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Inside ‘The Star Wars Holiday Special’

December 24, 2014

A look at one of the notorious Christmas specials—and worst Star Wars moments—of all time.

Star Wars Holiday SpecialStar Wars was a surprise smash when it debuted in theaters in 1977, and went on to break all kinds of box office records. Toys flew off shelves and cast members like Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill became stars…but producers were still worried that fans would have moved on by the time the announced sequel came out in 1980. In 1978, Star Wars mastermind George Lucas decided a two-hour made-for-TV special would tide everybody over. He wrote an outline of a story about the Star Wars world’s celebration of a Christmas-like holiday called “Life Day,” as observed by Chewbacca’s family.

Lucas sold the show to ABC, but as he was too busy making the 1980 movie—The Empire Strikes Back—the network hired some young TV variety show writers to actually write The Star Wars Holiday Special script, including future awards show joke writer Bruce Villanch. Many Star Wars cast members agreed to appear, but in keeping with the variety show tack, a bunch of ‘70s TV stars inexplicably signed on as well.

The Star Wars Holiday special debuted on November 17, 1978, and it was…not what fans had in mind. The first 15 minutes showed Chewbacca’s family (without Chewbacca) arguing in Wookie language, without subtitles. That served as a framing device for the rest of the show’s bits: “shows” the Wookies watched on TV. Among them were Bea Arthur doing a song-and-dance number; an erotic dance by Diahann Carroll; a performance by Jefferson Starship; and a cooking segment hosted by Harvey Korman, with six arms…in drag. At one point, Carrie Fisher, in character as Princess Leia, sings a Life Day carol, which is to the tune of the Star Wars theme song.

By the end, more than two-thirds of the initial 20 million viewers had flipped over to Wonder Woman on the other channel. Not only the fans hated it—so did Lucas. He was so disappointed in the show that he successfully blocked it from airing again. However, 1978 was right when people were getting VCRs, so many taped the show, which led to The Holiday Special becoming one of the most bootlegged videos of all time, in the pre-YouTube age.

Watch it here…if you dare.

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