Friday, 25 December 2009

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Oh hey, it's Chewie's wife and - OH JESUS,

The internet is a funny thing. It wasn't so long ago that acquiring certain entertainment meant soliciting fat, neckbearded weirdos in their dank underground lairs. For the right price they would put a bootleg VHS cassette into your sweaty, trembling hands, and then you could go home, draw the blinds and enjoy the illicit material in the comfort of your own home. Sure it was usually terrible quality, a fuzzy, 4th generation dub if you were lucky, but that added to the mystique, the lure of the forbidden that's become lost in this age of streaming video and high-speed internet. I'm talking, of course, about The Star Wars Holiday Special, the unloved bastard child of the Star Wars universe.

Although George Lucas had no involvement, most of the original cast appears, even "R2-D2 as R2-D2". I guess the midget inside didn't rate an actor credit. Most actors deliver the performances you'd expect from a contractually obligated TV guest spot, with Harrison Ford in particular delivering his lines with a lack of energy and enthusiasm that wouldn't be seen until Indiana Jones 4: George Lucas Has Lost his Goddamn Mind. Mark Hammill, meanwhile, had recently undergone reconstructive surgery after a car accident, so he is wearing four times as much eye makeup as Carrie Fisher, plus he has prettier hair.

The show starts well enough, with Han Solo and Chewie attempting to outrun a couple of Imperial Star Destroyers in the Millenium Falcon, which, like all action sequences in this show, is pieced together from pre-existing footage. Han Solo is trying to get Chewie home to his family for Life Day, the most important of all Wookiee holidays. I always assumed that Chewie was a confirmed bachelor, like Han Solo, but I suppose it makes sense that they would have a mismatched buddy cop relationship, with Chewie as Roger Murtaugh. I'm just going to assume that most of his growls are Wookiee for "I'm getting too old for this shit."

The majority of the show takes place back at Chewbacca's house as his family wait for him to arrive. Although from the outside it resembles a tree-mounted rotating restaurant, inside it looks like a ski lodge from 1977. Chewie's family consists of his wife Mala, his father Itchy and his son Lumpy. Yeah, that's right Itchy and Lumpy, his family are named after symptoms of genital herpes. His cousin is named Burning During Urination. Although Mala and Lumpy look pretty much how you'd expect, Itchy resembles some sort of hideous yeti with an underbite. For the duration of the show they communicate entirely in unsubtitled Wookiee-speak, which means for the opening ten minutes we watch these three sasquatches grunting and groaning as they sit around waiting, take out the garbage and other exciting activities you'd expect from the Star Wars universe.

Being a holiday special, there are plenty of C-list celebrities making guest appearances in vaguely-related comedy sketches and musical numbers. One such segment stars Bea Arthur as bartender of the Mos Eisley Cantina. When the Imperials impose a curfew and shut down the bar her patrons refuse to leave, so she figures the best way to clear the place out would be to sing a terrible song. Good call! She is also romanced by Harvey Korman, appearing as an alien with a mouth in the top of his head (don't ask). Korman appears in a couple of other comedy sketches; as an intergalactic Julia Childs in a cooking show and as a malfunctioning robot in an intructional video. Both are terrible. The funniest parts are when the show attempts anything close to genuine emotion, such as when Mark Hammill attempts to coax a smile out of a frantic Mala.

What this show does provide is a fascinating glimpse into entertainment in the Star Wars universe, and it's pretty lame. For instance, a holographic recording of some Cirque du Soleil acrobats is enough to have Lumpy applauding wildly and leaping up and down with excitement. A box containing a miniaturised Jefferson Starship has an Imperial Officer transfixed for minutes on end. The creepiest moment is when Itchy experiences what is essentially VR porn, with a guest starring Diahan Carroll cooing and singing to him as he growls with pleasure. You know, I always assumed that Chewbacca was pretty handsome by Wookie standards, so it stands to reason that Mala would be hot stuff. This means that Itchy has some pretty fucked up tastes in women.

The most interesting segment is a short animated story, notable for being the first appearance of Boba Fett. He actually appears quite similar in appearance and personality to in the movies, although he has a lot more spoken dialogue. This little feature has nothing to do with the rest of the show, but it has a comprehensible plot and some action so it's a damn sight more entertaining than anything else.

The show reaches it's crescendo of awfulness when Chewbacca returns home and the wookiees and entire Star Wars cast gather for the Life Day celebrations. Carrie Fisher, looking stoned out of her mind and grasping at nearby actors for support, gives a speech about Life Day before bursting into a ear-shredding Life Day song set to the Star Wars theme music. The cast embrace each other and stare into the distance while looking like they'd rather be anywhere else. Happy Life Day everyone!

I don't consider myself a huge fan of Star Wars, but I'm still quite surprised that I hadn't seen this until now, since such legendary awfulness is like my Siren's Song, both beautiful and devastating. However, this wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting. It wasn't funny or entertaining, so it fits in nicely with a lot of the other Christmas specials from around that time. It proudly pisses on the Star Wars universe, but I respect the ballsy if misguided decision to focus the show on a trio of freaks who don't speak any English. If nothing else The Star Wars Holiday Special is a jolly seasonal reminder that the Star Wars legacy was being undermined long before Greedo shot first.

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