If you're George Lucas, stop reading immediately.
The Star Wars Holiday Special was a two-hour CBS television special set in the Star Wars galaxy that was broadcast on November 17, 1978. Hugely anticipated, it was so poorly received that it has never been re-aired. Lucasfilm has spent the intervening years doing their best to pretend it never happened.
The main storyline of the film, set in 0 ABY (shortly after the original film), takes place on the Wookiee home planet of "Kazook". Besides cameos from Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and Luke that appear to have been wrung out of the actors at gunpoint, the special introduces three members of Chewie's family: his father Itchy, his wife Malla, and his son Lumpy, played by Patty Maloney.
Want to know more about the rich planetary culture of these proud creatures, starting with why they're mostly named after embarrassing incidents at the frat house? Too bad, they all speak only Shyriiwook. You know, the whining, moaning, growling, and barking that only Han Solo could understand in the movies? The first 10-15 minutes of the special is conducted entirely in those. There are no subtitles whatsoever.
The basic idea linking the segments together is that Chewie is trying to get home for the big Wookiee holiday, Life Day. During the course of the film, we get updates from the Millennium Falcon as a seriously-bored Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew race for "Kazook" space. The catch is that they may not make it in time as they're being pursued by agents of the Galactic Empire, who are also searching the planet for Rebel agents. A couple of agents show up to search Chewie's house, leading to about 10 whole seconds of actual suspense. And a random act of violence against a stuffed animal.
For the rest of the running time, we're given insight into the proud rich Wookiee tradition of watching 1970s-style Earth TV:
- Itchy gets off on what can only be described as a VR porn disc starring Diahann Carroll. Provided to him by Saun Dann, a trader played by Art Carney!
- Malla watches a cooking show starring a multi-armed and crossdressing Harvey Korman.
- Lumpy watches a cartoon, which is actually not too bad. (Despite George Lucas' best efforts to disregard the Holiday Special's existence, this clip became included among the bonus features of the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-Ray.)
- Bea Arthur does a musical segment from her cantina on Tatooine -- the very same cantina seen in A New Hope.
- Lumpy watches the instruction disc for assembling a transmitter. Every step, from start to finish, is read by a robot-impersonating Harvey Korman. Not a robot impersonating Harvey Korman, mind you -- although that might have turned out better.
- A musical number by rock band Jefferson Starship shows up during the agents' search.
The Holiday Special is important, at least to serious fans, for being the first film-length Star Wars story to appear following the release of Episode IV, as well as showing an expanded look at parts of the established universe. The program is considered Canon with regards to Chewie's family, including the celebration of Life Day. We also get some vague insight into the Blockade of Kashyyyk (not mentioned in the films, but important to the Expanded Universe) plus a few other locales, such as a water planet known as Panna. And it's the first time that the main characters get to visit Kashyyyk, though this is later disregarded when Leia goes there during The Thrawn Trilogy and acts like it's her first time seeing it.
The animated segment, which officially introduces bounty hunter Boba Fett — and thus served as a mini-preview for The Empire Strikes Back — was at least decent, and is likewise considered canon (it was animated by world-respected Nelvana Studios, who went on to handle the kiddie series Droids and Ewoks). This fact alone has stayed the hand of many a would-be tape burner. The music is likewise OK, thanks to John Williams. The special is also notable for being one of the first efforts by young makeup artist Stan Winston, who later skyrocketed to fame by creating The Terminator and the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park.
For the most part, though, it's legendary for its badness. The entire vast, complicated Star Wars mythos is reduced to a typical 1970s variety hour — rock-bottom production values, groan-worthy "humor," and then-hot celebrities. Besides everything else, it's pretty disturbing seeing Itchy going gaga over Carroll in what's clearly supposed to be a kiddie funfest.
If you care to, the best way to watch The Star Wars Holiday Special is with several Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters or your local planetary equivalent. If you would first like to have an idea of what you're getting into in relative comfort, I-Mockery.com has published a three-page synopsis with accompanying animated GIFs of scenes here. Watching it with the Riff Trax commentary helps ease the pain as well, although it requires a certain video version found on the Internet... but for your own good, stay away from this.
Finding copies of the special on a legal basis is downright impossible, as George Lucas will ensure it won't be released on DVD as long as he lives... however apparently looks the other way when it shows up on certain video sites. The special is regularly brought up during the month of December on Wrestlecrap, reviewed by a fellow Troper here.
- Acting for Two: More like acting for too many — practically half the characters are played by Harvey Korman.
- Actor Allusion: Art Carney's excessive noodling with a device in exactly the same way Ed Norton did in The Honeymooners, complete with an Imperial Guard yelling, "Will you just get on with it?!" in the same way as Ralph Kramden.
Kevin: It's just not the same without a fat man threatening violence.
- Camp: And not the good kind, sadly, managing to scrape together the absolute worst of the variety show format and none of the good elements.
- Broad Strokes: While George Lucas is doing his best to make sure nobody knows it was made, many elements are accepted in canon... but with the understanding that they happened during something that wasn't a crappy variety show.
- Canon Immigrant:
- Yes, that's still really Chewbacca's family. However the official canon sources, trying desperately to put a positive spin on things, turn the names given here into nicknames, along the same lines as 'Chewie' . Not that it helps.
- Bea Arthur's character has actually been used in some Star Wars books, most recently helping to free slaves in Allies.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, the Wookiee homes are faithful to Holiday Special, albeit Darker and Edgier.
- None other than Boba Fett himself, appearing in animated form two years before showing up in 'Empire'.
- Cantina Owner: Bea Arthur, in what is generally considered the only remotely redeeming live-action scene of the entire two-hour monstrosity.
- Christmas Special: Technically a Christmas special, though the word "Christmas" is not used in the title and the show focuses around a fictional holiday instead. For that record, it aired before American Thanksgiving.
- Coke-Guided Amnesia: Carrie Fisher has gone on record several times saying that she has absolutely no memory of ever taking part in this special. Harrison Ford claims the same thing, although he doesn't have a known substance-abuse problem as an excuse.
- Colbert Bump: Various online personalities and reviewers have taken a look into it over the years (usually as part of a Christmas Episode), such as JonTron and The Cinema Snob. This has helped guarantee that the Special remains in the public consciousness for the foreseeable future, despite the wishes of anyone involved in making said Special.
- Creator Backlash: Even though George Lucas had no direct involvement with this special, he still hates it. Understandably.
- Crossdresser: Harvey Korman.
- Ugly And Cacophonic: Lumpy.
- Dastardly Whiplash: Luke is the only character who trusts Boba despite this. What an Idiot!.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Chewbacca's father Itchy seems to be masturbating to Diahann Caroll using a virtual-reality helmet.
- Deadpan Snarker: Bea Arthur, alone of the cast. Which is saying something when Han Solo is also around.
- Dude Looks Like a Lady: An extremely unfortunate side effect of the makeup job used to conceal Mark Hamill's scars from his recent car accident. Did they really need to get mascara involved? (In canon, the scars would be explained by the Wampa attack in The Empire Strikes Back, but that doesn't happen until after this special.)
Mike: What, is he getting ready for a Kabuki play? What's with all the makeup?
- Early-Bird Cameo: Boba Fett.
- Evil Is Petty: The Empire has nothing better to do than shutting a bar down. Riiiiiiight...
- It was a planet-wide curfew on Tattooine due to "rebel activity". However, ripping the head off a toy bantha was petty.
- As was strongarming a groomer by Lord Helmet from Saun Dann.
- Fictional Holiday: The Wookiees' Life Day. Which is now considered canon, despite the huge section of the fandom that wishes otherwise.
- Flash Back Back Back: Chewbacca at the end. Riff Trax notes that none of his memories are relevant to his family.
- For the Evulz: While searching the house for Chewie, the Stormtroopers make sure to go out of their way to completely trash Lumpy's room for no reason other than to be dicks. Keep in mind that this was long before they were clones with no free will.
- Also, the only possible reason they close Bea Arthur's cantina.
- The executives when they mandated the script rewrite.
- Informed Ability: Darth Vader tells Boba Fett he's "the best bounty hunter in the galaxy," but he does nothing in the short, and if Luke hadn't been Too Dumb to Live he'd have noticed Boba's Dastardly Whiplash behavior.
- Its Pronounced Tropay: For some reason, the Imperial Guard calls Kashyyyk "Kazook". Riff Trax doesn't fail to notice this.
- Kick the Dog: The Imperial trooper ripping Lumpy's stuffed bantha's head off.
- Notable Original Music: Diahann Carroll, Jefferson Starship, Bea Arthur, and Carrie Fisher singing while high!
- Obviously Evil: Boba Fett. He's constantly one step away from breaking out into evil laughter, and yet Luke just blindly trusts him.
- Off-Model: The character designs in the animated segment are all over the place, especially for the human characters. Han in particular looks like somebody smashed him in the face with a shovel.
Bill: Han! All the blood ran to your chin!
- Old Shame: Harrison "Stone-Face" Ford: So embarrassed, he could barely keep from fleeing the room when Conan O'Brien surprised him with a clip.
- Bea Arthur: Averted.
"It was a wonderful time, but I had no idea it was even a part of the whole Star Wars thing... It's odd. I've gotten so many letters and requests for autographed photos from that thing. I just remember singing to a bunch of people with funny heads."
- Overly Long Gag:
- "Stir, whip, stir, whip, whip, whip, stir, whip, stir, whip..."
- Lumpy assembling a transmitter with the aid of an instructional video, which we see in its entirety. The "joke" is that Korman, as a robot showing how to assemble the thing, gradually runs out of power and collapses at its conclusion. Doesn't help.
- "Stir, whip, stir, whip, whip, whip, stir, whip, stir, whip..."
- Police State: Kashyyyk is ruled by The Empire as one, which is why every home has a two way view screen. The Wookiees have learned to subvert the tech to their own needs, and have their own hidden screens.
- Porn Stache: "Lord Helmet" sports one.
- One thing the Rifftrax crew failed to note, however, was Lord Helmet's astonishing resemblance to riffer Kevin Murphy. Seriously, it could have been Kevin's twin.
- Railing Kill: A Stormtrooper goes through the rail of the Wookiee treehouse with the Wilhelm Scream, no less! Appropriate, given that the show's choreographer was none other than David "Space Mutiny" Winters.
- Ransacked Room: Lumpy's room after the Stormtroopers "search" it.
- Recycled in Space: The segment with Bea Arthur in the cantina is Casablanca ON TATOOINE!
- Rubber Forehead Aliens: Dear God, yes. Especially in the cantina.
- Running Gag: Every time Art Carney's character starts getting annoying, a Stormtrooper shuts him up by pointing a gun straight in his face. Possibly the only intentional laugh to be had.
- Sesame Street Cred: Jefferson Starship.
- The Seventies: A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... the denizens are dressing in pure 1970s fashion.
- Show Within a Show: We see the cartoon because Lumpy's watching it. Now, why or how there would be cartoons about Rebels that depict the Empire as the bad guys, and evidently also depict actual and recent events... Ah, screw it — that's probably the least nonsensical thing in the special. That aside, characters watching TV or what have you makes up the meat of the special. Malla watches her cooking show, Itchy watches Diahann Carrol go mad, the Imperial inspector watches the Jefferson Starship video, Lumpy watches his cartoon and an instructional video, and everyone watches Bea Arthur try to clear out the cantina.
- Sixth Ranger Traitor: Boba Fett. Go figure.
- Space Clothes: Harvey Korman's are particularly notable... and terrifying.
- Stalker with a Crush: Krelman, sort of. He backs off when he realizes Ackmina has no romantic interest in him, but reappears when he realizes that she, too, is lonely.
- Stock Footage: All of the space battles are lifted straight from the first movie. Darth Vader's whole appearance in the special is a brief Deleted Scene from A New Hope with his one line of dialogue redubbed. This, along with the different context, "cleverly" changes it so that he and an Imperial officer are talking about locating Han and Chewbacca rather than C-3PO and R2-D2. Also, said officer died on the Death Star, resulting in this. What's even more hilarious is how not-Bast's vocals don't match up with his lip movements.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: Mark Hamill, during the scene where Luke communicates with Malla over the TV screens. While he blinks several times, the way he gazes directly into the camera, wearing heavy makeup and mascara gives him the illusion of being a stoned model.
- Too Dumb to Live: The Stormtroopers are pretty stupid in here, even by Stormtrooper standards. Particularly Egregious is when Han tricks a Stormtrooper into jumping over a balcony to his death by simply pretending to reach for a gun.
- Uncanny Valley Makeup: Hamill's makeup, which as noted was supposed to cover up scars, ends up making him look more like a corpse prepared for the wake.
- The Unintelligible: Seriously, would it really have blown the budget to provide subtitles for the Wookiees?
- Unintentional Period Piece: Let's just say this part of the Star Wars saga hasn't aged nearly as well as the films. Basically, if you ever doubted that Star Wars came out in The Seventies...this should prove it. Conclusively. It also helps that the recorded copies of the Special that have popped up online include the commercial breaks and even a news report in all their 70s glory.
- Unusual Euphemism: The VR machine described by Art Carney as "Wow!" turns out to be a porn video.
- Verbal Tic: In the animated segment, Boba Fett has the odd habit of ending most of his sentences with "friend."
- Video Phone: Chewbacca's family uses one of these hidden in some kind of dresser to contact the other characters associated with the Rebel Alliance--Luke and R2-D2, Leia and C-3PO, etc.--to ask about Chewie and Han Solo's whereabouts. In a separate instance, Chewie's wife, Mala, contacts Art Carney with a device that doubles as a television which Carney's character refers to as a "wall screen."
- What Could Have Been: The special was supposed to segue into The Empire Strikes Back, but unfortunately the only part of the special that got it right was the animated segment.
- What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: The Stormtroopers ransacking Lumpy's room.
Mike: Which of these phrases doesn't belong? "Luke, I Am Your Father!", "Let the hate flow through you!", "Go clean up your room!"
- What Do You Mean It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: One would be forgiven for thinking that it was made on drugs because 70s. Though it doesn't help that Carrie Fisher was known to have been high in it.
- Wilhelm Scream: The Stormtrooper who falls over the railing.
- With Lyrics: Leia's Life Day carol, sung by a visibly strung-out Carrie Fisher over the closing credits, is the main Star Wars theme with a bunch of words shoehorned in.
- Similarly, the song Bea Arthur sings is a slowed-down version of the song played by Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes, with lyrics.
- Wretched Hive: One of the weirdest cases in which the Trope Namer is averted! No scum. No villainy. Only Bea and Krelman.
- One could easily imagine the room where this thing was written to be one...
- You Mean "Xmas": According to Wookieepedia, even George Lucas has referred to The Star Wars Holiday Special as "the Christmas special." Oddly enough, though, it aired in mid-November.