- "Well, I know that George Lucas doesn't like it at all—when I was working on The Illustrated Star Wars Universe, he told me that he would be happy if every copy could be tracked down and burned..."
- ―Kevin J. Anderson
The Star Wars Holiday Special is a 1978 TV special based on a story by George Lucas. The main storyline of the film transpires on the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk. Chewbacca and Han Solo visit the planet to celebrate the Wookiee holiday Life Day with his family, which includes his wife Malla, his son Lumpy, and his father Itchy. As Chewbacca and Han are known Rebel agents, they are pursued by the Galactic Empire, who in the process invade Chewbacca's household. The plot is strung together by a series of musical numbers, celebrity appearances, and other variety-show acts, including songs and comedy routines by such 1970s celebrities as Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur.
Lucas's involvement with the special was limited, and he was unhappy with the final product. As a result, it has never been re-aired in the US or officially released on home video, but has been widely bootlegged by fans. Despite its infamy, the special is notable for being the first film-length Star Wars story to appear following the release of the original film, for featuring cameos by all of that film's major cast (although some were portrayed using archive footage), and for introducing the character Boba Fett.
Aboard the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca and Han Solo are on their way to Kashyyyk to be with Chewbacca's family for Life Day, a Wookiee holiday. After departing Tatooine, the pair find themselves being chased by two Star Destroyers. Han wants to turn back, but Chewbacca convinces him to move forward, and they jump to hyperspace.
On Kashyyyk, Chewbacca's family are anxiously awaiting and preparing for his return. Itchy is carving an X-wing toy for Lumpy, Malla is working in the kitchen, and Lumpy is playing with an already-complete X-wing toy. On the table, Malla has prepared a bowl of Wookiee-ookiees. Lumpy tries to sneak one before dinner, but Malla catches him and asks him to take out the day's garbage. Lumpy sets the trash down outside, and climbs up on the railing to walk along it.
Back inside the house, Malla and Itchy are worried, as Chewbacca has not arrived yet. Malla takes down a picture of Chewbacca and Itchy notices her worries. He reassures her that Chewbacca is safe, and she then returns the picture. Lumpy comes back into the house, and Itchy reaches into a cabinet and gets down an activity capsule. He shows it to Lumpy. Malla, however, sees this and objects. Itchy convinces her otherwise, and inserts the capsule into a round table-machine. After Itchy switches on the device, Lumpy sits down and begins to view a computer-generated group of circus performers performing an act. At the conclusion of the performance, Lumpy applauds the acts, and switches the machine off. Malla then asks Lumpy to help wash the dishes.
Malla and Itchy begin to worry again. Malla uses a computer to run a search for any starships in the area. However, the computer returns no results. She switches on a hidden viewscreen and contacts Luke Skywalker, who is working on his X-wing starfighter with help from the droid R2-D2. Luke does not know what has happened and suggests that Han and Chewbacca probably stopped off somewhere, and would be there soon. He begins to have a few problems of his own when the part he is working on begins to emit steam. Seeing that he is busy, Malla shuts off the communication viewscreen.
Next, Malla contacts Saun Dann, a local Human trader on the planet. He is in the middle of a deal with an Imperial Navy trooper when Malla contacts him, so he must deal with the trooper first. Saun Dann suggests a few items, for which the guard expresses no interest. While the guard is distracted looking at items, Saun Dann speaks with Malla through a carefully-worded message that Han and Chewbacca are on their way, and should be arriving soon. However, he too does not know of their current whereabouts. He shuts off the viewscreen, and suggests a multi-functional groomer. The guard takes the item, giving Saun Dann nothing in return. Saun Dann has no choice but to let him take it, and he sarcastically says that he considers it a gift to the guard.
Meanwhile aboard a Star Destroyer, an Imperial officer informs Darth Vader that a blockade has been set up around Kashyyyk and a search has begun for the Rebels. Vader tells him to continue the search, even if it takes searching every household in the system.
Back on Kashyyyk, Malla is preparing the dinner for the night's feast. She turns on a viewscreen to view a cooking program with Gormaanda, a four-armed chef. Gormaanda gives instructions on how to prepare the Bantha rump. When she begins to speed up the process, Malla can't keep up and switches the viewscreen off.
In space, the Millennium Falcon approaches Kashyyyk. Unaware of the blockade, Chewbacca and Han are attacked by four TIE/LN starfighters. After taking out a few using the cockpit's remote controls, Han resorts to going down into the quad cannons to use them manually; Chewbacca takes the main controls.
On Kashyyyk, Itchy is resting in his chair while Malla is walking around. Suddenly, an Imperial officer announces on the viewscreen that a blockade has been set up around the planet, and that the Empire has declared martial law. Immediately after the announcement, they get a knock at the door. Frightened, Itchy goes to open it. To their relief, it is Saun Dann, who has brought each of them Life Day gifts. He gives Malla and Lumpy their presents first, and they go off to open them. Saun Dann then gives Itchy his present—a memory chip—which he inserts into Itchy's mind evaporator. Itchy watches with excitement as a human female sings a song.
At a Rebel base, Leia and the droid C-3PO are working on something. Malla contacts them via viewscreen to alert them that Chewbacca and Han haven't shown up. Leia asks if Malla is alone, and is relieved that Saun Dann is there to protect her. Malla switches off the viewscreen. Saun Dann says he smells "Wookiee-ookiees", and he and Malla go into the kitchen.
Back on the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca and Han are approaching Kashyyyk. Han notices the abundance of Imperials in the area, so they decide to land on the north side of the planet—a safe section area. He notes that this is far from the Wookiee household however, and will be a long walk. After a protest from Chewbacca, they decide to land as planned. As they enter the atmosphere of Kashyyyk, Lumpy hears the roaring of a ship. Everyone in the house gets excited, and run to the door. Malla opens the door to two stormtroopers holding their blaster pistols at her, with two Imperial officers behind them.
Malla roars, but the Imperials force their way in. The head officer checks the house for all residents, and finds that a male Wookiee is missing. He orders his men to do a full search of the house. The officers proceed to look through the house, nearly discovering the hidden communication device Malla uses to keep in contact with Luke. To try to distract the attention of the Imperials, Saun Dann suggests that he and Malla prepare some food for everyone. Saun Dann turns on Malla's gift—a music box—for one of the officers, and watches with the officer while Malla does the cooking.
A holographic band appears on the box, and sings a song. When the video finishes, the head officer orders the search to continue, and for the officer who viewed the music band to get back to work. Saun Dann leaves, as he believes he cannot help further. The head officer tells Malla to keep Lumpy busy while they search, so Lumpy sits down to watch a program on a viewscreen.
During a search for a talisman, the Millennium Falcon—piloted by Chewbacca and Han—crashes on a moon in the Panna system. At a rebel base, Leia, Luke, C-3PO, and R2-D2 are concerned that Han and Chewbacca haven't returned, so Luke and the droids take a Y-Wing to the Panna moon. Upon landing, they are attacked by a giant creature that begins eating part of the Y-wing; This prompts Luke to eject the cockpit from his craft. An armored man appears riding a larger creature, and proceeds to hit the other creature with a blaster bolt from his staff, causing it to flee. He introduces himself as Boba Fett, and suggests that he can help them. Luke drives toward the Millennium Falcon's crash site, during which C-3PO tells him not to be eager to trust Fett. Aboard the Millennium Falcon, Han has been infected by a sleeping virus caused by the talisman. Luke immediately contracts the virus as well. Fett and Chewbacca make their way into Panna City. It is occupied by Imperials, so Fett instructs Chewbacca to stay behind while he gets the serum. When he is away from Chewbacca, Fett contacts Darth Vader to inform him of the situation. Vader reveals that Fett is a notorious bounty hunter who is working for Vader in a plan to reveal the location of the Rebels.
Lumpy shouts out in horror at the events in the program. It alerts the main Imperial officer, who comes over to see what is wrong. Lumpy acts like nothing is wrong, and shuts off the cartoon when the officer approaches. He then resumes the program with C-3PO caring for Han and Luke. He and R2-D2 intercept the message between Vader and Fett on their viewscreen, and C-3PO says that they have to tell Luke. After evading the Imperials, Fett and Chewbacca return to the ship with the serum. After giving Han and Luke the serum, they recover and everyone learns of Fett's true allegiance. Boba ignites his jet pack, and blasts away, promising that he will meet them again. Everyone leaves the planet aboard the Millennium Falcon. Lumpy shuts off the monitor and applauds.
Upstairs, the Imperials search and ransack Lumpy's room. One rips the head off of Lumpy's stuffed bantha. Lumpy comes up after they have gone back downstairs. He is saddened by what they have done to his treasured toy, and tries to put its head back on. He lays it down on his bed and covers it with a blanket. Lumpy then opens the present Saun Dann gave him and puts in the instruction video, which teaches him how to assemble the device—a mini-transmitter. A humanoid described as an "Amorphiian Being from the system Amorphiia" appears on the video. The video's announcer explains that Amorphiian beings have bodies that will often temporarily stop functioning. Throughout the program, this Amorphiian does just that. After instructing Lumpy of the basics of the product, the Amorphiian shuts down completely and falls onto the floor. Lumpy shuts off the video.
Downstairs, while the Imperials are still searching, a video comes on the living room viewscreen. Its narrator describes it as "Life on Tatooine" and that it is "required viewing by all Imperial personnel", so all the Imperials in the house turn their attention to the viewscreen. At first, individuals are seen walking the streets of Mos Eisley. The focus then shifts to inside a cantina, where a band is playing and the patrons are drinking and conversing. The bartender—Ackmena—is in the process of serving drinks, when a humanoid walks in named Krelman. He seems very interested and attracted to her. Krelman offers her flowers and they begin to talk, but are interrupted by an Imperial announcement on the viewscreen; As part of their search for the Rebels, Tatooine is being put under a curfew by the Empire. The Imperial agent orders everyone to return to their homes immediately. Ackmena is shocked, and asks her customers to leave. When they all refuse, she suggests one more round of drinks for everyone, which she pays for herself. She then proceeds to usher them out by singing a song and dancing. Everyone eventually leaves except for Krelman, who again offers her flowers.
After the video finishes, Lumpy's plan goes into effect. The Imperials repeatedly get a call to "return to base". They decide to leave, but the head officer instructs one of the stormtroopers to stay behind. After the other Imperials leave, the stormtrooper still hears the radio call to "return to base". He immediately sees that something is wrong because there are no more comlinks around. He determines that the sound is coming from Lumpy's room upstairs. He runs upstairs, where he finds Lumpy speaking into the mini-transmitter that he had constructed earlier. The stormtrooper startles Lumpy, who jumps up. The stormtrooper grabs the box and smashes it on the ground. Lumpy runs down the stairs and out onto the deck, followed closely by the stormtrooper.
Lumpy and the stormtrooper arrive outside at the same time, just as Chewbacca and Han approach the door. Chewbacca growls and runs around the stormtrooper to protect Lumpy. The stormtrooper points his blaster at both of them. Secretly, Han is backing against the wall, ready to attack. The stormtrooper does not see him, and Han sneaks up and hits him. The two get ready to fight, but Han suddenly trips the stormtrooper, who breaks the railing and lets out the Wilhelm scream as he falls to his death in the trees below. Relieved, Han picks up Lumpy and hands him to his father.
They go inside, where Malla and Itchy are waiting. Han explains that he has taken care of the threat. Chewbacca and Han hug everyone. Malla asks Han to stay, but he says he has to get back to the Millennium Falcon before someone finds it. After saying his goodbyes, Han wishes everyone a happy Life Day and leaves. The family then hears yet another knock at the door. With his bowcaster ready to fire, Chewbacca opens the door to find Saun Dann with a bag in his hand. The same Imperial officer as before appears on a viewscreen, searching for the missing stormtrooper B4711. Saun Dann replies to the request, claiming that B4711 was left by the other officers; after they had left, B4711 had stolen a lot of food from his house and left without a trace. The story works, and the officer says he will send out a search party to find the missing stormtrooper. The officer disappears from the viewscreen, to everyone's relief. Before he goes, Saun Dann wishes the entire family a happy Life Day. The family then prepares to go the festival at the Tree of Life. They each take a crystal and gather them together above their heads.
The entire family—along with many other Wookiees—are next in space dressed in red robes, and are traveling toward a bright star. They arrive at the Tree of Life, where a group of Wookiees have gathered at the tree's base. Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 stand before the other Wookiees, and Luke, Leia, and Han soon join them. To begin the ceremony, Leia gives a short speech on the meaning of Life Day and sings a song in celebration, to the tune of the Star Wars theme. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Chewbacca remembers several of the group's adventures: when he first met Luke and Leia, when they all escaped the Death Star, when he played dejarik with R2-D2, and attending the award ceremony on Yavin 4 after he and Han had helped Luke destroy the Death Star. As he finishes reminiscing, the Wookiees begin to file out of the ceremony.
That night, Chewbacca, Malla, Lumpy, and Itchy sit at the family table, where they bow their heads and prepare to eat a Life Day meal.
- "I think he [George Lucas] wanted to make a sweet and sentimental vision of a holiday season and I think it evolved into something maudlin which was not what I thought his vision was."
- ―Leonard Ripps
Near the end of 1977, various Star Wars-themed variety segments—such as those on Donny and Marie and The Richard Pryor Show—had brought a surge in ticket sales for the original film, which was still in theaters. Additionally, Lucasfilm had been under pressure from various licensees with ideas for products, among them CBS, who suggested a full-length variety special. Amongst this climate, George Lucas became convinced that such a project would sustain interest in the franchise until the release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Publicity director Charles Lippincott told Vanity Fair in 2008, "We wanted something that was going to make us different in variety shows. We didn't want the same-old, same-old."
Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion were brought on as producers. However, the pair had to divide their time with a number of other projects in development, so they themselves hired other producers to assist, such as Ken and Mitzie Welch. Writers Leonard Ripps and Pat Proft— both of whom had previously worked with Smith-Hemion—met with Lucas for one day, during which the three worked to develop the story, which focused on Chewbacca trying to get home to his family for the Wookiee holiday of Life Day. (One of Lucas's discarded ideas for A New Hope was to begin the film in a Wookiee household; the main body of the film would have been presented as a story told to a Wookiee child by its parents. During this time, he also considered making films outside of the saga, one of which would have centered around Wookiees.) Lucas allowed the crew access to a large collection of his notes on Wookiee culture, which were developed for the original Star Wars film.
Director David Acomba showed Lucas the 1976 Nelvana film A Cosmic Christmas. Lucas liked Nelvana's style of animation, and asked them to work on a segment in the special. Clive A. Smith developed an eleven-minute story concept, which he presented to Lucas in early 1978. Lucas proceeded to work with Smith on streamlining the story, which introduced the character Boba Fett, who was modeled after Joe Johnston's sketches as well as Ben Burtt's VHS costume test. Like Smith-Hemon, Lucas attended a few subsequent production meetings but was busy with The Empire Strikes Back and other projects. In 2014, Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz commented on the situation: "It did start out to be a lot better [with a different script]. We had half a dozen meetings with the TV company that was making it. In the end, because of work on promoting Star Wars and working on the next film, we realized we had no time. So we just left it to them and just had the occasional meetings with them, provided them with access to props and the actors, and that was it."
Ripps and Proft wrote an outline and first draft based on Lucas's notes. Since the show was targeted at a family audience, they tried to avoid writing violence. The script was then given to Bruce Vilanch, who was unsure how to write for characters who do not speak a human language, believing that it would turn out to be "one long episode of Lassie." To offset this, Vilanch came up with many of the variety aspects of the special. (However, it was always intended to feature music of some sort as part of the story.) The character of Saun Dann was also created as a bridge to the audience, based on Lucas's early concept of Lando Calrissian as a trader on Kashyyyk. The final writers to work on the script were Ken and Mitzie Welch, who made major alternations. As Lucas later observed, "It just kept getting reworked and reworked, moving away into this bizarre land. They were trying to make one kind of thing and I was trying to make another, and it ended up being a weird hybrid between the two. I'm not sure either position would have worked on its own, but by combining them…" The early story treatment was completed in May 1978, and the teleplay was in its fourth draft by that September. The only known bit of material shot but deleted from the final film was an in-cartoon commercial during the animated segment. However, a scene was planned— but never shot— in which Luke Skywalker sings a song; Hamill claims to have vetoed the idea.
Stan Winston worked on Stuart Freeborn's Wookiee costumes, helping to improve the masks' facial abilities. Wookiee actors could be in these suits for only 20 minutes at a time. Ben Burtt created the Wookiee family sounds, of which a full hour were required. For the Malla and Itchy sounds, Burtt recorded at the Olympic Game Farm in Sequim, Washington, where he spent days trying to get the animals to vocalize. Malla's "voice" was based on recordings of black bears and Itchy's on grizzly bears. One of these sounds—a recording of a lion eating a cow's head—was later used for the 1979 film Alien. For the sounds of Lumpy, Burtt recorded a baby bear named Tarik at the San Jose Zoo. One of Chewbacca's vocalizations from the Holiday Special was later reused for The Empire Strikes Back, during the scene in which Han Solo is frozen in carbonite. The R2-D2 model built for the special was hollow shelled and operated by remote control. Early in pre-production, the special was considered as the start of a possible TV series. Because of this, the art department created more elaborate designs than would normally be made for a TV special. The sets were constructed on Stage 2 of the Burbank Studios. Department head Brian Bartholomew believed the Wookiee household set (which had been based on drawings by Ralph McQuarrie) to be good enough for an Emmy award, but never asked Lucas to enter it in the running.
Filming began in August 1978 under David Acomba, a friend of Lippincott and fellow USC schoolmate of Lucas's. The special was shot mostly on videotape on a budget of over $1 million. Acomba shot footage for three of the special's sequences—including the cantina sequence and the scene with Jefferson Starship; The cantina sequence took an entire day to film—from 6am one day to 6am the next. The costumed actors withstood heat, claustrophobia, and (for some) low oxygen intake. When Bea Arthur's son Daniel Saks visited the set, he saw “a nurse running around feeding oxygen into the various aliens to make sure they didn't pass out." Rick Baker, who had worked on the original Star Wars, again served as creature supervisor for the scene. Although many of the cantina creatures were reused from Star Wars, "Lion Man" and "Baboon Man" were created for the special. These two wore complicated makeup that took two and a half hours to apply. For Harvey Korman's scenes, he reportedly kept the cast and crew entertained and brought levity to the set. Acomba suggested then-unknown comedian Robin Williams for a role, but the Welches preferred to use established stars. Cher was the original choice to play Mermeia, but the part ultimately went to Diahann Carroll.
Due to Acomba's inexperience directing television and his difficulties working with Ken and Mitzie Welch, he departed the project partway through production. To make matters worse, much of the budget had been spent and (according to Gary Smith) the production was in danger of being cancelled. As a result of these difficulties, production shut down to find a replacement director. Gary Smith then asked Steve Binder, a former colleague, to step in as director. When Binder began shooting in September, he found himself on a project that was behind schedule and over-budget: “When I got called in, they had already started production and shut it down because they had spent all their budget and only shot a fourth of the show. So I came in as a kind of a fireman. I got the script on a Friday, and I started shooting on a Monday. When I saw the script, I saw the first 10 minutes with the Chewbacca family was just in subtitles. I thought, 'Uh-oh, we're gonna be in trouble.' But I had no say in changing anything at that point — I just had to get it shot.” Lucas gave Binder a "Wookiee bible," which contained all the information he had developed about the species.
Whereas Acomba had handled most of the variety segments, Binder was more involved with the scenes in the Wookiee household, as well as all the scenes with the original cast—many of whom were reluctant to participate. The Wookiee household was originally built as a full set. When Binder was hired, he removed a portion of the set in hopes of speeding up production. As with the actors in the cantina sequence, those in Wookiee suits had to take breaks every hour to get oxygen. Lumpy actress Patty Maloney lost a significant amount of weight as a result of her heavy costume and the heat. The ending celebration was filmed at an aircraft hangar. By that point in production, the project had run out of funds. As a result, the crew had to use relatively inexpensive materials to create the Life Day ceremony; Store-bought candles were used as lighting, and red robes and Don Post Studios Chewbacca masks were worn by extras in lieu of full Wookiee costumes. According to Vilanch, Fisher was eager to sing for this scene because "She was going through her Joni Mitchell period. She very much wanted to show this side of her talent.” After shooting for over a month, the production finally wrapped. According to Binder, he was unable to edit the film (unlike all his other productions) due to a scheduling conflict; As a result, the special was edited by the producers, who had no prior experience with editing.
- "The determination was that it was a bit too late then to do much about it. We couldn't pull the show. And, I guess, there was a determination that, well, it wasn't really that bad compared to other Christmas specials, so what the hell."
- ―Gary Kurtz
The Holiday Special aired in the United States on November 17, 1978 and was seen by an estimated 13 million viewers, second to the ABC TV series The Love Boat and miniseries Pearl. As it premiered on the same day as the sentencing of CIA agent William Kampiles (to 40 years in prison for stealing a KH-11 spy satellite manual and selling it to the Soviets) as well as then-Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev admitting to violating a treaty by testing a neutron bomb (and also making clear he never had it mass produced), parts of the commercial breaks for the special included various news coverage of the events in question. Prior to the debut, there were a few contemporary media appearances; CBS aired commercials, advertisements appeared in TV Guide and the Los Angeles Times, and Anthony Daniels appeared on Captain Cosmic.
- "I was told that the whole point of the television variety special was to reach a national audience and introduce a line of merchandise from Kenner, who Lucas had licensed the Star Wars characters to. By no means were we in production to make another Star Wars feature film. We had neither the script, budget, or the time!"
- ―Steve Binder
A press kit was released prior to the special to promote its airing. Jefferson Starship released a single of "Light the Sky on Fire" that proclaimed "as seen and heard on the CBS-Star Wars Holiday Special." Kenner originally planned to release action figures based on the special, but they didn't go past the prototype stage. A mail-away Boba Fett action figure released that year contained a paper insert that referred to the upcoming special as "A Wookie Holiday." In 2001, Hasbro released the first official figure from the special, which was based on the cantina alien Zutton. In 1979, Random House released a children's book called The Wookiee Storybook, which featured the characters from the special.
Numerous products have been produced based on Boba Fett's depiction in the special. In 1996, Lucasfilm released animation cels that combined an original cel with new artwork. As part of its 30th anniversary collection, Hasbro released a Boba Fett action figure. Funko released bobbleheads. StarWarsShop released a Gentle Giant maquete as a Celebration exclusive, and an ACME character key. In 2018, Gentle Giant produced a mini-bust, and Sideshow Collectibles & Hot Toys released a sixth-scale figure. A lunchbox exclusive was produced for Celebration Chicago. A Black Series figure was available at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con.
The Celebration IV and Celebration Europe stores offered a 4" × 2" luggage tag with an image from the cantina scene from the Holiday Special on it for $5. Several cards from the Topps' 2007 Star Wars collection feature elements from the special. The 2007 book The Star Wars Vault includes the complete audio track of Princess Leia's Life Day song "A Day to Celebrate," along with approximately two pages from the script.
At the 1987 Star Wars 10th anniversary convention, George Lucas told Starlog magazine that he expected the Holiday Special to be released on VHS at some point. However, Lucasfilm has yet to give the full Holiday Special a home video release on any format, and former Lucasfilm director of fan relations Stephen J. Sansweet claimed there will not be one. In 2004, Star Wars DVD producer Van Ling held a Q&A session with the Washington Post, in which he was asked about the possibility of a DVD release of the special. He replied, "I seriously doubt it, given that it has never even been shown again after its initial broadcast, let alone released on home video… but as I always say, never say never." Filmmaker Kevin Burns was allowed access to the original print for use in his Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy documentary. However, the segment using footage from the special was left out of the final cut.
An image of Bea Arthur as Ackmena was present amongst other behind-the-scenes images on the 1993 laserdisc "definitive" box set of the original trilogy. This set also included a tour of the Lucasfilm Archives, hosted by Don Bies, in which the Lumpy mask was shown to be residing in the archives. Several seconds of the Boba Fett animated segment appeared in the 2002 Attack of the Clones web documentary "Bucket Head." The full animated segment was included on the 2011 Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray release; it is located on the The Empire Strikes Back section of the Episodes IV–VI bonus material disc, and was added to Disney+ on April 2, 2021 under the title "The Story of the Faithful Wookiee".
- "It's been bootlegged all over the place, but I've never seen anything of the quality like we shot it. There's a whole fan club of people who watched it and love it to this day. I'm proud of it, too. Against what the popular opinion might be, I had a great time doing it and would do it again in a heartbeat."
- ―Steve Binder
Some viewers who recorded the show when it premiered began to copy the show and sell illegal bootleg VHS and DVD copies at conventions. It soon became a cult classic and a legend among Star Wars fans despite (or perhaps because of) its criticisms. The Internet and file-sharing technologies have made the special more widely available to curious fans to see for themselves. One such recording—from a WBBM-TV broadcast—is available for viewing in full at the website for the Museum of Classic Chicago Television. Among the more widely circulating recordings is one made of the broadcast on WCBS-TV (channel 2) in New York City. At several commercial breaks, a bumper advertising the station's 11 p.m. newscast was aired in which news anchor Rolland Smith simply says, "Fighting the frizzies, at 11." (Other circulating versions of the Holiday Special were originally taped from other CBS affiliates, including WMAR-TV in Baltimore, and lack the frizzies reference, and still others have had all the commercials edited out.) This is parodied in the South Park's 1999 episode "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics." Another episode (2002's "Freak Strike") similarly spoofed the commercial shown for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.
- "Time has not been kind to The Holiday Special, yet that's precisely its charm. Unlike the Star Wars films, which have a timeless quality, The Star Wars Holiday Special will forever be stuck in 1978, which is great nostalgia if you were there, great history if you weren't."
- ―Jon Bradley Snyder, from Star Wars Insider 23, 1994
Upon its release, the Holiday Special received positive reviews from both The Hollywood Reporter and Starlog magazine, with the latter proclaiming it to be "one of the most ambitious television spectaculars ever attempted by an American network." In the years following, however, the film developed a mostly negative reputation; David Hofstede, author of What Were They Thinking?: The 100 Dumbest Events In Television History, ranked the Holiday Special at number one, calling it "the worst two hours of television ever." Shepard Smith of the Fox News Channel referred to it as a "'70s train wreck, combining the worst of Star Wars with the utter worst of variety television." Bravo's 2005 television program "Greatest Things about the Holidays" ranked the special #5 out of 100. TV Land ranked it at number 59 on their top 100 Unexpected Television Moments. TVGN ranked the special at number 11 on their "25 Most Hilarious Holiday TV Moments," mentioning that it was "unintentionally hilarious." Star Wars Insider 83 ranked the Holiday Special as one of the 5 strangest moments in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It was also rated number 3 in "The Five Goofiest Moments Of The Star Wars Mythos" in the UK's Star Wars Magazine 62. In 2010, CNN.com ranked the special as "the granddaddy of them all" amongst its list of "Geeks' most beloved holiday classics."
Responses from cast and crew have been generally poor. The official Star Wars site states that the Holiday Special "delivered mixed results," but explains that the highlight of the special was the Boba Fett animated segment. In 1998, writer Leonard Ripps told Filmfax magazine, "To me, it didn't come together. The ideas were all right but I'm not sure that they belonged in the same room." Harrison Ford made an appearance on the February 8, 2006, episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien. During the interview, Conan O'Brien brought up the special, and began asking various questions about it, such as whether Ford remembered making it. Ford made no response and looked away, to which the audience responded with laughter and applause. O'Brien then asked Ford what he would think if he played a clip from it. In response, Ford pretended to strangle O'Brien before allowing him to play the clip. Following the clip (which showed Ford as Han Solo telling Chewbacca and his wife that they are "like family" to him), an embarrassed Ford only muttered "thank you." Carrie Fisher has joked that, in exchange for recording the audio commentary for the 2004 DVD release of the original trilogy, she asked Lucas for a copy of the special, "so that I could, you know, have something for parties... when I wanted everyone to leave." In May 2002, Lucas told Maxim: "That's one of those things that happened, and I just have to live with it." In a 2005 interview, he elaborated: "The special from 1978 really didn't have much to do with us, you know. I can't remember what network it was on, but it was a thing that they did. We kind of let them do it. It was done by… I can't even remember who the group was, but they were variety TV guys. We let them use the characters and stuff and that probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but you learn from those experiences." In 2013, director Steve Binder told Esquire: "I have never regretted for one second my decision to direct the television special. I loved every minute on the set and loved coming to the studio every day. I gave it my all and have never worried about the day-after or pro or con critics' 'opinions.' To me, 'opinions' are all subjective anyway."
- "There has never been anything else like it. This thing has lingered largely because the Star Wars franchise has endured through generations of kids who discovered it on video and grew up to see the new movies in theatres. Somewhere in there, the internet came along and they discovered this bizarre hybrid whatever-it-is."
- ―Bruce Vilanch
Prior to the establishment of the Lucasfilm Story Group, the special was classified as S-canon. The Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith art department used the Holiday Special to aid in designing the look of the planet Kashyyyk for the film. For Star Wars: Clone Wars, C-3PO was animated in a style that pays homage to the animation style of Nelvana's animated segment from the special. In a commercial for the 2007 Robot Chicken: Star Wars, an animated George Lucas (voiced by Lucas himself) sees a therapist over his hatred of the special. According to Star Wars Detours writer Brendan Hay, Lucas later screened the Holiday Special for the writing staff of that show. Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III features a skit similar to the Holiday Special in which Han Solo and Chewbacca visit the latter's family on Kashyyyk; "Menace of the Sith," the second episode of LEGO Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles, had a similar scene in which Cad Bane interrupts Chewbacca's family sitting below a banner that reads "Happy Life Day." For "The Mandalore Plot," a 2010 episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the Death Watch members' helmets were based on Boba Fett's helmet design from the Holiday Special and the Droids animated series. The script for Solo: A Star Wars Story included a reference to Itchy, spoken by Chewbacca in Shyriiwook; According to writer Jon Kasdan, he tried to put additional references in the film. Likewise, the special inspired elements of the Disney+ series The Mandalorian; Good Morning America showed a clip of the animated segment while interviewing showrunner Jon Favreau about this; In late 2019, Favreau even expressed interest in making another Holiday Special. The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special debuted on Disney+ on November 17, 2020. It features a Life Day celebration involving characters from the sequel trilogy, and includes elements inspired by the original special.
Throughout the week of November 17, 2008, StarWars.com celebrated the Holiday Special's 30th anniversary by posting a number of Holiday Special–related articles and offering trading cards based on the special to StarWarsShop customers. Features include interviews, photo galleries, and an animation animatic. The Los Angeles Times and NBC both ran articles on the special's anniversary. The Paley Center held a poll from November 10 through December 3, for which the top five holiday specials would be screened at the center between December 10 and 24. The Star Wars Holiday Special placed in the top position, with 59% of the vote. (The full special—from a WBBM-TV broadcast—is available for viewing at the Museum of Classic Chicago Television at www.fuzzymemories.tv.) On December 10, 2007, humor website RiffTrax released an audio commentary for the special, recorded by former MST3K stars Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy. On December 20, 2007, ABC's Nightline covered the special on television and on its website. The special's 40th anniversary was also highlighted by StarWars.com, as well as many news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and USA Today.
The special was screened at the Library of Congress in the 1990s. It was mentioned in the 2005 ABC Family movie Chasing Christmas. In "Weird Al" Yankovic's 2006 music video for his song "White & Nerdy" (parodying "Ridin'" by Chamilionaire) has Al, dressed like a nerd, paying a "gangster" for what appears to be a paper bag full of drugs. Yankovic opens the paper bag to reveal a videotape of the special. In 2011, the TV series Glee had a tribute to the Holiday Special in the episode "Extraordinary Merry Christmas." The 2012 Futurama episode "Zapp Dingbat" had a sequence parodying the holographic dancing sequence. A 2014 episode of The Simpsons entitled "I Won't Be Home for Christmas" begins with characters watching the Cosmic Wars Holiday Special. In December 2015, Funny or Die released a "new" Holiday Special based on The Force Awakens. Also during this time, the cast and crew of The Force Awakens were interviewed about the Holiday Special. On May 26, 2016, Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead parodied the Holiday Special in NBC's "The Red Nose Day Special." Episodes of The Goldbergs (2016), Supergirl (2017), and The Big Bang Theory (2018) also referenced the special. On December 14, 2018, "Special" opened at the Theatre of NOTE in Los Angeles; The play was loosely based on the real life making of the special. On December 10, 2020, during Disney's Investor Day, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige announced that Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn will be directing and writing The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special for a December 2022 release date; Gunn was inspired by the infamous The Star Wars Holiday Special, which he unironically loved as a kid.
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Notes and references
- Star Wars Holiday Special on Wikipedia
- The Star Wars Holiday Special at the Archive of American Television (Backup link)
- The Star Wars Holiday Special fan site (Backup link)
- The Star Wars Holiday Special - Star Wars Technical Commentaries (Backup link)
- The Han Solo Comedy Hour! on Vanity Fair (Backup link)
- The Dark Side: An Oral History of 'The Star Wars Holiday Special' on Mental Floss (Backup link)
- Happy Life Day—For the 36th Time; Now Go Out and Collect Something! on Rancho Obi-Wan (Backup link)