The Star Wars Holiday Special is a 1978 American television special set in the universe of the Star Wars science-fiction media franchise.
Directed by Steve Binder, it was the first Star Wars spin-off film, set between the events of the original film (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
It stars the main cast of the original Star Wars and introduces the character of Boba Fett, who appeared in later films.
In the storyline that ties the special together, following the events of the original film, Chewbacca and Han Solo attempt to visit the Wookiee home world to celebrate “Life Day”. They are pursued by agents of the Galactic Empire, who are searching for members of the Rebel Alliance on the planet. The special introduces three members of Chewbacca’s family: his father Itchy, his wife Malla, and his son Lumpy. The programme also features the rest of the main Star Wars characters, including Luke Skywalker, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader and Princess Leia, all portrayed by the original cast (except R2-D2, who is simply billed as “himself”). The programme includes footage from the 1977 film and a cartoon produced by Toronto-based Nelvana featuring the bounty hunter Boba Fett. Scenes take place in space and in spacecraft including the Millennium Falcon and a Star Destroyer; segments also take place in a few other locales, such as the Mos Eisley cantina from the original film.
The special is notorious for its extremely negative reception and has never been rebroadcast nor officially released on home video. It has become something of a cultural legend due to the underground quality of its existence. It has been viewed and distributed in off-air recordings made from its original telecast by fans as bootleg copies, and it has also been uploaded to content-sharing websites.
On Life Day, Chewbacca, accompanied by Han Solo, is headed home to see his family. Along the way, the duo are chased by two Star Destroyers, but they escape into hyperspace. Meanwhile, on Kashyyyk, Chewbacca’s family is preparing for his return. Hoping to find the Millennium Falcon, his wife, Malla, runs a computer scan for starships in the area but is unsuccessful. Malla contacts Luke Skywalker, who, along with R2-D2, is working on his X-wing starfighter. Luke tells her that he does not know what happened. Malla contacts Saun Dann, a local human trader. He tells her through a carefully worded message that Han and Chewbacca are on their way and should be arriving soon. Malla then attempts (unsuccessfully) to prepare a meal, the instructions of which are being aired via a local cooking show by an eccentric four-armed alien cook, Chef Gormaanda (Harvey Korman).
Saun arrives with Life Day gifts for everyone, including a virtual reality fantasy program (featuring Diahann Carroll) for Itchy. Back on the Falcon, Chewbacca and Han have just come out of hyperspace not far from Kashyyyk. Han notices an increased Imperial presence, so they decide to land in an unguarded area to the north. As they enter the atmosphere, Lumpy hears the roaring of the ship. Believing Han and Chewie might be arriving, Malla opens the door, but instead finds two stormtroopers and officers. The Imperials force their way into the house. An officer orders a search for Chewbacca. As they search, Saun and the others attempt to distract them with food and Malla’s music video box (which features a video by Jefferson Starship). When the music finishes, the head officer orders the search to continue. The head officer tells Malla to keep Lumpy busy while they search his room, so Lumpy (and the viewing audience) watches a cartoon on a viewscreen of one of his father’s many adventures:
During a search for a talisman, the Millennium Falcon crashes on the water planet of Panna with the main characters onboard. They run into Boba Fett, who saves Luke from a giant monster and claims to want to help the Rebels. They all board the Falcon, where Han has been infected by a mysterious sleeping virus caused by the talisman. Luke then contracts the virus as well. Fett and Chewie go into Panna City to get the cure. Once they get into the Imperial-occupied city, Fett instructs Chewie to stay behind – so he can contact Darth Vader. On the Falcon, as C-3PO is caring for Han and Luke, R2-D2 intercepts the transmission between Vader and Fett. Evading the Imperials, Fett and Chewie return to the Falcon with the cure. After everyone recovers from the virus, they learn of Fett’s true allegiances. Fett blasts away in his jetpack, promising that they will meet again. Everyone then escapes from the planet aboard the Falcon and heads back to the Rebel base.
Lumpy works to create a translation device that will fool the Imperials into returning to their base by faking their commander’s voice. To do so, he first must watch the manual for the device, being presented by a malfunctioning, incompetent robot (also played by Korman). While the Imperials are searching downstairs, the living room viewscreen activates, announcing that Tatooine is being put under curfew by the Empire because of “subversive forces”. The video is announced as required viewing for all Imperial forces and much of it features Ackmena (Bea Arthur) running the Mos Eisley cantina. Ackmena is approached by an admirer: Krelman, an amorous alien, who has misunderstood something she said to him recently. Ackmena announces last call, and upon being ignored, sings a farewell song. Lumpy uses this opportunity to put his plan into motion, faking a repeated call for the Imperials to “return to base”. They leave, but one stormtrooper stays behind and realises that they were tricked. He finds Lumpy and destroys the machine, then chases Lumpy outside.
Han and Chewbacca arrive. Chewie protects Lumpy as Han kills the stormtrooper. After they are reunited, an Imperial officer appears on the viewscreen, giving a general alert for the missing stormtrooper. Saun quickly responds that the trooper stole supplies and deserted. The danger averted, the family prepares to go to the festival at the great Tree of Life. They hold glowing orbs, and appear in space wearing red robes. Wookiees walk into a bright star and arrive at the Tree of Life, where many are gathered, including C-3PO and R2-D2. Luke, Leia, and Han also appear. Leia gives a short speech and sings a song in celebration. Chewie remembers his adventures during the events of the original film. Finally, the Wookiee family sits around a table and bow their heads.
- Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.
- Harrison Ford as Han Solo.
- Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.
- Anthony Daniels as C-3PO.
- Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca.
- James Earl Jones as Darth Vader (voice).
- Beatrice Arthur as Ackmena.
- Art Carney as Trader Saun Dann.
- Diahann Carroll as Mermeia Holographic.
- The Jefferson Starship (Marty Balin, Craig Chaquico, Paul Kantner, David Freiberg, Pete Sears, John Barbata) as holographic band.
- Harvey Korman as Krelman / Chef Gormaanda / Amorphian instructor.
- Mickey Morton as Malla / Tork (uncredited)/Chef Gormaanda’s second pair of arms (uncredited).
- Paul Gale as Itchy.
- Patty Maloney as Lumpy.
- Jack Rader as Imperial Guard Officer.
- Stephanie Stromer.
- Michael Potter as Imperial Guard.
- The Wazzan Troupe.
- Yuichi Sugiyama as the “Ring-Master”.
- The Mum Brothers.
- Claude Woolman as Imperial Officer.
- Lev Mailer as Imperial Guard.
- John McLaughlin.
- David Prowse (archive footage) as Darth Vader (uncredited).
- Alec Guinness (archive footage) as Obi-Wan Kenobi (uncredited).
- Leslie Schofield (archive footage) as Chief Moradmin Bast (uncredited).
- Marcus Powell (archive footage) as Rycar Ryjerd (uncredited)
Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2 in the films, was not involved in the special. The droid was performed entirely by a radio-controlled unit, operated by Mick Garris (Lucas’s receptionist). In the credits, R2-D2 is credited by announcer Art James as playing himself.
Because James Earl Jones was originally uncredited in Star Wars, the special marked the first time he was credited as the voice of Darth Vader.
Malla’s mask was repurposed from a Chewbacca mask from the original film. The names of Chewbacca’s family were later explained to have been nicknames, their full names being Mallatobuck (Malla), Attichitcuk (Itchy), and Lumpawarrump or Lumpawaroo (Lumpy).
While outlining the original Star Wars and planning its potential sequels, Lucas imagined a “film just about Wookiees, nothing else.” After the original film’s success, its cast made a few appearances on TV variety shows. According to Charles Lippincott, who was head of marketing of the Star Wars Corporation, CBS brought the idea of doing a TV special to him and Lucas, although there is some internal dispute about this claim. According to J.W. Rinzler, “Everybody agreed that a television special was a good idea.” Lucas was busy moving his production company to a new location, which was not heavily involved in the special. According to Lucasfilm producer Gary Kurtz:
It did start out to be a lot better [with a different script]. We had half a dozen meetings with the TV company that was making it. In the end, because of work on promoting Star Wars and working on the next film, we realised we had no time. So we just left it to them and just had the occasional meetings with them, provided them with access to props and the actors, and that was it.
Though Lucas is uncredited, it was his idea to build the narrative around Chewbacca’s family. CBS hired experienced variety show writers and producers, including writer Bruce Vilanch, who was concerned about the decision to centre the special on a species who grunt in a fictional language without subtitles. Regardless, Lucas would not budge on his vision. The special went through two directors. The first, David Acomba, was brought in through an attempt to “make us different in variety shows”, according to Lippincott. Acomba, a classmate of George Lucas at USC film school, was unfamiliar with a multiple-camera setup, which caused some problems. Acomba also felt that there was a divide between himself and the producers, and chose to leave the project after finishing only a few scenes, including the cantina and Jefferson Starship. He was replaced by Steve Binder, whose only contact with Lucasfilm was a “Wookiee bible” detailing how the species should look and behave. Stan Winston was hired to design the Wookiee family.
The special was broadcast in its entirety in the United States only once, on Friday, 17 November 1978 (the week before Thanksgiving), on the television network CBS from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time (EST), preempting Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk. It was also broadcast on the Canadian television network CTV from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time, in New Zealand on TVNZ, and in Australia on the Seven Network.
All the acts were loosely linked together with material which involves the Wookiees’ preparation for Life Day on Kashyyyk, Han and Chewie’s attempt to bypass the Imperial blockade and make it to Chewie’s family, and the Imperial garrison’s search for rebels. The plot strings together a series of musical numbers, celebrity cameos and other variety show acts. These include songs and comedy routines by such 1970’s talents as Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman and Bea Arthur, and a circus-style acrobatics routine including uneven bars and juggling. The most notable segment is an animated cartoon featuring the onscreen debut of Boba Fett.
Original music was composed for The Star Wars Holiday Special by Ken and Mitzie Welch, while Ian Fraser was brought in to adapt John Williams’ orchestral themes from Star Wars. The special features four songs:
- “This Minute Now” is sung by Diahann Carroll. Carroll – who is supposed to be an image created by a virtual reality machine – tells Chewbacca’s father, Itchy, that she is his “fantasy” and suggestively invites him to “experience” her.
- “Light the Sky on Fire”, performed by Jefferson Starship, which is presented as a 3D music video watched by one of the Imperial guards; during production the song was given the working title “Cigar-Shaped Object (Vanished Without a Trace)” (the song was included as a bonus 45 rpm single in the Jefferson Starship greatest hits collection Gold).
- The clip marked Marty Balin’s final appearance with Jefferson Starship, as he had left the band in October 1978, a month before the special was broadcast.
- He later rejoined the band in 1993.
- Later, Bea Arthur, who plays Ackmena, proprietress of the Mos Eisley cantina, sings “Good Night, But Not Goodbye” set to the “Cantina Band” theme.
- Some of the same aliens seen in the cantina in Star Wars reappear, including the band Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, as back-up musicians.
- Finally, at the end of the special, Carrie Fisher sings a song in celebration of Life Day to the tune of the Star Wars main theme by John Williams.
Harvey Korman provides comedy in three of the special’s skits, including the cantina skit with Bea Arthur where he plays a love-struck barfly who drinks through a hole in the top of his head. He also performs two solo routines: one as Chef Gormaanda, a four-armed parody of Julia Child (the four arms allow her to work much faster than Malla can keep up with) and one as a malfunctioning Amorphian android named Dromboid in an instruction video watched by Lumpy. Art Carney has a more integral role in the story, playing a trader named Saun Dann on Kashyyyk who is a member of the rebellion and helps Chewie’s family. His segments are also largely played for laughs and at one point includes a scene alluding to his character Ed Norton from The Honeymooners, where an Imperial officer demands that he “get on with it” while Carney dallies with a prop, thus introducing the Jefferson Starship performance.
The high point of the special is generally considered to be the animated segment known as “The Faithful Wookiee”, which is the first official Star Wars cartoon. It was written by Lucas and produced by Toronto animation firm Nelvana Ltd., which later produced Droids and Ewoks, two Saturday-morning series based on the franchise in 1985 on ABC. Lucas requested that the visual style be inspired by Moebius. The vocal talents of the main cast are featured. Intended as an in-universe flashback, Luke wears a yellow jacket similar to his outfit at the end of A New Hope.
The cartoon introduces Boba Fett, whose appearance was based on footage of the unpainted costume from The Empire Strikes Back, and according to Nelvana co-founder Clive Smith, their suggestion to “scuff up his costume a little bit” influenced the character’s live-action appearance. The final costume design made a public parade appearance two months before the Holiday Special aired. The simplified colour scheme for the cartoon was later repeated for Fett’s appearance in Droids.
According to the official Star Wars website, Fett was voiced by Don Francks in the special. Inverse also credited the role to him based on his work in later Nelvana productions.
- The Star Wars Holiday Special was universally panned by critics, audiences and Star Wars fans alike.
- George Lucas did not have significant involvement with the film’s production and was reportedly unhappy with the results.
- The special was ranked at #3 in “The Five Goofiest Moments of the Star Wars Mythos” in the 62nd issue of the UK’s Star Wars magazine.
- In December 2018, a comedy play was released about the special’s production, entitled Special.
- In 2006, Harrison Ford made an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and claimed to have never seen it.
- In 2019, Daniels referred to the special as a “turd” in his autobiography.
- On the 2010 television programme Times Talk, New York Times columnist David Carr asked Carrie Fisher about the special; she said that she made Lucas give her a copy of the special in exchange for recording commentary for the Star Wars trilogy so that she would “have something for parties…when [she] wanted everyone to leave.
- In 2018, Mark Hamill admitted to not having seen the entire special.
- In 2020, he jokingly asked US President Donald Trump to pardon it.
Star Wars Series
- Overview of the Star Wars Franchise.
- Overview of Star Wars Films.
- Prequel Trilogy Overview (1999-2005).
- Original Trilogy Overview (1977-1983).
- Sequel Trilogy Overview (2015-2019).
- Overview of Star Wars Parodies.
- Overview of Star Wars TV Series.
- Overview of Star Wars Documentary Series.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Steve Binder and David Acomba (uncredited).
- Producer(s): Gary Smith, Dwight Hemion, Joe Layton, Jeff Starsh, Ken Welch, and Mitzie Welch.
- Writer(s): Pat Proft, Leonard Ripps, Bruce Vilanch, Rod Warren, and Mitzie Welch.
- Music: John Williams (Star Wars theme), Ian Fraser (score), Ken Wlech (songs), and Mitzie Welch (songs).
- Production: Smith-Hemion Productions, Winters Hollywood Entertainment Holdings Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, and Nelvana (animated segment).
- Distributor(s): 20th Century Fox Television.
- Release Date: 17 November 1978.
- Running time: 98 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.