On May 19th, 1999, at about 9 am, while walking out of the first morning showing of The Phantom Menace, and into the Denny’s across the parking lot from the theater, I was deep in a conversation with a work friend of my wife.
“Mark, I don’t see how you say that Jar Jar Binks won’t ruin the Star Wars Franchise.” Chris exclaimed.
Chris, a young fellow in his 20s, had only a vague understanding of the horrors I was about to regale him with, having not experienced them first hand, live when they happened. His experience with the worst thing in Star Wars history was like most of the fans I meet nowadays, via second, third, and seventh generation video tapes circulated around various conventions.
“Imagine if you would, Chris,” I started, using my best Rod Serling impersonation, (my wife wandering off, to a different part of the restaurant, having heard this tirade numerous times), “Imagine if you would, a television special, the first new Star Wars content seen in over a year, with fans being told through Time Magazine that there were 12 films in total.”
“You can’t include the Holiday Special, it isn’t canon,” Chris tried to interject.
“In 1978, it was canon. Just as 15 years from now, your beloved ‘Heir to the Empire’ trilogy will no longer be canon.” I paused to see if my glimpse into the future had left Chris befuddled, or if he had seen my point. He took a bit of his Denver Omelet, and I continued.
“First airing on November 17th, 1978, on CBS, we first got a look into the home life of one of the most beloved, yet least understood characters from the first movie, Chewbacca. We meet his wife, Malla, his father Itchy, and his son Lumpy. Of course we only know who these are, due to the opening credits announcer telling us. There is no actual introduction to these characters besides that. As a matter of fact, for the first 11 minutes after the opening credits, there is no human speech at all, until Art Carney shows up. All pantomime Wookiee, for which Ben Burtt created a full hour’s of sounds as ‘dialogue’ for. Then Art Carney as Saun Dann shows up, a local trader, bringing life day gifts, and generally protecting the Bacca’s from the empire”
“But why would they need protecting?” Chris asked, not realizing that this was the precise question my wife wanted him not to ask. I noticed her using her cell phone, probably to reschedule an appointment, since we weren’t going anywhere for a while.
“Because somehow, the Empire knows that the rebel forces are all on their way to Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day with the Wookiees. Even though we have no clue about anyone other than Han and Chewie going because they make that announcement before the opening credits. As well as leaving out that if anyone in the Empire had half a brain, they would just wait till the Life Day gathering, then play ‘spot the human’
So, Saun Dann, proceeds to distract both the Imperials and Chewbacca’s family with a series of antics that were thought to be family friendly. Such as Diahann Carroll singing a song entitled This Minute Now erotically at Chewbacca’s father Itchy through a device called the “Mind Evaporator”.
At this point Chris nearly choked on a chunk of ham. Denver Omelets, they can kill you. “No! In a Holiday Special?”
“Oh yes, in fact here is a clip of the song…”
“Of course,” I continued, wiping bits of eggs and cheese from my face, “the other gifts include a portable Jefferson Starship performance for Malla, and the most interesting of all, a children’s first transmitter kit. Which, for some reason is able to tap into secure Imperial Communications channels and issue an ‘all clear.'”
“But Mark,” Chris began, mouth full of eggs, ham, and onions, “What did you expect from a holiday special?”
“What did we get from It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown?” I asked leadingly.
“That all beliefs are essentially the same?” Chris hesitantly answered.
“As long as they celebrate Christmas…” a passing waitress commented.
“Yes…well no. Listen, did you watch a lot of holiday specials growing up?”
“Well sure, that’s the point, sit around the TV with your family and enjoy something stupid for 30 or so minutes.”
My lips curled up, finally the opportunity to reply in a perfectly numbered list. My practice was about to pay off, “But Chris,
- The Star Wars Holiday Special was two broadcast hours.
- The Star Wars Holiday Special, could only possibly be 100% enjoyed by someone fluent in Wookiee
- For most of Americans who hadn’t seen Star Wars, for example, my grandparents, whose rental house we were watching in, it was just a string of barely viable “variety skits” held together by, and I quote my grandfather “The Three Bears from Goldilocks, and the idiot from the Honeymooners.
It wasn’t close to being entertaining, and for every gem, such as the first appearance of Boba Fett in the Nelvana (the studio that produced the future Droids and Ewoks series) animated short, you had to sit through EVERYTHING ELSE, including Harvey Korman playing a four armed, purple Paula Deen, Harvey Korman playing a robotic video instruction manual, or having Bea Arthur hit on by Harvey Korman while he’s pouring drinks directly into the top of his head.
And that’s not getting into the musical numbers, which include Bea Arthur doing a Cabaret-type piece with, and this is not a joke, the cantina band playing their one song in the background, or Princess Leia doing a heartfelt holiday tune to main Star Wars theme.”
“Oh yes…it’s amazing John Williams ever did another soundtrack for Lucas after that. See?”
“So there’s nothing good about the Star Wars Holiday Special?”
“About the special itself, no. However, it brings us back to my original point.”
“There is no way Jar Jar can ruin Star Wars. There’s no way anything can. If, hypothetically, it got bought by Disney, and they hired the creator of Felicity, who wrote Armageddon, to write and direct Episode 7, Star Wars will survive. It’s already lived through the worst two hours on American Television.”
“You were just joking about that Disney/Felicity thing, right Mark?”
“Stranger things have happened, Chris.”
(If you, or someone you love hasn’t experienced the Star Wars Holiday Special, the best version of it, has to be the Rifftrax version, from the cast of MST3K. as seen below)