After several tries on three separate occasions, I finally made it all the way through the Star Wars Holiday Special. I then spent at least the next hour curled up in a ball on the couch, whimpering in distress, and it took me a full hour more to recover any desire to live. That may seem like an excessive, over-the-top account of what happened, but trust me: I truly wish I were exaggerating. It is far and away the worst thing I have ever watched. I know we were harsh with Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas in the last post, but I think that was due in large part to a complaint with Mrs. Otter’s somewhat shrill singing voice. This is so far outside that, so horrendous and unspeakable that just writing this post is giving me post-traumatic stress.
Sure, I could give you details about why it’s so awful. The fact that the majority of it is in un-subtitled Wookie, that not a single joke lands, that any action scene is cut from footage from the first movie, that the climax involves a number of Wookies wandering around a cavern in enormous red Snuggies and howling softly to themselves…these items are all suggestive, but they do not approach an understanding of just how deeply it all goes wrong.
A little history: when the Star Wars Holiday Special first aired I was not alive, but apparently it was so instantly and universally reviled that it was pulled from the airways immediately thereafter, never again to be released for public viewing. The only reason we have access to it now is that a few VHS copies recorded from the initial airing have surfaced around the Internet. The best version I could find came with recently added Spanish subtitles, which actually added a whiff of coherence to the whole thing that I’m certain the original lacks. The general premise is that Chewbacca and Han are trying to make it back to Chewie’s home planet for Life Day, the Wookie version of Christmas. The Empire intrudes and creates some vague, non-determinate and never-defined barricade, which delays the Millennium Falcon for a while. Meanwhile, we watch Chewie’s family, including his wife Malla, his father Itchy, and his son Lumpy, as they worry about him in their weirdly seventies ranch-style tree house (because that is a much more interesting plot than evading an Imperial fleet). Luke, Leia, and the band Jefferson Starship all make appearances. Part of it is animated. Part of it is Bea Arthur singing in the Mos Eisley Cantina. None of it is watchable.
What I find most remarkable about the Star Wars Holiday Special is that like many Christmas specials, it is built as a variety show, featuring a hard-to-make-it-home-for-Christmas plotline, a number of musical guests, a few surprise celebrity appearances, and an underlying cheesiness. It’s a format built on the idea that you can appeal to many different people through diversity, giving you a number of flavors and fictional experiences. And yet…it’s almost as if the variety in this instance makes each individual piece worse. Rather than relieving you by moving quickly from one thing to the next, it’s more of a frying pan/fire situation, where you are continually struck anew by how painful it all is. I haven’t even mentioned yet what actually happens in these little moments, which is almost always us looking at characters watching other things – for example, we watch Malla watch an entire Wookie cooking show while she follows along in her own kitchen. We watch Lumpy watch Harvey Korman show him how to put his new Life Day present together. We watch Chewie’s elderly father watch what appears to be Wookie soft-core porn, giving us both the uncomfortable sex fantasy and the accompanying Wookie groans of approval.
It is nauseating. It is every bit as unbearable as I was led to expect. If you consider the addition of the cutesy young son and crotchety old father, the knockoff Christmas holiday, and the presence of Bea Arthur, it’s as though the Holiday Special jumps the shark several times in the course of two hours. On the plus side, I now have a new understanding of bad TV, a chasm of deep darkness I had never fully explored in the television landscape. On the downside…I can only hope I am able to recover.