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TODAY

Monday, November 18

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George Lucas in one of the most powerful people in the entertainment business. One can't say "in Hollywood" because decades ago, the filmmaker moved from southern California to his Skywalker ranch compound, which is located in a rural area several miles north of San Francisco. He's made millions of dollars with his films, merchandizing and technology. He possesses total creative control and his word is law. What else explains Jar-Jar Binks? There's no way that abomination was a result of a collaborative process; it would've been kicked out of committee.

However, George has a dark secret in his past... a skeleton so terrible he refuses admit it even exists. Official Lucas publications aren't allowed to mention this travesty, and rumor has it that the man himself has tried and failed to buy and destroy all proof.

No, it's not hookers (although...). I'm speaking of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. It aired only once, on November 17, 1978, on CBS.

I was a Star Wars fan growing up. I had the requisite crush on Han Solo and wore my lemon yellow The Empire Strikes Back t-shirt until the silvery decal peeled off. I remember seeing each of the original movies (Han shot first!) in 1977, 1981 and 1983 respectively. So when a friend decided to view a copy of the special a few years ago, several of us agreed to watch it. After all, we regularly enjoy D-level films together, both at home and at the theater. How bad could it be?

We soon descended into the sort of hell reserved for those who kick puppies for sport or dine on tender human babies. No one anywhere at any time has done anything bad enough to be punished with The Star Wars Holiday Special — except, perhaps, the people who inflicted it upon the world in the first place. I'm looking at you, Bea Arthur.

The short version of the tale: Han Solo is trying to get Chewbacca home in time to celebrate the Wookiee holiday Life Day with his family. However, the Empire enforces martial law to sniff out any rebel activity, which means that all space travel to and from Chewbacca's home planet is suspended. Malla (Chewie's wife), Itchy (Chewie's dad), and Lumpy (Chewie and Malla's son) are frantic and contact local merchants, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia to find their husband/son/father. Stormtroopers search their Wookiee tree house, but find no proof of rebellion. Chewie and Han return safely after a minor skirmish, and the Wookiees and their friends celebrate Life Day.

It doesn't sound that bad, right? Wait. Just wait. Interspersed between the main plot are a variety of interludes that have little or nothing to do with Star Wars mythology. Holographic circus performers, virtual reality porn, cartoons, intergalactic cooking shows, and way too many singing celebrities — it's Donny and Marie on crank. And for anyone familiar with '70s variety shows, you know how cracked out they already were.

The first sign of trouble is our introduction to Chewbacca's family. The audience is treated to five full minutes of Wookiee barks and growls, sans subtitles. Son Lumpy watches a two-minute hologram featuring jugglers, acrobats and gymnasts. Then there's several more minutes of Wookiee grunts and groans and you cannot even know how excruciating it is.

In his three-minute cameo, Mark Hamil looks very blond and very pretty. He wears more eyeliner than a boy band. Luke and R2-D2 work on an engine as he explains to Malla via video monitor that Chewie and Han left on schedule. But he's not worried. Chewie "hasn't missed a Life Day yet!" Luke beams. Malla then "calls" Saundan (Art Carney), a shopkeeper and friend who reassures her that the "shaggy carpet" she ordered is on the way. He'll be by later to drop off their Life Day gifts. As she waits for Saundan's arrival, Malla busies herself with a cooking show featuring Harvey Korman in extremely disturbing drag. The chef burbles, "Stir, whip, stir, whip, whip, whip, stir!"

Saundan's Life Day gift for dirty-old-Wookiee Itchy is a creepy virtual reality program. As he sits in a chair and peers through some sort of goggles, Itchy "creates" his dream woman, Diahann Carroll, who coos, "We are excited, aren't we?" Indeed. Itchy barks and growls inappropriately. "I must confess. I find you adorable," she giggles. Itchy rewinds and rewatches that line four times before emitting the kind of Wookiee noise I don't want to think about for too long. Diahann sings an existential refrain ("Why can't it be always right now?") and I guess I should be glad that Itchy's fantasy includes torch songs rather than... other things.

Princess Leia and C3PO contact Malla via the video screen. Leia isn't too concerned about Han and Chewie. Perhaps that's because Carrie Fisher looks doped to the gills. Yowza. Han and Chewie are still trying to make it home. Footage from the actual film is cut between intense scenes on a subpar Millennium Falcon cockpit. Harrison Ford says his lines with an odd intensity that makes me wonder if he's just laughing at us. God, I hope so.

The Stormtroopers bust into Chewie's pad, and they start looking for contraband. Saundan tries to keep the Wookiee family calm and out of harm's way. One officer open Malla's Life Day present, which is a mini Jefferson Starship sans Grace Slick concert stage. The unsubtle silhouette of the lead singer almost deep throating the phallic microphone becomes even more sexual as the mike itself soon glows like a pinkish-purple light saber. At least they only sing one song. Lumpy distracts himself from the Empire by watching an 11-minute cartoon that is only notable because it marks the debut of Boba Fett. He then goes upstairs and works on assembling his Life Day gift, a transmitter that comes with an instruction video. It features Harvey Korman — no dress or makeup this time — "acting" as if he is either speeding up or slowing down, depending on what Lumpy is doing. It's as cringeworthy as it sounds.

The video screen glows with a "required Imperial viewing" of Life on Tatooine "in the hope that our own lives may be uplifted by the comparison and enriched with the gratitude of relief." And is there a better way to feel superior than by watching Bea Arthur pour drinks and sing at the Cantina featured in Star Wars? Maybe by noting that at one point Maude dances with Greedo, who should be dead.

Back at Wookieland, Lumpy tricks the Imperial officers out of his home by sending a false transmission. The lone trooper left behind is quickly disposed of by Han and Chewie. After a heartfelt reunion with his family, the Life Day ceremony begins. Surrounded by Wookiees in red robes, a fully glazed Leia croons,

We celebrate a day of peace, a day of harmony A day of joy we all can share together joyously.

"A day of joy we all can share together joyously?" Now that sounds like it came straight from the pen of George Lucas. We close with a montage of shots from Episode IV, and then it is blissfully over.

The only saving graces of this two-hour long nightmare were the 1970s commercials included in the copy of the tape. A group of women sang, "Look for the union label." An ad for Dallas revealed that Sue Ellen was pregnant — and J.R. might not be the father! Reggie Jackson pimped his self-titled chocolate treat with the inventive slogan, "The candy they named after me." Most hilarious and odd was the woman pushing No Nonsense by spreading the crotch of a pair of pantyhose wide open as the camera zooms in. Apparently, "the ventilated cotton-lined panel means you're always comfortable."

However, I'd rather look at close-ups of nylons that have a breathable crotch than sit through The Star Wars Holiday Special again.

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the WB's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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