The Star Wars Holiday Special 40th Anniversary: 5 Reasons to Appreciate the Wookiee TV Classic!

“One of the most ambitious television spectaculars ever attempted by an American Network,” – STARLOG

Life Day with our Heroes

Are you a fan of old-school variety shows? Do you appreciate storytelling through non-verbal means? Ever wonder what Star Wars would be like in the Bizarro world?

If you checked ‘yes’ to all the above then you must be a fan or or at least have some appreciation for The Star Wars Holiday Special! If you have not seen this Special because all you’ve heard is how much it missed its mark with the audience, I implore you to at least give it a try. And to really get the most out of the experience you must watch it through a 1978 perspective to appreciate it’s kitsch and timestamp on the era when variety shows were all the rage.

Lumpy and the Galactic Circus holograms

When The Star Wars Holiday Special aired just one time on the Friday before Thanksgiving, November 17, 1978 in the 8 to 10 p.m. timeslot, it was seen by close to 13 million television households.  As an obsessive fan and very impressionable, I was one of the 13 million who tuned in to see the further adventures of my heroes. I couldn’t resist the exciting tagline,  “Luke Skywalker and Han Solo battle Imperial forces to help Chewbacca reach his imperiled family on the Wookiee planet—in time for Life Day—their most important day of the year!” Um…That sequence must’ve been left on the editing room floor. What we got was a variety show with a Star Wars story woven in-between music videos and Harvey Korman’s antics. 

Maybe the title was misleading and it should’ve been called The Star Wars Holiday Variety Commercial Special. It was basically operating on a few levels. 20th Century Fox and Kenner were worried that with the sequel a year and a half away the Star Wars brand would slip from memory with the toy buying audience. Star Wars had just ended its theatrical run after 18 straight months, literally the day before this holiday special aired. Whereas CBS wanted a high-profile vehicle to showcase their bankable prime-time stars such as Bea Arthur (Maude) and Harvey Korman (The Carol Burnett Show) who were just coming off of their popular shows. The network’s agenda was to keep these stars in the public eye since their shows were in syndication.

Krelman (Harvey Korman) and Ackmena (Bea Arthur)

There are many great aspects to consider with this TV outing, and what follows are reasons to appreciate The Star Wars Holiday Special!

‘The Faithful Wookiee’ – The animated short featuring Boba Fett

Excitement buzzed through fandom (which means all over the playground) with the announcement that a new character from the next chapter in the Star Wars saga was to appear. Who was he? And where is he? Well, we had to wait almost an hour into the Special when Chewbacca’s son Lumpy needed a distraction from the Imperial officers that were ransacking his home and put his headphones on and watched a 10 minute cartoon.

Lucasfilm has always tried to bury the Holiday Special deep within the Rancor pit of fandom hoping everyone would just forget about it, however, the animated short alone was an Easter Egg within the bonus features on the 2011 blu-rat set, Star Wars: The Complete Saga. And in case you haven’t seen it, the plot centers around the search for a mystical talisman. At the urging of Princess Leia, Luke and the droids set out to find the missing Han Solo and Chewbacca who went searching for the object. Luke lands in the ocean on Panna and is suddenly attacked by a red sea serpent. Not to fear because he is saved by a cool looking armored warrior on a pink serpent. “I am Boba Fett.”

Introducing Boba Fett

As a sign of friendship, Fett leads Luke to the Millennium Falcon. As Luke enters the ship he sees Chewie ready to destroy the talisman but before he can stop the Wookiee, he passes out from a sleeping virus caused by the mystical object. Now Fett, Chewie and the droids travel to Panna City to get a serum to help Luke and Han who has also contracted the virus. Fett goes off to get the serum but detours to make a video call to – Darth Vader! It is revealed that Fett is working with Vader in a plan to find the new secret Rebel base.  

Back at the Falcon, the serum has worked and Luke and Han are as good as new. Luke falls for the trap and tells their new faithful friend, “you must come back with us.” C-3PO calls out the bounty hunter who backs out and uses his jet pack to blast away. 3PO then shares credit with Chewbacca who didn’t trust Boba Fett since all along, “something just didn’t smell right.” the cartoon short ends with a voice over from Captain Kazan, starlog entry 3-24-1, signing off.

Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princes Leia) and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) reprise their roles from Star Wars. Don Francks portrays the voice of Boba Fett.

“Let’s get off this galactic rain drop!”
The search for Han and Chewie begins

FUN FETT FACT: Many believe this to be Boba Fett’s first appearance. The Star Wars Holiday Special is his onscreen debut, however he first appeared in the San Anselmo Country Fair Parade a few months earlier marching alongside Darth Vader.

Fett’s real first appearance

Life on Tatooine/Creature Cantina

There was no way the producers were going to leave out a Cantina scene after the explosion of popularity in Star Wars. The Special takes a very awkward tangent when a holodocumentary called “Life on Tatooine” was broadcast live by the Imperial Council to encourage galactic obedience.

This live broadcast consisted of outtakes from Star Wars including citizens walking about Mos Eisley and a character known as Rycar Ryjerd who is running from an unknown pursuer. He is cornered by a stilt-legged creature and comically escapes by running through its legs.

Outtake from Star Wars used in the Holiday Special

From there the holodocumentary cuts inside to the bar which is supposed to be Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina from Star Wars, however it bares very little resemblance other than having many of the same patrons. And this night shift is being worked by a female bartender named, Ackmena (Bea Arthur) who is persistently being wooed by Krelman (Harvey Korman in one of his 3 roles). At the time Ms. Arthur admitted she had no idea she was even working on a Star Wars show.

Ackmena and Friends

Throughout this standout scene we see lots of familiar faces. The most recognized creatures were that of the Cantina Kenner actions figures which had been released earlier in the year including a Rodian (not Greedo but Bludlow), an Aqualish (not Ponda baba but Teak Sidbam), Ithorian (not Momaw Nadon or even Hammerhead but a female named Deneb Both) and a Snivvian (Zutmore not Zutton). The scene also features a new character named Tork, the Cantina bouncer. Tork was played by Mickey Morton who also plays Chewbacca’s wife, Malla.

As if Ackmena didn’t have enough stress in her life, the Empire places an immediate curfew on the entire Tatooine system and all inhabitants must return to their homes at once.  Now she has to get all these hungover creatures out before the Empire shows up at her doorstep. When begging doesn’t work, what is she to do but break out in song. “Goodnight, But Not Goodbye” is reminiscent of the Cantina Theme but slowed down. As she sings, she asks everyone to follow her in a conga line right out the door. At the end there is only one patron left and that is the lovestruck Krelman who hands her a small bouquet of flowers. Unfortunately we cut out of the scene before we know if she accepts them and tells Krelman she is perfectly happy with her wife. 

The Chewbaccas!

Wookiee family portrait

The initial draw to The Star Wars Holiday Special was that we got to follow Chewbacca who is “making a desperate attempt to join his family for Life Day,” as stated by TV Guide, the only source for information at the time.

There was no hint of Chewbacca having a family in Star Wars but apparently  he has loved ones who are waiting for his return to his homeworld of Kashyyyk. Introducing the Wookiee family: 

  • Malla (played by Mickey Morton)

His adoring wife (also known as Mallatobuck) fears the worst when Chewbacca is late getting home. With the Imperials quickly taking over the planet she contacts Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia who reassure her not to worry. She bides her time in cooking up bantha rump from instructions on a cooking show hosted by 4-armed chef, Gormaanda (Kashyyyk’s version of Julia Child. Ironically Gormaanda’s additional 2 arms were “played” by Mickey Morton himself). Like her husband, Malla probably has no issue in ripping arms out of anyone’s sockets especially Imperials who invade her home!

  • Itchy (played by Paul Gale)

Chewbacca’s gruff but loving white-furred dad (also known as Attichituck) with an incredible underbite has a penchant for whittling Wroshyr tree wood as we see him do in the opening scene. He is actually carving out a Rebel X-Wing fighter, which you would think would be a pretty big tip off to Imperials as to his allegiance. Adult entertainment is another interest of his as he receives a gift of a virtual reality hologram of the erotic entertainer, Mermeia. “I exist for you. I am in your mind as you create me. Oh, yes… I can feel my creation. I’m getting your message. Are you getting mine?” ‘Nuff said.

  • Lumpy (Patty Maloney)

This adorable Wookiee child whose full name is Lumpawaroo is Chewbacca’s 10-year old son who Patty Maloney described as, “impish and rebellious as well as very active and curious”. Lumpy just can’t wait to see his dad but because of Han and Chewie’s delay he has to busy himself with watching the many holographs. One of which stars spandexed circus performers; the other being the Boba Fett cartoon. It is Lumpy who has the most touching scenes in the Special. I dare you not to shed a tear as the Wookiee child finds his beloved stuffed bantha toy torn apart by the Imperials, and then puts it in his bed and tucks it in. Those Imperial scum!

Where’s Chewbacca?

Getting The Gang Back Together

“Didn’t we just leave this party?”

The Star Wars Holiday Special aired the day after Star Wars had officially ended its 18-month theatrical run. Aside from appearances on a few other variety shows, this was where we would see our heroes back together again.

At first we see them in groups of two. In the opening sequence that uses stock shots from Star Wars, Han and Chewie are trying to outrun an Imperial “Garbage Scout” Destroyer. Even as the Destroyer is closing in, Han promises his friend that he will be, “celebrating Life Day before you know it.” Harrison Ford has infamously denounced the Holiday Special but it is worth noting that director Steve Binder has said that Harrison was very congenial during the making and was, “happy all the way through it”.

When Han and Chewie are late to Kashyyyk, Malla and Itchy reach out to Luke Skywalker who is fixing an engine part with R2-D2. Luke, who is wearing an amazing amount of guyliner, reassures the Wookiees that Chewie hasn’t missed a Life Day yet and he’s not about to miss this one so not to worry. He would continue his pep talk but the engine starts spewing steam and has to get back to it.

Making sure that Han and Chewie have arrived safely for Life Day, C-3PO reaches out to Chewbacca’s home at the request of Princess Leia. She realizes the Imperial patrol must be giving them more trouble than they bargained for. However, she sees that Malla is in good hands with Saun Dann (Art Carney), “a friend of the Rebellion and a member of the Alliance”. Leia promises to contact her again soon, hopefully with song!

The Special concludes with our heroes all reunited at the Life Day Celebration. It is at this time Princess Leia sings, “A Day To Celebrate”. The song is set to a rearranged version of the Star Wars Main Theme by John Williams. And just so you can connect this Special with Star Wars, The Throne Room Theme is tacked onto the end of the song as well as clips from the film. If you want “A Day To Celebrate” by legal means it is commercially available on a CD that was included with the 2007 book, The Star Wars Vault by Steve Sansweet and Pete Vilmur.

Don’t know the lyrics to “A Day To Celebrate“? Well you do now:

We celebrate a day of peace

A day of harmony

A day of joy we can all share

Together joyously

A day that takes us through the darkness

A day that leads us into might

A day that makes us want to celebrate the light

A day that brings the promise

that one day, we’ll be free

To live, to laugh, to dream,

To grow, to trust, to love, to be.

Even though Hamill, Fisher and Ford were already contracted, Fisher made the proclamation that she was willing to appear under the condition that she got to sing. “She was going through her Joni Mitchell period. She very much wanted to show this side of her talent. And there was general dismay because this was not what we wanted Princess Leia to be doing,” said writer Bruce Vilanch in a 2008 Vanity Fair article.

C-3PO even gets emotional with his speech, “it is indeed true that at times like this, R2 and I wish we were more than more than just mechanical beings and were really alive so that we could share your feelings with you.”

We even get a Darth Vader cameo with less screen time than he did in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This time he’s not slicing his way through Rebel troopers but enforcing a galaxy-wide search to identify the Rebels even if it “means searching every household in the system”. This wasn’t new footage but a scene shot for Star Wars and dialogue by James Earl Jones. I’m going on a hunch that this scene contains a Return of the Jedi Easter Egg since it appears that Lord Vader is walking along a Death Star corridor. It must be the Death Star II since the first battle station was previously destroyed. Am I looking too deeply into this?

Darth Vader getting an update about the missing Rebels from Chief Bast

Welcome to the Canon!

Characters created for The Star Wars Holiday Special didn’t just make their one and only appearance there. Writers and authors used them in their works. Here are a few examples:

In Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire’s End, Lumpy saves enslaved Wookiees from a child labor camp and tries to free the Wookiee homeworld of the Empire. The Empire strikes back but before they can make their final blow, Lumpy is rescued by a strike team that consists of his father, Chewbacca!

Itchy was first “mentioned” in the film, Solo: A Star Wars Story by Lawrence and Jon Kasdan. If you understand the Wookiee language, Shryriiwook, you’ll hear Itchy being dropped when Han asks Chewbacca his name and Chewie responds, “Chewbacca, son of Attichitcuk”. We see this spelled out in the script as seen in, ‘Team Chewie’, a bonus feature from the Solo home video.

Malla is first introduced into canon by Alexandra Bracken in 2015’s junior novel, ‘A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy’. Han says to Chewbacca, “Hey, you’re the married one. Find me a human girl with Malla’s brains and silky hair and maybe I’ll consider it.”

Cantina bartender, Ackmena, was first mentioned in the 2016 reference book Star Wars: Complete Locations in the Cantina section. Then she finally made an appearance in the short story “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caperby Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction from the 2017 short-story anthology, From a Certain Point of View. This is the story is centered around Muftak and Kabe stealing the belongings of the Cantina’s patrons and then giving the proceeds to Ackmena, to pay the rent, only Muftak uses the money to drink himself silly.

“Sorry, one drink lead to another and another…”

So, what do you think now? I think we can all agree that this is not the best Star Wars has to offer. But it is fun. Now, get in your red snuggie and raise a glass of blue milk to the 40th Anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special!

Happy Life Day and May The Force Be With You!

Join us at our 40th Anniversary Salute panel at Loscon 45!

WHEN: Sunday November 25 at 1pm in the Marquis 2 room.

WHERE: Marriott Los Angeles Airport Hotel


Research:

Skywalking Through Neverland Episode 144 with Steve Binder

144: Star Wars Holiday Special Director STEVE BINDER

Skywalking Through Neverland Episode 192 with Larry Heider

192: Giving Thanks for the Star Wars Holiday Special

40th Ann. panel at Salt Lake City – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2hSxIaV83s&fbclid=IwAR3jT3Woc3HqsfyhbfbUdqdFCRvxI-cNifLuYA2SDK5hZwmAD0kmhOdy41c

Vanity Fair – https://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/2008/12/star_wars_special200812

Starwars.com

The Star Wars Holiday Special Cantina: Who’s Who | StarWars.com

The Star Wars Holiday Special celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. The show aired in the US on November 17, 1978, on CBS for the first and only time. The 97-minute special would also air in other countries. It’s safe to assume that it probably wasn’t what most fans had expected it to be.

Have an Opinion?