Friday, 11 November 2016

Everything that's good in The Star Wars Holiday Special

We could go on mocking The Star Wars Holiday Special for a very long time. It is the most bizarrely misconceived product ever to bear the name of the franchise. But is it all bad? Today, Episode Nothing combs the special for good points.

It’s easy to deride The Star Wars Holiday Special. It is the weirdest thing in the Star Wars universe, made by people who apparently thought the only trouble with the original movie was its lack of acrobats and musical numbers. But while many people must have watched the show with the growing suspicion that they were hallucinating, there were surely some things in it to enjoy – at least if you were young enough. Here are a few.

1. The cast of Star Wars reunited

The cast of Star Wars, togehter again
in the finale of the Holiday Special

With two more years to wait for Star Wars 2 (as people tended to refer to the likely sequel back then), here was a reunion of the original cast – or at least, most of them. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were back in character. There’s Luke in his Tatooine outfit and Princess Leia in the white dress and earphone hairdo – looks they would not sport in The Empire Strikes Back. There was no Alec Guinness or Peter Cushing, of course, but we did see Anthony Daniels back as C-3PO, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader.  (Kenny Baker was missing because R2-D2, this time around, was entirely remote controlled.) 

Yes, Luke’s hair and makeup looked odd, and Carrie Fisher seemed to be delivering a performance appropriate to a 1950s B-movie, but here were the old gang, together again – even  if the viewer did have to sit through long stretches of tedium in between.

2. The Wookiee scenes, which were sort of OK for small children

Chewbacca and family in The Star Wars Holiday Special

To a mature viewer, the scenes in Chewbacca’s family home are pretty hard to sit through. But we shouldn’t overlook the fact that this domestic set-up is exactly the kind of cosy background a young viewer might imagine for Chewie and his clan. I’ve seen young children of the 21st century sit happily through the antics of Lump, Itchy and Malla. The scene of Itchy watching what appears to be a porno video is another matter, of course.

3. We get to see original costumes and props

Stormtroopers arrive in The Star Wars Holiday Special

Kids in the 1970s endlessly attempted to recreate Star Wars in their imaginations. The Marvel comics, the collector cards, images clipped from magazines – these things were the nearest we could get to experiencing the unique look of the movie once more. So to see  authentic Stormtrooper and Imperial uniforms, encounter aliens from the Mos Eisley cantina and hear authentic Star Wars sound effects, would have been a huge thrill – despite the intrusion of the acrobats, the musical numbers, the comedy schtick, etc.

4. The cartoon sequence and the introduction of Boba Fett

The cast of The Star Wars Holiday Special animation

It’s the only sequence of the Holiday Special ever to have had an official home video release (as an Easter egg on the Star Wars Blu-Ray set): the animated segment made by Nelvana, which introduced a new villain, Boba Fett.

It runs less than ten minutes and the animation is pretty vivid and stylised. The story has Luke and the droids landing on a watery planet in search of Han Solo. Han had  collected a mysterious talisman which sends humans into a deep sleep, and Chewie – along with a mysterious stranger called Boba Fett – goes off to seek an antidote. The antidote works, but R2 spots that the apparent friend Boba Fett is in fact a bounty hunter and “Darth Vader’s right hand man” – prompting Fett to depart.

Boba Fett in The Star Wars
Holiday Special
It’s possibly the most entertaining part of the special. I suspect I would have complained that the animated characters and settings looked so different from the film – but a mature viewer can appreciate that just trying to mimic the live action movie wouldn’t have worked.

The plot is slender, with Boba Fett beating an anticlimactic retreat at the end. And the fact that Han Solo spends most of the story asleep somehow seems to reflect the level of interest Harrison Ford had in the whole special.  But kids across the world, me included, would have happily tuned into a cartoon like this every week.

5. Some deleted shots from Star Wars

A deleted scene from Star Wars is reused in the Holiday Special

The Holiday Special included a few shots discarded from the movie and which would otherwise remain unseen for many years.

Eighteen minutes in, we see a shot of Darth Vader and the Imperial officer played by Leslie Schofield, striding down a corridor. (In the movie, the corridor was on the Death Star. In the film, the shots are preceded by a shot of two star destroyers, so the scene is presumably intended to be set on one of those.)

The dialogue in the scene was re-recorded to fit the plot of the Holiday Special. In the scene as filmed for Star Wars, the officer says: “We’ve closed the space port of Mos Eisley and started a search operation. It’s just a matter of time before we find the droids.”  Vader replies: “Send in more troops if you have to. It's her hope of the data being used against us which is the pillar of her resistance against the mind probe.”

The officer says: “Till then, we waste time with Governor Tarkin’s foolish plan to break her.”

In the Holiday Special, the exchange is rewritten and simplified:

Officer:  “We’ve ordered a blockade and a curfew and started a search operation. It’s just a matter of time before we find the Rebels.”

Vader: “I want the rebels located and identified if it means searching every household in the system.”

There is some more deleted footage from the film at around the one hour, seven minute mark. We get to see some shots of Tatooine, which include the excised shot in which a small denizen of Mos Eisley runs between the  legs of a giant alien whose top half remains out of frame.

Unseen footage from Star Wars? In 1978, that would have been quite a treat.

6. A chance to see some highlights from Star Wars

Chewbacca recalls his adventures in
The Star Wars Holiday Special

Whenever we discuss the experience of being a Star Wars fan in the 1970s, we should remember that in those pre-VCR days, fans were desperate to see moments from the film again. One or two shots in a documentary or commercial would be a huge thrill.

At the end of The Star Wars Holiday Special, as the wookiees celebrate Life Day, there is a shot of Chewbacca looking wistful – and for the next minute or so, we see a selection of shots from the film, framed as Chewie’s memories, and accompanied by the Throne Room music.

The Life Day sequence itself looks distinctly under-budgeted and uninspiring.  Fortunately, the makers of the Holiday Special were smart enough to know that just running clips from Star Wars would put fans in a grateful mood.


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John White said...

You're right about (3): just getting a live-action look at the costumes and props.

When I saw the Academy Awards in 78, stormtroopers came on stage at the end. It blew my 10 year old. I sat through the entire Oscars again a year layer, in case they did it again!

There was also a bit of a programme that i saw in 77 or 78 which I think was about the scary, rising scourge of Punk Rock in Britain. They showed a 1 or 2 second shot (!) of a shop window full of punk clothing, but there was also a Stormtrooper helmet on display. I think I actually jumped out of my chair, yelping excitedly at my family.

John White said...

(Mis-type) "It blew my 10 year old mind."

SaturdayMorningFan said...

"We could go on mocking The Star Wars Holiday Special for a very long time. It is the most bizarrely misconceived product ever to bear the name of the franchise." If only that were still true!

Darren Slade said...

Haha! Love the comment, SaturdayMorningFan. But maybe I won't go there....