Hidden Corners of History - The Star Wars Holiday Special


Jim Heald

The Ashland Beacon


A long, long time ago in a galaxy far away something went awry. It was a good idea built upon one of the most successful movie releases of 1977. The end result, however, was a disappointment to its television viewing audience and entertainment critics. The series creator was also disappointed, making sure it was never again rebroadcast or officially distributed for home viewing.

   This was the fate of the Star Wars Holiday Special, directed by Steve Binder for CBS and broadcast in 1978 in time for Thanksgiving. It was the first made-for-television movie set in the Star Wars universe.

   George Lucas wanted to introduce the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk, where Chewbacca, the co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon, lived with his father, wife, and son. Following the destruction of the Death Star at the Battle of Yavin Four, the Empire issued orders to round up members of the Rebel Alliance. The story focuses on the family as they await the return of Chewie for the Life Day celebration.

   While the main story arc followed the Wookiees as they prepared for Life Day, additional material was produced that included musical performances by Diahann Carroll and Jefferson Starship. The Starship performance was the last gathering of the group lineup as Marty Balin left the band. He would rejoin Starship in 1993. Carrie Fisher also performed a song at the end of the program.

   Harvey Korman made three appearances during the program. As a four-armed alien chef, he prepared a dish so rapidly that Malla, Chewie's wife, was not able to keep up with him. He later performed as a droid and later teamed with Bea Arthur for a skit at the Mos Eisley cantina.

   Art Carney, remembered for his role as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, was given a substantial role as a trader and member of the Rebel Alliance who helps Chewie's family.

   An animated segment features an adventure with Chewie, Han, and Luke as they have their first encounter with the bounty hunter known as Boba Fett. This cartoon is considered to be the high point of the otherwise unremarkable program.

   The introduction of Fett cements the events of the Star Wars Holiday Special into second-tier canon in the storyline as it connects A New Hope with The Empire Strikes Back. Fett appears in several scenes in the fifth installment of the story, working a deal with Darth Vader to claim Han and return him to Jabba the Hutt for a reward.

   While reviews of the Star Wars Holiday Special were savage, the cast members were not particularly kind to it, either. Several stated that they had not watched the movie, including Harrison Ford. Carrie Fisher said that it was something she could use at parties for when she was ready for guests to leave. George Lucas stated in a May 2005 interview with R. Burke from the StaticMultimedia website that allowing the producers to use his characters for the project "probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but you learn from those experiences."

   Over the years the Star Wars Holiday Special has found distribution through bootlegging copies from VHS tapes. For his White and Nerdy video "Weird Al" Yankovic walks through an alley to meet his contact. After he passes the money to him Al is given a package in a brown wrapper. When it is opened it is revealed to be a bootleg of the Star Wars Holiday Special. Bootlegs have also been passed around at conventions and shared through file-sharing sites. One channel on YouTube features a complete and uncut special while other channels feature music videos or other clips.