I watched it. I finally watched it. The much-maligned, infamously lampooned Star Wars Holiday Special – the story George Lucas preferred to forget. Debuting on 17 November 1978 on CBS, the story is set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. It’s the very first appearance of Boba Fett! Of Chewie’s family! Of the Wookiee homeworld! Despite these firsts, it was near-universally panned and the special was never rebroadcast nor officially released on home video. But after writing about the Guardians of the Galaxy and their Holiday Special, it seemed fitting to watch the original (thanks YouTube!) as the latest installment in my holiday series. See, it’s Christmastime again, so ‘tis the season for me to read and watch a buncha Christmas specials and use them to reflect on what Christmas means to me just like Stevie Wonder does in the very song which inspired this series. And, just like Stevie Wonder sings about, “All these things and more, darling (all these things and more) / That’s what Christmas means to me, my love,” Christmas means a lot of things to me, too. It turns out The Star Wars Holiday Special is a surprisingly perfect example of an important one.
Here’s the thing. It’s weird. I mean, it’s weird. It’s cringy-awkward at times, too. Everything you’ve heard about how ridiculous this is and how Lucas wanted it forever erased from existence is probably true.
We meet Chewbacca’s family right after the special opens with Han Solo and Chewie trying to escape Imperial Star Destroyers on The Millennium Falcon and get to Kashyyyk in time to celebrate Life Day. We see his wife, Malla (Mickey Morton), their son, Lumpy (Patty Maloney), and Chewie’s father, Itchy (Paul Gale) and there are nine straight minutes of them doing normal household things and talking to each other in Shyriiwook with no subtitles or anything. It’s nine minutes of Wookiees just chatting and hanging out at home. We also spend a lot of time watching TV with the characters as they watch TV. We watch a cooking show with Malla as she prepares their Life Day dinner. We watch a, uh, well…a V.R. hologram called Mermia (Diahann Carroll) created from Itchy’s fantasies sensually serenade him on a private video via headset. We watch a cartoon with Lumpy about Luke Skywalker, Artoo-Deetoo, and See-Threepio trying to rescue Han and Chewie with the “help” of Boba Fett (voiced by Gabriel Dell) in his debut as a bounty hunter working for Darth Vader (how Lumpy is watching a cartoon of his dad isn’t explained…do people make cartoons of the Rebellion?!?). We watch a sci-fied version of Jefferson Starship play “Light the Sky on Fire” with an Imperial officer. We watch an instructional video with Lumpy as he assembles his Life Day present. We even see Life on Tatooine, a live broadcast all members of the Imperial Forces are required to watch, designed to reinforce their desire to be upstanding citizens and it’s, “Brought to viewers everywhere in the hopes that our own lives may be uplifted by the comparison and enriched with the gratitude of relief. This transmission is unrehearsed and unedited.” There are plenty of holovids of random variety acts – dancers, acrobats, jugglers, and singers – too.
Like a third of The Star Wars Holiday Special’s runtime is us watching TV with the characters. It’s weird.
Here’s the other thing, I also low key kinda love it??
I went in with the lowest of expectations. Knowing it would be so ridiculous, I found a lot to love. From the moment the opening score begins and we’re with Han and Chewie in the cockpit of The Millennium Falcon as they outrun two Star Destroyers, it felt like coming home :). And no matter how bad whatever followed was, this was a new Star Wars story I’d never seen before from the Original Trilogy era! It had Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker! Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia! Harrison Ford as Han Solo! Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca! Anthony Daniels as Threepio! Kenny Baker wasn’t involved, sadly; Artoo was remote-operated entirely by Mick Garris. But James Earl Jones was voicing Darth Vader! No matter how exciting modern Star Wars films or TV shows may be, nothing – nothing – can capture the feelings of seeing my heroes together like this again, for the first time.
While Malla, Lumpy, and Itchy go about their holiday preparations, Imperial soldiers arrive to do a spot check, searching for Wookiees who may be working with the Rebellion. The trader and rebel sympathizer Saun Dann (Art Carney) helps run interference between Chewie’s family and the Imperials but you can also see he cares for Malla, Lumpy, and Itchy. It’s sweet! Was it a little weird he brought Itchy some sort of adult-content V.R. for Life Day? Sure, but who am I to judge? Mermia was a hologram construct from Itchy’s mind not a sentient being forced to do a job she didn’t want to do, so where’s the harm in that? If that’s what Itchy, an adult Wookiee, is into, go him! It was also sweet to see how excited Lumpy was with his gift and how appreciative Malla was of hers. It’s clear they care for Saun Dann, too and it made my heart feel all warm and fuzzy. Well, extra fuzzy even, as Wookiees are involved.
Chewbacca has always been one of my favorite characters so I loved, loved, loved, loved seeing his family’s homelife! I got a better sense of Kashyyyk life and culture from The Star Wars Holiday Special than I did from Revenge of the Sith. And I liked seeing them at home, even if I was just listening to them growl and bark as Malla worked in the kitchen, Lumpy played with his toys and watched his videos, and Itchy watched, well, Mermia. It filled my heart to see Han and Chewie exchange a real hug and I loved seeing Han with Chewie’s family! My heart hurt and my stomach twisted in apprehension, too, watching some asshole Imperial troopers ransack poor Lumpy’s room and rip the head off his Bantha stuffed animal. This special moved more in me emotionally than anything I saw in The Last Jedi or The Rise of Skywalker did. I also loved our return to the Mos Eisley! The special is worth watching just to see Ackmena (Bea Arthur) run the bar and tend her regulars on an average night on Tatooine. (Also the idea that the Empire would broadcast a show which is essentially, “Hey! Look at how violent and dirty and poor these people are! Isn’t living under our reign great??” is a remarkable bit of commentary on Imperial propaganda in a special as ridiculous as this.) And I thought it was fun to see the animated adventures of Chewie, Han, Luke, Artoo, Threepio, and Boba Fett on the open sea and in the markets of the Panna moon.
One of the things people always say they love about the Original Trilogy is how “lived in” the Star Wars universe looks. Well The Star Wars Holiday Special takes that to the next level as we basically live in the universe, watching TV, tidying up the kitchen, opening presents, and scoffing at Imperial propaganda for an hour and a half. This is life in the Star Wars galaxy when you’re not on the frontlines of the war between the Rebellion and the Empire!
Yes, The Star Wars Holiday Special is awkward. It’s painfully cringy at times. On more than one occasion I found myself thinking, “What the fuck am I watching?” There were a few moments I questioned why I was even watching this in the first place XD. But that’s what Christmas is, isn’t it? During the holidays we gather with our family and it can be an awkward, cringy, uncomfortable affair. There’s the benign awkwardness of big, sloppy, wet kisses from great aunts or the way the smell of onion so permeates Grandma’s house from her cooking, anyone with a cloth coat buries it under any leather coats on the bed to prevent the smell from seeping into the garment forever. There are the family members who will always lead with the same conversation topic every year like, “Did you lose weight?” or “Do you have any of that diabetic neuropathy?” And then there are the more exasperating frustrations, the sort of close-minded negativity you do your best to deflect lest it erode your soul, like the uncle who believes Muslims are evil or the cousin who emphatically states the Sandy Hook school shootings were a lie created by Obama to “steal our guns.” I’ve had plenty of Christmas moments where I’ve thought, “Eeh, this is brutal.”
I always heard (something I confirmed on Wookieepedia and Wikipedia) George Lucas’ involvement with this special was all but nonexistent (save sketching the story outline and insisting it be set on the Wookiee homeworld). He was focused on the film sequel so this was largely turned over to CBS and their veteran variety show producers and Lucas hated the final product. But how often does Christmas end up like this? Family holiday gatherings (and work holiday parties for that matter) rarely turn out how we envision them. Sometimes it’s bearable and sometimes we’re counting down the minutes until we can leave. But we’ve all endured such gatherings. Such is life.
Yet in all of those awkward, cringy, frustrating, exasperating, soul-eroding, plan-demolishing moments, we often find a little bit of good shining through, a little bit of light, a moment or two which will give rise to warm memories down the line. We may even find ourselves missing those big, wet, sloppy kisses once they’re gone. This is The Star Wars Holiday Special to a T. It’s full of awkward, cringy, weird, and uncomfortable moments but there are some warm, beautiful, fun moments in there, too…if we’re open to finding them. Awkward, cringy, uncomfortable moments with family during holiday gatherings which may never go quite according to plan – moments which hold a hidden warmth and joy all the same – that’s what Christmas means to me, my love.
My Christmas wish for you, dear reader, is that all your awkward, cringy moments come with such light. My wish for this whole season echoes Princess Leia who, holding Chewie (she, Luke, Han, Threepio, and Artoo surprise Chewie by coming to the Life Day Celebration :D), turns to the assembled Wookiees and says, “This holiday is yours. But we all share the hope that this holiday brings us closer to freedom and to harmony and to peace. No matter how different we appear, we’re all the same in our struggle against the powers of evil and darkness. I hope that this day will always be a day of joy in which we can reconfirm our dedication and our courage and more than anything else, our love for one another.” Amen.
I hope you and yours have a beautiful holiday season, dear reader, filled with joy and love. Know I count you among my life’s treasured gifts. There are so many ways to entertain ourselves. We’ve an endless stream of content to read, view, and play. In all that, you’ve chosen to come here, whether just this once or again and again. You’ve chosen to spend your time with what I’ve written and that means the world to me. I love you. I appreciate you. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
If you’re in the mood for more pop culture reflections on what Christmas means to me check out:
A Very Doctor Who Christmas “Voyage of the Damned” to find the Tenth Doctor on board a spaceship version of the Titanic seemingly destined to meet the fate of its namesake and read about how Christmas means happily holding layer upon layer of meaning, religious and secular, cultural and personal, accumulated over thousands of years.
A Very Doctor Who Christmas “A Christmas Carol” to see the Eleventh Doctor, Amy Pond, and Rory Williams’ version of the Dickens’ classic play out on Sardicktown in the year 4398 – with flying sharks! – and ponder how Christmas means a time to be with those we love and celebrate all the ways we are connected, over the holiday season and always.
A Very Doctor Who Christmas “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” to see my stirring defense of one of Doctor Who’s most derided Christmas specials (I don’t care what anyone says I LOVE IT and I think it’s one of Doctor Who’s BEST CHRISTMAS SPECIALS EVER) where the Twelfth Doctor and Nardole’s adventure is basically Doctor Who + a superhero movie + a Hallmark movie = a reminder that Christmas means improbably happy endings.
A Very Doctor Who Christmas Titan Comics’ The Thirteen Doctor Holiday Special which follows the Thirteenth Doctor, Yaz, Ryan, and Graham as they travel to the North Pole at the urging of an elf to try and rescue Santa’s workshop from the tyrannical rule of Krampus and illustrates how Christmas means believing.
When She-Hulk Met Santa Claus! in The Sensational She-Hulk #8 tells the tale of the time when She-Hulk met Santa Clause and they teamed up to try and find the evidence needed to convict one of New York City’s most infamous serial killer and ended up underscoring how Christmas means justice.
Harley Quinn and Chaos for Christmas! in Harley Quinn Holiday Special #1 has all the holiday hallmarks we know and love – dozens of pets in need of adoption, a child acting up, breaking and entering, family drama, and an ax hungry for blood being wielded during Christmas dinner – which, naturally, all shows how Christmas means magic.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special drops us in the midst of Peter Quill, Nebula, Rocket, Groot, Astro, Kraglin, Mantis, and Drax rebuilding Knowhere when Mantis and Drax decide they need to find the perfect Christmas gift for Peter which reminds us all Christmas means presents in the best possible way!
14 thoughts on “The Star Wars Holiday Special – A “What Christmas Means To Me” Reflection”
Good on you…I stumbled across this last year, I think, and tried to watch it, but barely made it through the beginning with all of the domestic scenes. Frankly, I don’t think I’m interested enough in it to watch the whole thing, so I appreciated your review and recap of it, and I’m glad to see you found some enjoyment out of it! We also stumbled across the Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure a couple of weeks ago. We made it about 15-20 minutes into that one. 😛
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I’m not surprised you didn’t make it past the domestic scenes. I checked the time to be sure it went on for nine minutes…but it felt like twenty at least! I wondered if the time stamp on YouTube was wrong XD. I kept thinking, “It HAS to be longer than that. It felt waaay longer.” So yes, I was glad I was able to find something I could enjoy in it, too, though I don’t know that I’d ever openly recommend it to someone! Only time will tell, I guess.
I’ve not tried any of the Ewok movies but I’m going to keep your 15-20 minutes in mind. Maybe having a “goal” like that in mind when I watch them can inspire me to push further…although I can’t make any guarantees.
What ultimately prompted me to turn off the Ewok movie is that it was an odd blend of science fiction and fantasy. I think it’s safe to call Star Wars science fiction, but the Ewok movie introduced characters that seemed more fantastical than sci-fi-ish. I know some consider sci-fi part of fantasy, but I think you get what I mean.
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Yep, I do. And I’ve always been fascinated by this line in Star Wars. As a kid, I never saw it as anything other than sci-fi. There are spaceships and lazer swords and alien planets and OF COURSE it’s sci-fi. That’s what science fiction is! But then I grew up and found all sorts of discourse – from casual online conversations to more scholarly pieces – which make the claim Star Wars isn’t really sci-fi at all. They argue it’s a fantasy story set on alien worlds. I…well, I can kind of see where they’re coming from but it never felt right to me. Like you, I’ve always felt it safe in calling Star Wars sci-fi. If Star Wars isn’t sci-fi, then what is??
Oh, I definitely consider Star Wars to be science fiction. In my mind there’s no other option! 😉
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Wow what an exhaustive and detailed retrospective of a much maligned TV special that has an infamous reputation.
Even when I saw this as a kid I couldn’t believe how cheesy it was, but it had some interesting nuggets like introducing Boba Fett and it did bring back most of the original cast.
Thanks for the great write up of the Star Wars Holiday Special and Happy Holidays!
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As I watched I kept thinking of what it would’ve been like if I watched this when it first came out or if I saw it before I knew anything about it. I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it at all if I did! I think, because I knew it was going to be so bad, that helped me find bits to enjoy. Like I saw the campy, cringy bits I knew were coming but then I had those moments where I was like, “Oh, that was kind of fun!” alongside it, too.
“Cheesy” is the perfect word for it. My friend, Theresa, has used “cheese-tastic” in our conversations about different shows (the Daleks in ‘Doctor Who’ in particular!) and that word was definitely going around in my head as I watched.
Thank you so much and Happy Holidays to you, too! I hope you enjoy the season!
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Leave it to you to find the positive in this infamous Star Wars special! I recently watched parts of it with my three kids during Thanksgiving Break, I fast-forwarded to all the good spots (I mean really bad spots) so they could watch in horror. Good times!
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Aww, thank you Nancy! I was more than a little proud myself that I found a path to writing so positively about this, too :). I can only imagine the familial commentary your fast-forward viewing yielded. I’m sure it will be a day long remembered…for cringiness XD. What a great time!
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The Holiday Special might be weird but at least it makes more sense than the Sequel Trilogy.
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Once again, I THINK IT AND YOU SAY IT. I felt the exact same way as I watched this. In fact, I now nominate your comment to be the official tagline for the special.
“The Star Wars Holiday Special: It Might Be Weird, But At Least It Makes More Sense Than The Sequel Trilogy”
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Haha I’m glad I finally read this! It is such a bizarre TV spot and I haven’t watched it in, I think, 13 or 14 years. I remember being in college and at a certain point, getting up and doing other things in my room while it played as I was so bored.
I have no desire to re-watch it but this post kiiiiinda makes me want to. Kind of. Lol. Not sure I can do it.
I love that you found the positive in it, though!
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Thank you :). And who knows??? MAYBE next Christmas you’ll find vague memories of this post bouncing around in your head and you’ll decide to pull it up on YouTube and relive it. Or maybe, in the service of an audio blog/podcast episode you’ll decide to watch it again. Anything can happen!
That being said, yeah, I totally get your being bored when you watched it before because most of it is just characters watching other shows XD.