The holidays are here. Disney just announced a slew of upcoming Star Wars projects. And Boba Fett recently made his long-awaited on-screen return in The Mandalorian. So let’s go back to where it all began. The first Star Wars spinoff. Boba Fett’s debut. Yep. It’s time to revisit the much reviled 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.
This was a mistake.
Before Star Wars was a cultural institution or an industry unto itself, it was simply a film. The Holiday Special was the first attempt at expanding that universe. And it was a miserable failure.
Introducing our cast of familiar rebels, the first sign that things are off is that the narrator informs viewers that R2D2 will be played by itself. Also Golden Girls and Maude star Bea Arthur is credited as “Beatrice,” which seems oddly formal.
The premise of the special is that Chewbacca is trying to get home to his family in time to celebrate Life Day. This takes the form of a variety show, where the ‘bacca-familias groan and hiss at each other while holograms of Jefferson Starship perform space ballads. It is truly maddening.
Chewbacca’s family includes his wife, Malla; father, Itchy; and son, Lumpy. Their presentation is an affront to all that is good and right in the world. A mockery of human form. A grim melding of beast, man, and pathos. I’m simply thankful that they didn’t give Chewbacca’s wife Wookiee breasts.
With brief appearances from Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo, our major human player is the shopkeep and friend of the family played by Art Carney. Carney first appears trying to appease a curt Imperial officer pacing around his store. This scene peters out as Carney sells the officer a “groomer,” an oblong scrubber which can apparently be used to clean the entire body, including the mouth and eyes. This is horror.
Chewbacca’s return home becomes even more imperiled as the Empire declares martial law and sets up a blockade around the planet. If only Qui-Gon Jinn were around to negotiate the opening of trade routes and be sliced in half.
Carney arrives at Chewbacca’s home bearing gifts. He awesomely says, “I love to make a Wookiee happy” and then solicits a kiss from Chewbacca’s wife in exchange for a present. We are informed that the two are “old friends.” I wonder if Chewbacca has been made cuckold during his long absences on smuggling runs. This is what the Holiday Special does to the mind.
Stormtroopers arrive at Chewbacca’s home in search of Rebel forces. Carney manages to briefly distract an officer with a holographic performance by Jefferson Starship. It’s a bold gambit, but it also accomplishes nothing.
Despite George Lucas publicly voicing his desire to destroy every available copy of the Holiday Special, it does feature the initial appearance of one of Star Wars’ most popular characters: galactic bounty hunter Boba Fett.
Recently resurrected in the second season of The Mandalorian, Fett appears on the Holiday Special as ineffective as ever. At least here he manages not to haphazardly careen into the mouth of a Sarlacc pit.
The animated short introducing Fett is hyper stylized and actually looks pretty good considering what surrounds it. Following Luke and the droids as they attempt to see why the Millennium Falcon has gone rogue, their journey begins with Luke shooting a dinosaur with his ray gun. Fett appears riding an even larger dinosaur, so we’re off to a good start.
Fett leads our heroes to the Falcon, where they discover that Han has been infected with a sleeping virus. Earning the rebels’ trust, Fett tracks down the cure to the illness. But then we get a twist: Fett is working for the Empire.
During a brief video call with Darth Vader, we learn that Fett plans to befriend the rebels in order to learn the location of their home base. Vader describes Fett as the best bounty hunter in the galaxy, which is our first entry into Boba Fett’s Big Book of Tell, Don’t Show.
For obvious reasons, Fett’s plan to utilize his greatest weapon, friendship, fails to work. The droids intercept his call to Vader. Fett is revealed as a spy.
His cover blown, Fett just leaves. That’s it.
Instead of shooting them all with his blaster. Or flamethrowering them all. Or hitting them with a missile. Or activating a thermal detonator. The galaxy’s greatest bounty hunter just dips. Cool.
Despite including a cantina scene where Beatrice Arthur pours alcohol into the cloaca atop Harvey Korman’s skull with one of those old plastic Kool-Aid pitchers, the Holiday Special ends on a bit of an uneventful note. Lumpy manages to dupe the Imperial guards into returning to their base, leaving behind a lone stormtrooper in case Chewbacca and Han Solo arrive.
Of course, this happens, and the stormtrooper manages to immediately fall over a railing to his death on the forest floor. This is incredible because this is the only structure in the entire galaxy with a railing, yet this trooper still manages to fall prey to gravity.
Han and Chewie greet their Wookiee family, and the special ends with Leia singing the worst song you’ve ever heard about a tree.
Despite, or maybe because of, its unquestionable awfulness, the Star Wars Holiday Special is interesting to consider in the larger Star Wars canon. As the first attempt at a Star Wars spinoff, it is a complete failure. But unlike every contemporary Star Wars production, there is no debate or politicking about it.
It’s just a dumb, bad thing. Immune from any meaningful analysis. And in that way, the Holiday Special is somewhat refreshing.
It’s a reminder that Star Wars can exist beyond all the blind devotion, heated debate, and corporate doctrine. And if that isn’t a holiday lesson, I don’t know what is.
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