Twice. You owe me big-time for this, dude.
The gawdawful, highly execrable, seriously damaged, WTF-were-they-thinking 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special is a TV extravaganza best watched with friends who are as seriously damaged as yourself. Preferably with lots of beer, which is what Darryl and Dev and I did.
Problem is, I drank too much and couldn’t remember most of it.
The next year, Darryl found the Riff Trax version. We invited Dev, but he declined to join us.
So it was just me and Darryl facing a horror worse than hostage-holding by a morbidly obese slug-blob thingy that eats live frogs, while wearing a copper bikini and becoming wank material for two generations of sticky-fingered adolescents who probably won’t lose their virginity until well into their thirties.
Well, we had the lifesaving beer, at least. No magic brownies. But I tell you, O my brothers and sisters and non-binary fellow Star Wars fans, if you watch this in an altered state of mind, it’s best left to the psychedelics set. Seriously, this thing is beyond marijuana. It demands magic mushrooms or hardcore acid.
The SWHS combines the very worst of glitzy, low-budget 1970's-era variety show special effects with a trippy appearance by Jefferson Starship, sans Grace Slick. She’d left the band a few months earlier, while it was still Jefferson Airplane, after an embarrassing drunken rant at a concert in Germany. Thus she was spared embarrassing herself further.
Diahann Carroll appeared as Wookiee wank material in a pseudo-porn viewing experience, because I guess Itchy, Chewbacca’s grandfather, was into cross-primate porn.
Watch THIS in an unaltered state and you may be damaged for life. You’ve been warned.
I’d include stills from the SWHS if I could find any that are free, but I can’t, and if I do anyway, Darryl, an aspiring movie producer who knows more about loopholes than I, says Lucasfilm will sue the snot out of me.
Look, I put my mental health at serious risk for you. I’m not going into bankruptcy for you, dude.
What I can offer you is...
Answers to the SWHS burning questions you don’t have
“How would you like to go through life with your name synonymous with sewage?”―Art Carney
WTF? Like, seriously, where’s the actual Star Wars?
The biggest WTF is why the characters from the actual movie get very little screen time as the story revolves around Chewbacca’s family in their big-ass treehouse preparing for Life Day, which is like the Wookiee Thanksgiving or something. (This show in its one broadcast moment of vainglory aired mid-November.)
George Lucas would have you believe he had little to do with the making of this Wookiee Dookie, and he’s sort of right, although he found Wookiees far more compelling than most. Wikipedia notes he wanted a “film just about Wookiees, nothing else.” The SWHS was cadged together by about a bazillion people and he received the dailies for approval. He wasn’t happy with this magnum oh-please but he’s implicated as an accessory. If you’re old enough, you might remember a Sunday-only Star Wars newspaper comic that began with a storyline about Wookiees and Life Day. It sucked.
WTF, Harrison Ford?
He looks pretty embarrassed the entire time and you can almost see the ‘This is going to ruin my career and I’ll be on Hollywood Squares [Millennials: The era’s equivalent of Dancing With The Stars] for the rest of my life’ thought running behind his pained expression.
WTF Did they do to Mark Hamill?
He looks like Rocky’s younger brother. Horror, not Balboa. Hamill sports surfer dude hair and someone had to hide his plastic surgery work after a recent auto accident. Why this necessitated mascara or eye liner or some damn thing is between Frankie’s new squeeze and the makeup artiste he clearly pissed off.
WTF was Carrie Fisher on?
She looks like high in every scene. I can’t confirm she was doing drugs while making SWHS (I would have stipulated it in the contract if I’d read the script first) but it’s likely, since she had a notorious drug problem. Suspects: Cocaine, marijuana, LSD, HDACi.
WTF? Is Harvey Korman in BLACKFACE???
Harvey Korman, then from The Carol Burnett Show, played several roles including a multi-armed TV chef. Is it just me, or does he look like he’s in blackface? This was one of my biggest WTF moments. You decide!
How’d they get an Oscar winner to agree to this? Did he get into Fisher’s stash?
Academy Award-winner Art Carney may have lost a bet or did this at gunpoint. His unbuttoned shirt is straight-up 1970s Larry the Lounge Lizard. He plays an electronics salesman who hooks up Itchy, Chewbacca’s pervy grandfather, with a hair dryer-like thingy so he can watch Diahann Carroll do a dance as forbidden as was permitted on TV in Carter country. It went on for longer than the Clone Wars unless you had a major jones for Carroll or had downed some good shit for the integrated kaleidoscopic special effects. Darryl and I debated whether she was wearing body glitter or sweating like a stevedore.
Diahann Carroll: She’s got what your hairy old granddaddy wants! “Ohhhh yesss…I can feel my creation! I’m getting *your* message, are you getting mine?…Oh! Oh! We are excited, aren’t we…Now…we can have a good time, can’t we?” It's actually remarkable how porno this was for 1978 broadcast TV.
Are Wookiee families otherwise all this barf-cutesy?
Then there’s Chewbacca’s annoying, cloying family. As you well know, Wookiees convey ridiculously complex communications with grunts and growls. Much of this stupid story revolves around Lumpy, the irritating kid with Darth Vader’s stooges’ and stormtroopers’ home invasion, looking for the Walking Carpet who’s stuck in galactic traffic somewhere with the scruffy-looking nerf herder.
Maude? Seriously, Maude was in this?
Oh, and let’s not forget Bea Arthur, a singing bartender getting macked on by Harvey Korman, who ditched racist Julia Child and is now a lovestruck sleazebag who pours alcohol into a hole in his head.
How were the Nielsen ratings?
If you’re old enough to have looked forward to, then felt righteously skunked by this disappointment lo these many years ago, you probably bagged out long before the end. My brother and I, rabid fans, were so bored with Wookiee-speak and Lumpy’s holographic toy acrobats that we, like millions of others, switched the channel.
Nielsen ratings showed a big chunk of the audience departed for The Love Boat at the start of the second hour, right after the inexplicable WTF-is-this-doing-in-the-middle-of-this-Wookie-soap-opera cartoon that introduced Boba Fett — Vader lackey and Han Solo stalker. It’s considered a fan classic, for reasons Darryl and I don’t understand as its only saving grace was no damn Wookiee family.
Because everyone furred off so early, almost no one saw the culty grand finale, where the Wookiees in creepy Buffy-style let’s-sacrifice-the-naked-virgin red robes walked into a bright strobe light, without having to die first.
Twenty minutes before the end I got up to go to the bathroom and Darryl said, “Hey, you want me to pause it for you?” and I was like, “No, no, don’t pause it! I’ll be right back!” While I no longer have to worry about being an acceptable sacrifice those red robes looked kind of Inquisitorial and us Pagans are allergic to burning stakes.
So when this thing was finally over, about eighty years later…
Wait! I’ve got one more question!
Okay, go ahead.
Why did Princess Leia sing a saccharine Life Day song at the end?
Maybe she did it to show up Bea Arthur's performance. Carrie Fisher insisted on singing, although she didn’t like the song they gave her. So be careful what you ask for, the network gods may grant your request. Because it sucked.
Here’s a side fun fact about someone who wasn’t cool enough to be in the SWHS. David Acomba, the original director who had the good sense to dump this disaster and leave the mess for replacement Steve Binder to clean up, or not, wanted to feature a talented but relatively unknown comedian named Robin Williams. However, he wasn’t famous enough. I’m not sure whether the guest stars casting began before Williams’s breakthrough appearance as Mork from Ork in Happy Days, an episode which aired in January 1978. Sucker casting may have been completed, or Williams might not have been famous enough yet.
Here’s a grand irony to that fateful decision
The Mork Happy Days episode was born because Garry Marshall’s Star Wars-obsessed son kept bugging his father to do a space episode. The comedian signed to play Mork was so bloody awful, and the rehearsals so atrocious, that the entire cast grew depressed because they had to ‘put something in the can’ and it was too late to ditch it or fix it. Then, the comedian himself, understanding this was going to monumentally redefine the term ‘suckage’, dropped out two or three days before air time, leaving them Morkless In Burbank.
Cast member Al Molinaro mentioned a talented kid in his improvisation class who might be able to sub, and Robin Williams so impressed them with his ability to riff on damn near anything and go off-script so hilariously that he got the role and the rest is history. That Happy Days episode, which occurred during the season where ‘jumping the shark’ became a cultural reference to something having hit its peak and sliding downhill, became an all-time classic Great Moment In TV history rather than, ironically, the Star Wars Holiday Special of TV sitcoms.
The dropout comedian was John Byner, who Boomers and Gen-Xers mostly remember as the guy who put the ‘square’ in Hollywood Squares.
Could Robin Williams have saved the SWHS from its Night That Will Live Forever In Infamy?
We will never know.
This is an old post from Medium I wrote in 2019 and republished here with only a few minor changes. If you liked this post you can always subscribe to my Substack newsletter Grow Some Labia so you never miss a damn thing! I only write goofy stuff like this only once in a while but you can find my other humor pieces under the Silly Science, Humor category. Otherwise, I mostly write snarkily about the nation's culture wars.