This year, while looking for nerdy holiday-themed specials and TV shows, I was surprised to find that that pinnacle of geeky goodness, Star Wars, released just such a special back in '78.
This TV-movie (oh, that dreaded phrase!) isn't particularly well-known, which was another surprise for me. After all, this is Star Wars for Pete's sake! This is one of the biggest fandoms in the world, and so popular that they are still making new movies, writing new books, creating new games and comics and cartoons. I wondered why this wasn't a bigger deal.
Then I watched it.
There are no two ways around it, and it pains me to say, but this was ninety-seven minutes of pure, undiluted atrocity. A better title would be "Life Day With Wookie-Cleavers And Occasional Random Glam Rock".
The first, and most vital issue is the total absence of plot. I believe (and I struggled with this) that Han is attempting to bring Chewie home for Life Day, and runs into some difficulties. The big struggle with this being the "plot" is that these two lead characters make up maybe 5% of the movie. Other big names (Leia, stormtroopers, droids) get another 10% if you add all their appearances together. Which leaves us with 85% of a movie that is a family of wookies getting ready for "Life Day" (aka, whichever holiday the viewer celebrates around the end of the year).
This could have worked except that the writers decided that actual dialogue is hard, and so the majority of the interactions happen in Wookie, subtitle-free. Perhaps if I spoke the language, it would be a little more engaging?
On top of which, the "characters" themselves are horribly two-dimensional and predictable. I'll allow that it must be difficult to convey deep and multi-layered beings when your audience can't understand a word (growl?) they are saying, but was it really necessary to fall back on every old nuclear-family cliche? Grandpa does...essentially nothing, actually. Mom is in the kitchen cooking and worrying about her son. She worries so much that she starts and calling Chewie's friends to see if they've seen him (which leads to a truly hilarious Skype conversation between Luke and Mom that reminded me of nothing so much as the Martin parents trying to understand Lassie when Timmy fell down the well. Again.). Dad is watching something in between porn, TV and and an acid trip in a machine, and little wookie (whose name is actually Lumpy) is running around playing without adult supervision. None of these feel particularly relatable to me, which left me occasionally rooting for the Storm Troopers. Not my proudest holiday moment.
The parts that are actually in English (or, more specifically, human) are increasingly random, jumping between musical numbers, random bar scenes and animated scenes (with some tangential relation to the plot) and general filler. At one point, the "special" involves an infomercial. In Wookie. Also a cooking show. And just for expletives and giggles, there is a scene that could only have been dreamed up while higher than the proverbial kite. It involves a grasshopper-type-thing ribbon dancing. (You heard me.)
We finish up the film with an appropriately saccharine-sweet ending, as all the major characters come together, dress up in robes, and smile sweetly about how wonderful "Life Day" is. I would love to tell you more about why it's wonderful, but apparently the Julia Childs of Kashyyyk was more important than actually telling the viewer something about the holiday that is so darned important. (Not to mention the fact that that is much easier to write.)
"But wait!" I hear you cry. "What about that 15% that actually has something to do with Star Wars? Surely that was enjoyable?". Well, sort of. Seeing Han and Chewie dodging through lasers in a ship - it's difficult to screw that up. Seeing characters you know and love - fantastic. Nostalgic. Do the math, however, and you'll find that this takes up about fifteen minutes of a show that's an hour and a half long. I'm not sure it's possible for anything to be so good that it would balance out over an hour of the rest of this travesty of a Holiday Special.
Technically, Boba Fett makes his first appearance here (in animated form), so if you happen to be a particularly huge fan of the Fett, those few moments may be worth your while. If this is the case, I would recommend finding that particular cartoon within the movie, watching it, and then going and doing something interesting or useful. Anything, really, other than watch the rest of the movie.
Part of me continues to try and understand the intention, and the time period. I am attempting to focus on the idea that "Christmas specials" were expected to include special guests who would put on whatever performance they wished in amongst the story, but that still doesn't make it good. Can you imagine if you were watching the Dr Who Christmas Special, and a quarter of the way through the Doctor and Clara turned to a monitor in the TARDIS and watched a One Direction music video? That's what it feels like, except that after "Steal My Girl", the rest of the episode would still be enjoyable.
It may seem that I am being unnecessarily harsh, and if you feel that is the case, I invite you to watch the Star Wars Holiday Special for yourself. Which could be difficult, because George Lucas himself despised it, so it was never released on DVD or video, or broadcast a second time. He reportedly said that "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.". The cast rarely talks about it, and much of it's fame comes from appearances on "worst TV/movie" lists. Ouch.
All of which makes it somewhat difficult to find, although the internet has many dark and cobwebbed corners and devoted Star Wars fans who taped the original showing (and put it on YouTube). It is possible, and you can watch it (after all, I did, and I wasn't around in the late 70s to see it on TV). You shouldn't, because that's two-ish hours of your life that you won't get back, but you can.
Have you seen it? What did you think? Comment below and let me know!