On November 17, 1978, more than a year after Star Wars changed the game in the film industry, CBS aired a special that would also have a significant impact. The Star Wars Holiday Special was so poorly received by critics and Star Wars fans that it only aired once on national television, a planned Kenner toy line for the special was axed shortly after, and Lucasfilm tried to pretend like it never existed. But just like the uninvited relative who always finds their way to the family celebration, The Star Wars Holiday Special found a way to be seen long after the original air date. Through bootleg VHS copies to now complete uploads online, the special is available to anyone ready and willing to watch.
Unbelievably, there is an overall story to The Star Wars Holiday Special, which takes place after the events of A New Hope. Chewbacca and Han Solo attempt to visit Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day but are pursued by agents of the Galactic Empire searching for members of the Rebel Alliance on the planet. We meet Chewbacca’s family: his father Itchy, his wife Malla, and his son Lumpy. And the rest of the main Star Wars characters appear, including Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader, and Princess Leia. The Special consists of skits and musical numbers, with a cartoon featuring Boba Fett thrown in the middle.
It is fitting that the special was intended to be a yearly thing but bombed and was promptly swept under the rug by network affiliates and Lucasfilm. Now, it is a yearly event for households who love to put themselves through various degrees of cringe.
The Ghost of Holiday Specials Past
The Star Wars Holiday Special has since become somewhat of a cult classic. One could even say it was ahead of its time: capitalizing on a brand by inserting that brand into the holidays. There were a lot of misses, but the hits (namely Boba Fett and Life Day) have become an important part of Disney’s merchandising empire. Every Star Wars fan should watch the Holiday Special in full once, but here are my picks for what to skip, what is a must-watch, and what might be a wild card.
What to Skip: This Minute Now (Or The One Where Diahann Carroll seduces Itchy the Wookiee)
100% the most cringe-worthy part of The Star Wars Holiday Special, and that I have to say that about anything related to Diahann Carroll is crazy. Grandpa Itchy gets a VR set for Life Day that includes a virtual woman (Carroll) trying to seduce him through song. It is mostly a Diahann Carroll music video, but the context is so cringe-inducing that no amount of time would have been fast enough to end this torture.
Must Watch: The Faithful Wookiee (Or The One Where No One Remembers the Wookiee because Boba Fett)
This is the most notable product of the Holiday Special as it is the first appearance of Boba Fett, a character who is getting demystified every year and will now be starring in his own Disney Plus series. But back then, it was just a cool new character that would go on to explode in popularity in The Empire Strikes Back less than a year later. Star Wars animation has since come a long way, but this is also the first animated Star Wars content, adding to its must-watch factor. I am also quite sure that this is the only thing from the Holiday Special that George Lucas is ok with existing. And that it is the only Holiday Special content on Disney Plus proves that Lucasfilm feels the same.
Wild Card: Bea Arthur’s Good Night But Not Goodbye (Or The One with the Cantina Blues Remix)
After another cringe-worthy skit involving comedian Harvey Korman flirting with Mos Eisley Cantina bartender Ackmena (Bea Arthur), an Imperial decree of a curfew forces an early closure of the Cantina. To help ease the alien patrons on their way, Arthur sings “Goodnight, But Not Goodbye,” a song set to the classic Cantina tune playing in A New Hope. I appreciate when playful fun is had in the face of darkness (this does take place during the Reign of the Empire after all), but others might find it more on the corny side. Beware that there is a possibility the song will get stuck in your head.
If you want a spectrum of the best and worst The Star Wars Holiday Special has to offer, you could watch all three of these but challenge yourself and see if you can sit through it all. The Star Wars Holiday Special can be found online and comes to just over 1.5 hours.
The Ghost of Holiday Specials Present: The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special
Fast forward to 2020 and we have a vastly different celebration of Star Wars. Like the 1978 Holiday Special, this LEGO story lies somewhere in the “canon adjacent” space and the characters are celebrating Life Day, but those are the only similarities. The LEGO special is a traditional story post The Rise of Skywalker and finds Rey taking on the mantle of a Jedi Master trying to train Finn. She has no guidance but luckily finds herself traveling back to Star Wars past to learn a few things from other Jedi while trying to avoid Darth Vader and Kylo Ren. The special is not as long, coming in at a cool, crisp 45 minutes, and has a high rewatchability factor. Unfortunately, this is not as readily available to everyone as the 1978 Holiday Special (exclusivity belongs to Disney Plus), but Disney should consider giving airtime on their networks in the US and affiliates internationally. If you can watch it, The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is a great palette cleanser.
The legacy of The Star Wars Holiday Special is still playing out, but it has become a tradition in many households and has brought more holiday canon material to Star Wars. Life Day Treasury: Holiday Stories from a Galaxy Far, Far Away was recently released in time for the unofficial holiday, Life Day (November 17). Official Life Day merchandise made its way into Galaxy’s Edge this year and included clothing, light-up orbs, limited edition pins, and Starbucks mugs. Next year there will be more merchandise and likely Life Day decorations in the Galactic Hotel Starcruiser at Disney World. Eventually, children might not even realize that the holiday came from an infamous Holiday Special way back in 1978. But the memory will live on for those who seek a little cringe with their holiday spirit.