the Star Wars galaxy. It stars the first film's main cast while introducing the character Boba Fett, who would appear in later films. It is one of the first official Star Wars spin-offs and was directed by Steve Binder.
- Reception from George Lucas and fellow cast members
- International distribution
- Other bits
- Versions and availability today
- Canonicity of the special
- Later appearances
In the storyline that ties the special together, Chewbacca and Han Solo visit Kashyyyk, Chewbacca's 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 Chewbacca's family: his father Itchy, his wife Malla, and his son Lumpy, though these names were later explained to have been nicknames, their full names being Attichitcuk, Mallatobuck, and Lumpawarrump, respectively.
The program also features many other Star Wars characters, including Luke Skywalker, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader and Princess Leia (who sings the film's "theme song", set to the music of John Williams' Star Wars theme, near the end), all of them portrayed by the original actors. The program includes stock footage from Star Wars, and also features a cartoon produced by Toronto-based Nelvana that officially introduces the bounty hunter Boba Fett. Scenes also take place in outer space and in spacecraft including the Millennium Falcon and an Imperial Star Destroyer. The variety-show segments and cartoon also take place in a few other locales, such as a Mos Eisley cantina on the desert planet of Tatooine and a newly introduced red ocean planet known as Panna.
The special is notorious for its extremely negative reception and has never been rebroadcast or officially released on home video. It has therefore become something of a cultural legend, because of the "underground" quality of its existence. It has been viewed and distributed in off-air recordings made from its original telecast by fans, which were later adapted to content-sharing websites via the Internet and bootleg copies.
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, Chewbacca's 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 Dann 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 Dann and the others attempt to distract them with food and Malla's 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 father's many adventures.
The cartoon shows Luke, Han and Leia's first encounter with Boba Fett. During a search for a talisman, the Millennium Falcon crashes on a water planet known as Panna. Upon landing, they run into Fett, who claims to want to help them after saving Luke from a giant monster that attacks him from behind. 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 while he gets the cure. Once away from Chewie, Fett contacts Darth Vader. On the Falcon, as C-3PO is caring for Han and Luke, R2-D2 intercepts the call between Vader and Fett, causing worry for C-3PO. Evading the Imperials, Fett and Chewie return to the Falcon with the cure. After everyone recovers from the virus, they learn of Fett's true allegiances. Fett blasts away in his jet pack, promising that they'll meet again. Everyone then escapes from the planet and back to the rebel base on board the Falcon.
When the cartoon finishes, Lumpy works to create a translation device from his Amorphian machine that will fool the Imperials into returning to their base by faking their commander's voice. To do so, he first must watch the manual for the device, being presented by a malfunctioning, incompetent robot (Harvey Korman again).
While the Imperials are all searching downstairs, the living room viewscreen activates, announcing that Tatooine is now 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. Part of the scene is shown in the bar. Ackmena is approached by an admirer: Krelman, an amorous alien, who misunderstood something she said to him the other night. When the Empire announces the curfew, Ackmena announces a "last drink" and when the creatures ignore her, she sings a fun song, "Good Night, But Not Goodbye" set to the "Cantina Band" theme. Lumpy uses this opportunity to put his plan into motion, faking a repeated call for the Imperials to "return to base". They leave, but the head officer instructs one of the stormtroopers to stay behind. After the other Imperials leave, the stormtrooper still hears the repeating signal and realizes they were tricked. He finds Lumpy and destroys the machine, then chases Lumpy outside.
As they both run onto the deck, Han and Chewbacca arrive. He says good bye to Han and stays with his family. Chewie protects Lumpy as Han dispatches the stormtrooper. After reuniting with everyone, an Imperial officer appears on the viewscreen, giving a general alert for the missing stormtrooper. Saun Dann quickly says that the trooper stole food and supplies and deserted and the officer says he will send out a search party. The danger averted, the family prepares to go to the festival at the Tree of Life.
The family is seen in space, traveling toward a bright star. They walk into it, arriving at the great Tree of Life, where many Wookiees dressed in red robes are gathered. As Chewbacca takes the stage, C-3PO and R2-D2 suddenly appear, along with Luke, Leia and Han. Leia gives a short speech on the meaning of Life Day and sings a song in celebration, to the tune of the Star Wars theme. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Chewbacca remembers his adventures in the previous film and promises he will somehow come back to Luke, Han, Leia, R2-D2 and C-3PO.
That night, the Wookiee family sit around the feast table, celebrating the day and being back together again.
Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2 in the films, was not involved in the special. R2 was played entirely by a radio controlled unit, operated by Mick Garris (Lucas' receptionist). In the credits, R2-D2 is credited by announcer Art James as playing himself.
According to Charles Lippincott, who was head of marketing of what was termed "The Star Wars Corporation", CBS brought the idea of doing a TV special to Lucas, although there is some debate within Lucas's inner circle about this claim. Lucas was not heavily involved with the special, and his name does not appear in its credits. Still it was Lucas's idea to build the narrative around a family of speechless Wookiees and their celebration of Life Day. Bruce Vilanch, who was hired as a writer, was concerned about the challenges this decision would pose to writing and feared that the special would turn into "one long episode of Lassie". Regardless Lucas would not budge on the story.
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 Lippencott. Acomba, a classmate of George Lucas at USC film school, was unfamiliar with a multi 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, a decision supported by Lucas. He was replaced by Steve Binder. Binder never got to meet Lucas before the show but instead got a "Wookiee Bible" detailing how Wookiees were supposed to look and behave.
The special was broadcast in its entirety only once, in the United States, on Friday, November 17, 1978 (the week before Thanksgiving), on the U.S. television network CBS from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time (EST), pre-empting Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk; and on the Canadian television network CTV from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time. It was also broadcast in New Zealand on TVNZ and in Australia on the Seven Network.
National sponsors during the American broadcast included General Motors, Kenner Products, Bristol-Myers Squibb (then known as Bristol-Myers), International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (featuring the "Look for the Union Label" campaign), Bell System, Standard Brands, Pillsbury Company, Schaper Toys, Revlon, Whirlpool Corporation, American Home Products, Hanes, McDonald's, Florists' Transworld Delivery, Fruit of the Loom, Kayser-Roth, S.C. Johnson & Son and Italian Swiss Colony (wine).
The special is notorious for its extremely negative reception, both by Star Wars fans and the general public. 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 AV Club wrote, "I'm 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 film's production and was reportedly unhappy with the results; however, Patty Maloney, who played Lumpy, stated in 2008 that Lucas was sent dailies of each day's 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."
The only aspect of the special which has been generally well received is the animated segment which introduces Boba Fett, who would later become a popular character when he appeared in the Star Wars films.
Reception from George Lucas and fellow cast members
George Lucas himself disliked the special and reportedly said, "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it." In an online chat with fans, he reportedly said: "The Holiday Special does not represent my vision for Star Wars." In an interview in the May 2002 Maxim magazine, when asked if there were plans for a Special Edition of the special, Lucas responded, "Right. That's one of those things that happened and I just have to live with it."
In a May 2005 interview with StaticMultimedia.com, Lucas was asked if the film had soured him on working in television. He replied:
The special from 1978 really didn't have much to do with us, you know. I can't 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 can't even remember who the group was, but they were variety TV guys. We let them use the characters and stuff and that probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but you learn from those experiences.
The official Star Wars site states that the holiday special "delivered mixed results" and states that the highlight of the special 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 didn't cut it." When asked at a fan convention, "So, you don't like it (the holiday special) either?", Lucasfilm head of content and fan relations, Steve Sansweet replied: "No. I mean, I like the ten minute introduction of Boba Fett, but that's about it." The official site also refers to the Boba Fett animated segment as "a cult classic".
On February 8, 2006, Harrison Ford made an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien to promote his film Firewall. During the interview, Conan O'Brien brought up the special and began asking various questions regarding it, such as inquiring whether he remembered making it. Ford said nothing, but looked away and shook his head nervously, then saying he had no memory of it whatsoever and it, therefore, "doesn't exist". The audience responded with laughter and applause. O'Brien then asked Ford what he would think if he played a clip of the special on the show, Ford jokingly grabbed him, then said that "[he'd] never seen it, maybe it'll be nice." Uncomfortably anxious and distracted, Ford suffered through the clip (which featured a scene showing Ford as Han Solo telling Chewbacca and his wife that they are "like family" to him) and then muttered a gruff, sarcastic "Thank you".
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 DVD commentary for the Star Wars films. She added that she showed it at parties, "mainly at the end of the night when I want people to leave."
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 Stjärnornas krig - och fred (literally "Star Wars - and Peace", a pun on the Swedish title of first film).
It has been broadcast in France on January 1, 1979 on TF1, in a shortened 72 minute version, dubbed in French.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is significant for being the first film-length Star Wars story after the original theatrical film and for showing an expanded look at parts of that universe. The main focus of the holiday special is the Blockade of Kashyyyk. But for the most part, the plot serves as little more than a means to string 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. The most notable segment is an animated cartoon featuring the pre-Empire Strikes Back debut of Boba Fett.
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 Chewbacca's father, Itchy, that she is his "fantasy" and suggestively invites him to "experience" her.
- "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). (NOTE: The clip marked Marty Balin's final appearance with Jefferson Starship, as he would leave the band in October 1978. He later rejoined the band in 1993.)
- Later, Bea Arthur, who plays a bartender in the Mos Eisley cantina, sings "Good Night, But Not Goodbye" to the same set of aliens that were seen in the Cantina in Star Wars, including, as the back-up musicians, the Cantina's resident group, Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes.
- 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 title.
Harvey Korman provides comedy in three of the special's skits, including the cantina skit with Bea Arthur where he plays a barfly who drinks through a hole in the top of his head. He also performs two solo routines: one as Chef Gormanda, 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 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 Chewie's 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.
The high point of the special is generally considered to be the animated segment known as "The Faithful Wookiee", which was produced by Toronto animation firm Nelvana Ltd.. Nelvana would later produce Droids and Ewoks, two Saturday-morning series based on the Star Wars franchise for Lucasfilm in the mid-1980s. The music and sound effects are derived from the film, along with the vocal talents of the main cast from the film. The cartoon introduces Boba Fett voiced by Don Francks.
Thirty years later in 2007, Hasbro released a Boba Fett action figure, using the likeness from the animated cartoon and titled "Boba Fett (Animated Debut)".
The Holiday Special also includes a circus-style acrobatics routine that includes uneven bars and juggling. All the acts were loosely linked together with material which involves the Wookiees' preparation for Life Day, Han and Chewie's attempt to evade the Imperials and make it to Chewie's family and the Imperial garrison's search for rebels.
Versions and availability today
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 newsbreaks, the most notable news item was the sentencing of William Kampiles. One such recording from WCBS-TV in New York City featured anchor Rolland Smith teasing a story on "fighting the frizzies" for that night's 11 p.m. news, an ID which itself has gained popularity over the years on the Internet and television shows such as South Park.
It soon became a cult classic among Star Wars fans. While originally shared or sold as a bootleg video at conventions or outlets such as eBay, peer-to-peer file sharing networks have made the special more widely available to fans curious to see 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 special's 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 would get an official home video release as an Easter Egg on the 2011 Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray set and therefore the only portion of the Holiday Special officially released in any home video format.
Canonicity of the special
Since The Star Wars Holiday Special was broadcast, it has received an extreme amount of criticism and enmity by fans, official sources and George Lucas himself, who does not consider the special to be canon. Despite the relative unpopularity of the special, those at Lucasfilm responsible for licensing maintained its status as part of the continuity. As a result, from 1978 to 2014, most elements of The Star Wars Holiday Special fell under the C-canon — the classification given to Star Wars books, comics and games that have been officially licensed.
This was clarified in 2007 by Leland Chee, who maintains Lucasfilm's 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 referenced in other works, such as Life Day and Chewbacca's family members, in the C-canon. He stated that elements not subsequently referenced were given the lower rank of S-canon. Chee also confirmed that Leslie Schofield appears in The Star Wars Holiday Special as an unnamed character 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 Star Wars Customizable Card Game) to question whether Bast's death aboard the Death Star was genuine.
After Lucasfilm was acquired by The Walt Disney Company, the letter designations were retired. Most works previously under the C-canon, including all Star Wars novels written before that point, were removed from the canon and placed under the Star Wars Legends banner instead. Despite its absence from the relevant press releases, this was widely interpreted as applying to The Star Wars Holiday Special as well. This was partially negated in a 2015 interview with J. J. Abrams.
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 Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith respectively. Apart from this, more specific references to The Star Wars Holiday Special have been made including:
ReferencesStar Wars Holiday Special Wikipedia
Star Wars Holiday Special IMDb Star Wars Holiday Special themoviedb.org