TV: A Star Wars-inspired holiday special that’s best left where it began — a long, long time ago

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TV_star wars special_tv_guide_ad_122415One week before Christmas, the much-anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened in theaters. It seems only fitting to take the opportunity to talk about the Star Wars Holiday Special.

Over the years, there have been several Star Wars spin-offs of varying degrees of quality, including two Ewok-centric TV movies as well as the Saturday morning cartoons Ewoks and Droids in the 1980s. But the Star Wars Holiday Special is by far the strangest and worst officially sanctioned Star Wars product put to screen.

The Holiday Special aired Friday, Nov. 17, 1978, and never again. Despite the involvement of original cast members Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader, it quickly became Star Wars creator George Lucas’ greatest shame. The special lived on through bootleg copies that were passed around over the decades. Now, thanks to the Internet, it can be accessed in just a few keystrokes.

The plot, or what there is of one, focuses on Han Solo (Ford) and Chewbacca trying to get back to the Wookiee home planet to celebrate Life Day with Chewie’s family. The traditions of Life Day are not explained. It is just a stand-in for all holidays.

Much of the special doesn’t focus on Han and Chewie but rather Chewie’s family who all moan in that familiar Wookiee way. The issue is that there are no subtitles. After only a few minutes of Wookiee conversation, confusion sets in followed by a migraine.

There is also a collection of celebrity guests, including Art Carney, Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman and Jefferson Starship. You’d be correct in assuming that none of those people fits into the Star Wars universe.

Korman, who seems like he wandered in from the set of The Carol Burnett Show, plays three different characters in a series of random sketches that feel completely out of place. One involves him as a four-armed chef hosting a cooking show because, sure, why not?

Jefferson Starship, having nearly completed the transition from Jefferson Airplane to Starship, performs a truly dreadful song that is watched by the youngest Wookiee. Grandpa Wookiee watches a song performed by Diahann Carroll that comes across like he’s watching a phone sex girl.

TV_star wars special_chewie_family_122415Arthur fares best as the singing owner of a bar that is being shut down by the evil Empire, but the scene feels disconnected from the rest of the special.

The special is perhaps best-known for a cheaply animated sequence that features the inauspicious introduction of the bounty hunter Boba Fett.

Fisher as Princess Leia concludes the special, singing a song celebrating Life Day to the tune of the Star Wars theme.

Some of this may read as borderline parody, and while some of it does play as so-bad-it’s-good fun, most of it is unwatchable.

You would think Lucas would have learned his lesson to steer clear of Christmas, but in 1980, Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album surfaced. The album was the brainchild of producer Meco who found great success with Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, a disco version of the Star Wars score.

Meco wrote Lucas a letter with his concept for the album, and Lucas signed off on it. Daniels once again appeared as C-3PO, and sound designer Ben Burtt contributed authentic sound effects for R2-D2 and Chewbacca.

While the Holiday Special was seen as an abject failure, the album became a success with “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb),” reaching No. 69 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Christmas in the Stars also has the distinction of featuring the first professional recording of Jon Bon Jovi (credited under his birth name John Bongiovi) on “R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” His cousin, Tony Bongiovi co-produced the album and ran the recording studio at which it was recorded, where the future rocker was sweeping floors.

To call Christmas in the Stars genuinely good would be an overstatement, but the album succeeds where the special failed by creating a product that is aware of its absurdity and doesn’t shy away from it.

As the title suggests, the album fully embraces the idea of Christmas in the Star Wars universe, which makes no logical sense, but that’s part of the album’s campy appeal. With lyrics like “Everyone will have a cookie, I bought extra for the Wookiee,” it is pure unadulterated cheese.

Odd as it may seem, in the right mindset, Christmas in the Stars may actually help you get in the holiday spirit. So, while it is wise to wish R2D2 a merry Christmas, Chewie may rip your arms off if you wish him a happy Life Day.