Thirty-seven years ago today, CBS aired the two-hour-long Star Wars Holiday Special, a bizarre TV movie-variety-show hybrid about Chewbacca trying to get home for Life Day, which is essentially Wookiee Christmas. It features guest appearances from Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Bea Arthur, and Harvey Korman.
The special was an unmitigated disaster, and was never aired again, nor given a sequel. A tremendous amount of the movie centers on Chewbacca’s family, and none of the Wookiees are subtitled, which means there’s about 10 minutes of the show that’s just grunting sounds. The plot is remarkably hard to follow. It’s hard to pick a lowlight, but Carroll doing a sort of holographic soft porn routine for Chewie’s dad, Itchy, is especially uncomfortable.
Pretty much everyone involved with the project hated it instantly. Bruce Vilanch—a USC classmate of Lucas’ who was originally one of the writers—quit midway through. Carrie Fisher was given a copy from Lucas in return for doing DVD commentaries; she wanted it so she could play it at parties, to make people leave. Lucas himself said that if he had a sledgehammer, he would “track down every copy of that show and smash it.” Harrison Ford said he didn’t remember making it, until Conan O’Brien played it for him in front of a studio audience.
The Star Wars Holiday Special was probably best summed up A.V. Club contributor Nathan Rabin, who described it as being “written and directed by a sentient bag of cocaine.”
Not people on cocaine, mind you, but powerful stimulants that somehow came to life, got an agent, and transcribed the entire script on a three-day jag, ranting, like Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights, “The whole thing will take place on the Wookiee planet, right? And it’ll be about Christmas. No, Hanukkah. No, Life Day! We’ll make up a holiday just for this. And the Wookiees, we don’t know what they’re saying, but other people do! And Princess Leia will sing a song and Bea Arthur will be there, but she’ll be, like, doing a cabaret number, like, downbeat and creepy and melancholy, and Jefferson Starship will show up—I’ll figure out why later—and there’ll be an erotic interlude involving Diahann Carroll and Chewbacca’s really horny dad, and Luke Skywalker will be there, and Darth Vader, and a cartoon! There will also be a cartoon and did I mention Jefferson Starship? And we’ll get Harvey Korman and Art Carney. Oh, it’ll be—what was I talking about just then?”
Thankfully for all of us, and unfortunately for the cast and crew, Lucas’ sledgehammer plan didn’t work. The film has since been transferred onto the internet, where we will be able to enjoy it forever.