Here I am again! Reviewing another of Hollywood’s most awful, probably best left untouched. With the release of a new Star Wars film and the holiday season, I thought it was the perfect time to re-open the vault! So here is my review of the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.

George Lucas once famously quipped about this cinematic debacle that if he had the time and a sledgehammer, he would track down every copy of it and smash them. He then proceeded to buy every single copy so that it would never air again.

Unfortunately for him and luckily for us the Internet exists and has acted as a living tomb to this turbulent television special. And I sat through it so you don’t have to. This holiday special was definitely special in its own way.

After the first Star Wars film was released in 1977, it was a huge surprise success. A lot of people actually expected it to flop at the time. Hollywood wasn’t used to high-cost space operas. Rather, films that were popular then were more like the French Connection or The Godfather; movies with uncompromising tough guy protagonists. Directors were more interested in gritty realism than fantasy.

Star Wars was very expensive to make, in fact it was one of the most expensive movies to have ever been made at the time. If it flopped, 20th Century Fox would be out hundreds of millions of dollars.

To give it a chance, they only granted theaters the right to show The Other Side of Midnight, a highly anticipated novel adaptation, if they picked up Lucas’ space opera as well. Although The Other Side of Midnight was a marginal success and did modestly well by any standards, as we all know, it didn’t do anywhere near as well as Star Wars.

The film was so unexpectedly popular that merchandise and toys couldn’t be sold on the spot and film-goers had to get a sort of IOU. All of this unexpected popularity then gave birth to the Holiday Special.

George Lucas wanted to keep Star Wars on people’s minds during the holiday season as the making of the second film progressed so he granted CBS permission to proceed. To say he regretted this decision is an understatement.

Obviously, due to the success of Star Wars, the expectations for this television special were astronomically high. It did not deliver, mostly because a lot of it is just straight up weird.  From the first scene that is solely in Wookie grunts (without subtitles) to virtual reality Wookie porn, this movie has a lot of moments that were probably best left forgotten.

The variety extravaganza begins with Chewbacca and Han flying through space. Chewbacca wants to get back to his family on his home planet of Kashyyyk to spend “Life Day” with them (why couldn’t it have just been Christmas or any other holiday?) and Han unenthusiastically reassures him that they will get there as soon as possible.

It is not Han who is miserable but Harrison Ford himself who is evidently bored as hell throughout the entire thing. He really does not want to be in this TV special. He’s even admitted he never saw the entire thing.  Apparently he was forced into it by his contract and there was no way out of it.

After the opening sequence, we are introduced to Chewbacca’s family who sound like they are part of the seven dwarfs; his wife Malla, his father Itchy and his son Lumpy. They are shown speaking wookie…with no subtitles…So the scene is basically just ten plus minutes of unintelligible grunting. Good start.

Then Malla calls Luke asking where Chewie is. To cheer her up, Luke tries to make her smile in what is the first of many awkward smiles throughout the film. See in the clip above when Han and Chewbacca finally arrive (1:26) for an example.

Other than the main story, the film is just filled with weird variety acts from older stars of the day like Harvey Korman, who was well known for his work on the Carol Burnett Show. He tries to liven up the show but is no match for how miserable the main cast feels about the whole thing. In the clip below, he shows Malla how to cook:

The weirdest scene is the aforementioned “wookie porn scene.” Itchy is hooked up to a weird chair device that shows Broadway star Diahanna Carrol giving a seductive performance of This Minute Now. This thing is, as Harvey Korman says: “Wow, if you know what I mean.” No, what do you mean Harvey? How did this even get into a children’s film?

Another aspect which made this film so cringey on the night it aired were the ads. You can see all of them below (along with news breaks):

These were pulled from the same (presumably) VHS copy the movie was. Some downloads have them together.

A lot of them were corporations trying to do some feel-good stuff, like GM’s slogan “People building transportation to serve people”. A slogan so incredibly benign, it’s almost more boring than some parts of this film.

An extra weird one is at 2:47. A bunch of people who represent the International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s Union break out into awkward song. Even for a self-described lefty who loves unions, this was weird for me too.

The film does have some okay moments like the cartoon with Bobba Fett. Fun fact: This is actually the first time we see Bobba Fett! So if anything this monstrosity gave us a badass Star Wars character. So I guess it wasn’t all that bad?

Although a total affront to Star Wars, the Holiday Special is notable for several reasons. For one, if you can believe it, it is the first Star Wars film to come after the original release. Second, and more importantly, it was the first film to showcase the Star Wars expanded universe (although many fans and Lucas himself deny it is part of Star Wars cannon).

Since the first film was shown, there have been hundreds of additions to the franchise including novels, comics, animated television shows, video games and more (though Disney de-canonized a bunch of these a few years ago). And if anything, The Star Wars Holiday Special gave us that concept.

Even some of the ideas from the expanded universe were used in subsequent Star Wars films. So I guess we have the holiday special to thank for that? (Also again, Bobba Fett)

In all, this is an amazingly terrible film and if you are a lover of bad movies, well this is right up there. Unlike The Room which is so bad it’s funny, The Star Wars Holiday Special leaves us cringing and that’s what makes it so great.

Happy holidays!

Full movie (if you really feel like it…):

Working in a video store, one learns a fair bit about most peoples’ viewing habits, in addition to things like the sound of cobwebs being made and how to build an epic fort out of untouched copies of Steven Seagal movies. Around Christmas time, what one seems to be confronted with the most is that peoples’ Christmas movie choices are as stayed and unchanging as the popularity of video stores in the fantasy world I created in my head.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Rankin-Bass specials, Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, every year the same titles, to the point that you wonder why most people don’t just buy them. It would be easy for me to cast a disparaging eye on this, elitist dink that I am, but since childhood my preferred Christmas movies have remained just as unchanging. It’s just that I get a smug sense of satisfaction from liking the Christmas movies that don’t seem to rent as much because, well, I’m an elitist dink, try and keep up here, man.

So let’s take a look at some of the preferred holiday viewing around my house this time of year, and maybe it’ll even persuade you to try something new and add a new entry to your usual Christmas line-up.


Bill Murray was a constant presence in my cinematic upbringing and around the holidays his modern-day Christmas Carol adaptation Scrooged was usually played at least once. Murray plays Frank Cross, a heartless TV executive wrapped up in staging a lavish, live broadcast of A Christmas Carol. Oh hey, Scrooged, can you hear me over how meta you’re being, there?

But as the title indicates, Cross gets the Scrooge treatment and is shown the error of his ways by a series of ghosts and tearful looks back at his misspent childhood and lost love, played by the always welcome Karen Allen.

As always, Murray owns the movie, clearly having too much fun playing an utter bastard and cursing out supporting cast members like Bobcat Goldthwait and Alfre Woodard. This is pre-Lost in Translation/Jim Jarmusch/Wes Anderson Murray, when subdued wasn’t in his vocabulary and he had schtick other than tired old man.

But just as fun is watching Murray’s transformation from over-the-top evil to over-the-top good, which culminates in him hijacking the live broadcast to breathlessly scream out a barely coherent, but still effective message about love and happiness before leading everyone in a rousing rendition of Put a Little Love in your Heart.

Tokyo Godfathers Tokyo_Godfathers_(Movie_Poster)

Ooh, look at Thomas trotting out his anime like it’s the late 90s and that’s still cool and underground. Well y’know, enough people still turn their noses up at any anime that doesn’t involve Hayao Miyazaki that I feel the need to rub things like Akira or, around this time of year, Tokyo Godfathers in their faces right up until the time they ask me to stop and I skulk back to my cave to watch Attack on Titan.

Tokyo Godfathers, rather than the story of displaced Italian mobsters it sounds like, is the story of three homeless people who find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve and set out to re-unite it with its parents, on the way getting into madcap chases, overcoming their personal demons and crashing a mob party just in time to witness a hit, because what says Christmas more than mob hits, after all.

The film comes via sadly departed anime director Satoshi Kon, who brought us other “No really, there’s no laser-powered schoolgirls or tentacles or anything!” works like Perfect Blue, Paprika and Paranoia Agent. This still manages to be his most “grounded” film, something that could have just as easily been filmed in live action, but is brought to vivid life by animation studio Mad House.

This is definitely the most “out there” entry on this list, but take the plunge and you’ll probably be surprised at the results.

Muppet_christmas_carolMuppet Christmas Carol

While Scrooged was busy re-inventing the characters of A Christmas Carol for the hip, fast-paced world of 1988, Muppet Christmas Carol seemed more content with just taking the text as is and adding a few talking frogs and musical numbers, and while I do love Scrooged, Mupppet Christmas Carol is nothing if not classier.

It doesn’t hurt that the film comes with a heaping helping of nostalgia, being really the last Muppet movie before things started to go down hill and they started foisting Pepe the Prawn on us as some great new character like a used car dealer desperately trying to sell you on a Toyota Prius. This was the first Muppet movie after the death of Jim Henson, and arguably the last one that still has the old timeless Muppet magic and innocence.

Michael Caine stars as Scrooge, being just as cockney and grumpy as you want him to be, and clearly amused as all hell to be working with a troupe of felt barnyard animals doing funny voices.

Honestly though, what I love most about this one are the songs, which are implanted in my mind as being synonymous with Christmas like a more festive Manchurian Candidate bit of mental reprogramming. There hasn’t been a Christmas Eve in forever that One More Sleep Till Christmas wasn’t stuck in my head, both comforting and a little infuriating. It Feels Like Christmas usually dislodges it the next day to equal effect.

As far as invoking the warm and fuzzies go, Muppet Christmas Carol is basically a tactical nuclear strike for me, in a way Scrooged and Tokyo Godfathers can’t hope to match.

But whatever your preferred holiday viewing, watch it in good health and cheer. Unless it’s Black Christmas, in which case, watch it in blood-lust and catharsis.