Friday, 4 November 2016

The Star Wars Holiday Special: The 10 Most Excruciating Moments – Part 2

The cast are reunited at the end of
The Star Wars Holiday Special

We’ve had holographic acrobats, a spoof of cookery shows and Luke Skywalker sporting Joanna Lumley’s hair and make-up from The New Avengers. Surely The Star Wars Holiday Special couldn’t get any more bizarre … could it?

More of the worst of the Holiday Special

The Star Wars Holiday Special filled a two-hour time slot on its first, and only, network broadcast in the US on November 17 1978. Viewing figures dropped off markedly as the show went along, which is no surprise to anyone who has seen it. Today, continue our look at the at the most toe-curling scenes in that bizarre Star Wars spin-off.

6. An imperial officer enjoys some psychedelic rock music as Jefferson Starship appear (42.50)

The Jefferson Airplane sequence
in The Star Wars Holiday Special

Sometimes, you can all too easily imagine the thought processes that went into the Holiday Special. Everyone knew the kids would watch a Star Wars TV show. For the older folks in the family, there were acrobats and jugglers. For mom, there was Harvey Korman in the cookery spoof. For dad, that weird wookiee porno business with Diahann Carroll. And then, for the cool older siblings, the re is some rock music.

Once again, the show has Art Carney as the trader Saun Dann produce a gadget that can show entertainment. This one looks a bit like a Super 8 movie projector. In an attempt to placate an impatient Imperial officer, Dann sits him down and sets the gadget working – projecting a holographic image of a band, Jefferson Starship.

Why were Jefferson Starship chosen? Because they had an appropriate name, presumably. They duly came up with a song called ‘Light the Sky on Fire’, which they perform with the aid of some pretty ropey “space age” visual effects. When it’s over, the Imperial officer is grinning, possibly because his brain has been destroyed.

7. Harvey Korman does some comedy schtick with a computer (1.03)

Harvey Korman again in The Star Wars Holiday Special

Not everything in the Holiday Special is unmitigated horror, and by the time we reach excruciating moment number seven, the viewer has seen a cartoon Star Wars adventure which introduces us to Boba Fett – just about the only sequence in the show that is widely remembered with any kind of affection.

But it couldn’t last, and next up is some more comedy with Harvey Korman. The set-up is that Lumpy is attempting to build a transmitter and that he needs to follow an instruction cassette. The videotape shows an Amorphian being (Korman) demonstrating how to put the transmitter together – but Amorphians suffer occasional impairments to neurological function, we’re told. The result is that Korman performs four minutes of comic speeding up, slowing down and freezing. 
By the time he seizes up entirely, Lumpy has stopped watching – just as a few million households must have done.

8. Bea Arthur sings for the cantina regulars (1.07)

Bea Arthur in The Star Wars Holiday Special

For a moment, things are looking up. The action shifts to Tatooine, where we see some real shots from Star Wars – including some note seen in the finished film. Then we’re inside the Mos Eisley cantina, and someone has got some original costumes out of the Lucasfilm closets, because we see a number of the aliens who were in the movie.

But it all goes wrong when Bea Arthur appears. She plays a bartender for whom Krelman (Harvey Korman – yes again) is carrying a torch. After several interminable minutes of exchanges with the lovelorn Krelman, she has to comply with an Imperial curfew and close the bar. But the customers are reluctant to go, so she sings to them – possibly in a calculated move to send them scurrying to the exit.

This may be the most tedious scene in the Holiday Special. Shot early in the schedule, it was directed by George Lucas’s fellow University of Southern California alumnus David Acomba, before he left the project – presumably to avoid being lynched by Star Wars fans.

9. The wookiees celebrate Life Day pretty cheaply (1.28)

Life Day in The Star Wars Holiday Special

Han Solo and Chewbacca have come to the rescue, banishing the Imperials who were harassing the wookiee family. Now they can all celebrate Life Day together.

But what is this Life Day, and how is it celebrated? It seems the minds behind the Holiday Special may have left it a bit late to consider the subject.

With the plot resolved, Chewie’s family all pick up glowing globes. Then we see them somehow walking across space, dressed in red robes. Finally, they appear on a mist-shrouded set that looks a bit like a cheap version of the Yavin temple in Star Wars, among lots of other wookiees in red robes. (Could the red robes be a way of hiding the fact that these extras are not in full wookiee costumes, but are wearing masks available in the stores? Absolutely.)

At this point, the wookiees and Han are joined by the droids, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. Weren’t they supposed to be scattered across the universe? Any objections are dissolved in the happy spirit of Life Day.

If it all looks a bit cheap, that’s because it was. Director Steve Binder says here: “No one ever mentioned there was no set for the closing. I was told by the art director we had no money for it in the budget. So I said, ‘No problem, just go out and buy every candle you can find in the store.’ We filled an empty stage with candles.”

10. Princess Leia serenades the audience (1.30)

Carrie Fisher sings in The Star Wars Holiday Special

With the principals and the wookies all assembled for Life Day, there is some truly stilted dialogue to be delivered.

Harrison Ford tells Chewie: “All of you are an important part of my life, pal. I’m glad I can be here.” And his attitude is pretty much the definition of awkwardness.

Then Princess Leia delivers her royal message for Life Day. Carrie Fisher’s performance here is as stilted as any B-movie actor of the 1950s, but it’s hard to know what any actor could make of speeches like this: “I hope that this day will always be a day of joy in which we can reconfirm our dedication and our courage and more than anything else our love for another. This is the promise of the tree of life.”

You might think it couldn’t get any more painful, but Princess Leia is about to sing. 

Most sources say the song is to the tune of the Star Wars theme, but in fact it has something like a melody of its own. John Williams’ music counterpoints it somewhat, but mostly the two tunes seem to be doing their own separate things simultaneously. 

All together now:

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

No? I didn’t think so.

For all the mockery it has endured, The Star Wars Holiday Special isn’t entirely without redeeming features. Next time I’m going to audaciously attempt a list of the good, or at least, charming things about the special. I’m not promising it’ll be a long list.


Steve said...

I bet if you asked him Harrison Ford, a know pot-afficiando, would point to the shooting of this special as the highest he's ever been in his life.

Darren Slade said...

Yeah, maybe! Or perhaps (as per Carrie Fisher's memoir) the marijuana use has taken away a lot of the memories.

John White said...

Your review of the Holiday Special is very funny Darren!

It was shown in Ireland very close to Christmas day. My friends and i anxiously awaited it for a week, desperate for the great day to arrive. We were actually going to see Star Wars--on TV! We'd see our beloved heroes--on TV! It was almost too much to bear.

Eventually the countdown to 5pm, I think on a Saturday or Sunday, came to an end. I sat on the very edge of the armchair, lights off, glued to the TV. I was 10 years old. This was hoing to be teh greatest thing ever to be seen on TV...

I think I sensed, after a few minutes, that something wasn't right. It went on, and on, and on, with nothiing at all entertaining happening after the brief opening scene with Han and Chewie in the Falcon. I was so uncomfortable watching it slowwwwwly unfold, that when my older sister got up and left the room after 10 or 15 minutes, i felt such relief. I didn't have to feel awkward and embarrassed that this thing I'd been going in about all week, to my family, was just AWFUL.

2 hours or something later, it ended, and i sat there feeling the greatest disappointment of life.

I'm sure i tried to convince myself that it wasn't that bad, and focussed on the seeing my heroes, stormtroopers, the animated segment, but I felt hugely let-down. I'd love to know what the conversation was when my pal John S came to visit the next day, and we talked about it. He was a huge fan too.

I've tried to watch it since, when webcomic did their own parody of it, but I've never made it to the end. It actually feels even worse than the way I feel during the closing scenes of 'Return of the Jedi'.

"What the hell did I just see? What the hell happened?"

Darren Slade said...

Hi John. Thanks very much for the comment. I didn't realise the Holiday Special had been shown in Ireland. Your account of the embarrassment is hilarious.
I wonder whether there are off-air recordings of that broadcast. It would be fascinating to see the commercials etc around it.