Confession time: this morning, I did something I may never be able to forgive myself for. Something so horrible and absurd that I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I was cooking a late breakfast, with late in this case meaning I was attempting to prepare pancakes in the early afternoon. Now, this was only my second time ever trying to make them (they are something my mother is normally in charge of), so maybe that serves as an excuse for my behavior. But it probably doesn’t. In any case, as I was mixing up the batter with my fork, I found myself doing a little chant: “Stir, whip! Stir, whip! Whip! Whip! Stir! Stir, whip! Stir, whip! Whip! Whip! Stir!” Over and over again I repeated these words. As I said, I’m still not sure what came over me.
Could it be that I’m starting to develop some level of fondness for The Star Wars Holiday Special, the infamous 1978 abomination that is probably the single-most blogged about two hours of television history? No, that couldn’t possibly be the case. Could it? I suppose that everyone has their own story to tell about this random variety show that somehow made itself a legend of pop culture despite the fact that it only ever aired on TV once, has never officially been released on DVD, and that it’s a well-known fact that George Lucas (who had virtually no involvement with it) absolutely despises the thing. The special has certainly become easier for fans to access since the birth of YouTube and other video-sharing websites, as before then it was something you had to get a physical copy of via a bootleg or a VHS you bought at a convention. There are still many people out there who don’t even know that The Star Wars Holiday Special exists, and when you tell them they either scratch their heads or think you are messing with them. When I shared it with an internet friend a few years ago, she only got a few minutes into it before she had to stop watching.
And that really is the most remarkable thing about this thing: it truly is as terrible as its reputation suggests it is. Unlike films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time or Batman and Robin–both movies that I saw after they had been declared “some of the worst motion pictures ever made” and found to not be that bad–The Star Wars Holiday Special is every bit as cringe-inducing as I had heard it would be. Yet both times I’ve watched it (yes, I’ve seen this thing two times, which means I deserve to get a medal even more than Chewie did), I got a little excited before I hit play. There’s a certain level of glee that comes from watching anything related to Star Wars, but there’s something downright surreal about it when it’s something as universally consumed as wookiee shit as The Star Wars Holiday Special ultimately is. Screw those click-bait columns you may have read that may list “ten reasons The Star Wars Holiday is better than the Star Wars prequels.” This is as unwatchable as a galaxy far, far away has ever gotten. Even those damn Ewok movies have to be better than this! (For the record, I’ve never seen those damn Ewok movies. Maybe they’re really great?)
If you’ve never seen The Star Wars Holiday Special and would like to make this year your first time, there are a few pointers to take into account before you do so. The first–and this is the most important–MAKE SURE you find a version which includes the commercials. I can’t stress enough how much this will matter to you while you’re watching it, as you’re probably going to find yourself praising the Force when you’re given a break from the non-stop wookiee belching. In addition to providing relief, I also happen to love commercials, and these don’t disappoint in being both nostalgic and vaguely amusing (The Cinema Snob recently devoted an entire episode to them, as have other internet comedians). The second tip I can offer is this: probably don’t watch it alone. I’ve tried to do this multiple times, and have found it to be a very bad idea. The entire thing is simply too strange an experience to try to take on alone (and this comes from someone who has watched Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny all by himself on his laptop after midnight). At the same time, make sure you make some sort of an agreement with your fellow viewers that you’re not going to talk over every damn second of it. After all, you want to be able to fully appreciate the sequence where Grandpa Itchy masturbates in the living room while watching virtual reality porn, don’t you?
Also, it’s cheating if you skip straight to the “good parts” of the special. This means no only watching the Boba Fett cartoon which is easily everyone’s favorite sequence (it’s hidden as an Easter Egg on the 9-disc Star Wars Saga Blu-ray collection), no jumping to the Jefferson Starship song which makes a member of the Empire smile really big, and no going ahead to the bizarrely charming Bea Arthur musical number (even though, to this day, no one is sure why she was even in this movie). You’ve got to experience every torturous moment of this thing in order to appreciate the scenes that are only sort of kind of decent, including all of the aforementioned roaring, Art Carney miraculously being able to maintain his dignity despite having to say lines like “why all the long wookiee faces?”, and Harrison Ford wishing he were dead.
This isn’t even getting into Harvey Korman embarrassing himself over and over again in multiple comedy sketches, Lumpy sitting down to watch a space circus, and Diahann Carroll as a hologram (credited on IMDB as “Mermeia Holographic Wow”), all concluded with the ultimate punishment of hearing Princess Leia sing a freaking song during the finale after several wookiees commit mass suicide by walking into the sun. So why is The Star Wars Holiday Special even a thing that we are still talking about 39 years after it premiered?
A better question to ask, though, might be whether or not The Star Wars Holiday Special should be in any shape or form considered to be canon. It does mark the first appearance of Boba Fett (playing a bigger role in the cartoon than he ever got to in the original trilogy), and the special’s existence would explain why Kylo Ren developed such a disdain for his father, no doubt sickened to death by countless visits to his wookiee relatives every year in time for Life Day. And hey, maybe the Empire was concerned with shutting down random bars as part of their scheme to rule the galaxy. But at the end of the day, what matters is the special’s influence on pop culture, which has been massive to say the least. Its been the butt of far too many jokes to even begin to reference here, including the comic strip Sally Forth for some reason, proving that Sally Forth can’t even make The Star Wars Holiday Special funny.
But let’s go back to that “fondness” I mentioned earlier, which I don’t think is something fans only have towards it because it sucks. If anything, its badness serves as a celebration of our unity, as it’s the one thing in Star Wars fan culture that people don’t appear to argue about much. Sure, there will always be those of us to defend the prequels (myself being among them), just as there will be those who will continue to fume with others for many weeks to come over the various controversial aspects of The Last Jedi. But Lumpy is ugly. We can all agree on that. And in the spirit of the holiday season, that’s kinda nice. Happy (belated) Life Day indeed!
Next: A Very Merry Cricket is a yuletide Chuck Jones classic (for real this time. We pulled a bit of a Moonraker with this article)