I Watched the Star Wars Holiday Special So You Don't Have To

A definitive list of everything that's wrong with the Star Wars Holiday Special

The year was 1978.

A New Hope had been a massive box office hit over the previous year, and was still wildly popular. The idea of doing a holiday TV special was a no-brainer, and given that the 70s were the heyday of the variety/comedy show, the idea was to bring together a popular movie and a popular format.

But it's not funny and none of it makes sense.

To be fair, the Special's writers had precious little to go on. Today we have 30+ years of established history to draw from. Back then, the Star Wars universe was a sparse place. Only three locations were shown in the original movie (Tatooine, the Death Star, and Yavin IV), and what that film revealed about the galaxy, the Jedi, and the Empire was remarkably little.

Even with that in mind, the Star Wars Holiday Special is a pockmark on the face of mankind.

According to Mark Clark's book Star Wars FAQ, the story idea came from George Lucas, who'd hoped to visit the Wookiee homeworld in the films, though all he really did was suggest the premise that Chewbacca is trying to get home for a Wookiee holiday. It was screenwriters Pat Proft, Leonard Ripps, and Bruce Vilanch who took it from there and turned it into the hot mess it became.

Lucas despised it, declared it non-canon, and tried to destroy every copy of it that exists. Fans who've seen it hiss at the very mention of it, with the kind of vitriol usually reserved only for Jar Jar Binks.

But it was a real Star Wars thing that really happened. That's got to count for something, right? How bad could it be?

I sat down and watched the Star Wars Holiday Special recently for the first time, and let me save you the trouble: it's appalling. It's so bad, I felt compelled to list out each and every thing that's wrong with it.

It took a while.

It's a Wookiee sitcom.

Chewbacca and his family
Chewbacca and his family on the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Rather than focus on the characters we already know and care about, the story is told from the point-of-view of Chewbacca's family on Kashyyyk (here referred to as "Kazook") as they wait for him to return home for Wookiee Life Day.

Because that's a thing. And waiting for him gives them opportunities for situation comedy hijinks.

Chewbacca has a family.

Mickey Morton as Malla
Chewbacca's wife Malla in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Wait, everybody's favorite walking carpet has a wife and son?

His family is never mentioned in any of the movies. Not even a hint of their existence. And apparently they're all good with him flying around the galaxy, having wild adventures with his I-owe-you-a-life-debt buddy Han Solo while they stay home. And he only returns one day a year.

Now we know: Chewbacca is an absent father.

They have stupid names.

Paul Gale as Itchy
Chewbacca's father Itchy in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

The special's writers seemed to think that Chewbacca was named after the adjective describing how hard your jaws move with while grinding food. So all Wookiees must have names that are English adjectives, right?

You can just hear the conversation in the writer's room.

"It's spelled 'I-E' but it's pronounced 'chewy.'"
"Oh, so let's make all the Wookiee names like that!"
"Yeah, it'll be like the Seven Dwarves. Kids love that!"

(They did love it -- in 1937.)

So Chewie's father, who looks like a Sasquatch on morphine, is named "Itchy." His son, who was played by a girl by the way, is "Lumpy." His wife is... "Malla." Hm.

I guess "Smelly" was already taken.

Chewie lives in the tree 'burbs.

Chewbacca's house on Kashyyyk
Chewbacca's house from the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Like all good Wookiees, Chewie's family lives in a treehouse. The matte painting showing the home's exterior isn't bad at all, mainly because it's based on Ralph McQuarrie's original design painting. The Wookiee structures seen on Kashyyyk in Revenge of the Sith are also based on McQuarrie's designs.

So why does the inside look like a 70s ranch-style log cabin? I kept expecting Jan Brady to come bounding down the stairs.

Nobody remembered that viewers don't speak Wookiee.

Itchy and Lumpy
Itchy and Lumpy in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

The first five minutes (after a quick teaser of Han and Chewbacca in the Falcon, and some opening credits) are nothing but Chewie's family wandering around their house, growling at each other.

No, really.

Five minutes of airtime pass on television and literally nothing happens but growling Wookiees. They're talking to each other, having conversations, but we have no idea what they're saying because there are no subtitles.

There's a holographic circus troupe for no good reason.

Holographic circus
The holographic circus from the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Lumpy is entertained during an extended sequence that features a holographic group of circus performers. Apparently real-life gymnasts were hired to perform for this scene, and they did fine. But Lumpy was way more entertained than viewers were.

Oh, and our little Wookiee cub controls the holographic recording using what's very obviously an old tape recorder.

The "main 3" are in it only for the paycheck.

Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

The entire movie cast is pretty much grinding their teeth as they grin their way through their cameos. I can't imagine how CBS managed to rope Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher into this atrocity, because no amount of money could be enough to offset the damage it does to their respectability.

Fisher's struggles with drugs, alcohol, and bipolar disorder at this time are well documented, and some believe she's high in the Special. Ford puts in the effort, but you know behind that smile he wants to kill somebody. And Hamill looks like he's just trying to squeeze some fun out of his newfound super-stardom. Speaking of which...

Mark Hamill looks... strange.

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Mark Hamill in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Luke Skywalker turns up in a cringe-worthy scene where a worried Malla calls him looking for Chewbacca. Luke is with R2-D2, repairing a damaged X-Wing fighter, presumably at some Rebel hideout.

So what's the deal with his hair? It's super bushy on top and bleached blonde. It looks nothing like it does in the movies. Was it bad lighting? Was he wearing it differently for another role?

Most fans know that Mark Hamill was in a car accident in early '78 that nearly claimed his life, and required facial reconstruction surgery. That's probably why his teeth are suddenly pearly white and utterly perfect. It might also explain the excessive use of makeup on his face. Seriously, he's caked in it.

I kid you not: Luke cheers Malla up by asking her to smile. That's his one job on the show.

Out-of-place guest star #1: Art Carney.

Art Carney as Saun Dann
Art Carney in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Art Carney of The Honeymooners fame plays a human storekeeper living on Kashyyyk named Saun Dann. He seems to be part of the story as comic relief (one of several), though he never quite commits to either slapstick or seriousness; he's at an odd in-between place where we're left wondering whatever happened to his inner Ed Norton.

I believe Saun Dann may also be the only character in the Star Wars universe who's ever been seen wearing glasses.

FYI: Rumor has it Saun Dann was an early prototype for the character that became Lando Calrissian.

Out-of-place guest star #2: Harvey Korman.

Harvey Korman as Chef Gormaanda
Harvey Korman on the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

In yet another "that really happened??" moment, the late, great Harvey Korman turns up as a 4-handed Julia Child-alike on Malla's TV who teaches her to cook. Or at least tries.

The talented Korman, in full drag, gives it his all. But not even the addition of all of his Carol Burnett cast mates could've salvaged the dreadful material he's given to work with.

Chewie's dad watches a scifi porno.

Diahann Carol as Mermeia
Diahann Carol in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Oy, where to begin...

As a Life Day gift, Art Carney gives Chewie's pops a computer program ol' Itchy inserts into his La-Z-Boy and watches with attached VR goggles.

The program reads Itchy's mind and creates a holographic representation of his greatest fantasy. And Itchy's fantasy is a psychedelic Diahann Carol, doing a seductive song-and-dance in a Bob Mackie "looks like it's going to fall off" original (Mackie did all of the costumes). It's cyberporn before cyberporn existed.

I'm surprised the camera doesn't cut to Itchy, um... enjoying himself.

Look, the Star Wars universe is a wild and varied place, and I'm sure there's plenty of adult material consumed by residents of its exotic locales (those seedy lower levels of Coruscant come to mind, as does Jabba's Palace).

But all of this Itchy stuff happens in a "family-friendly" TV special that aired at 8:00 P.M. It's mind-boggling that filming it was approved, much less airing it.

And why is the old Wookiee's greatest fantasy a beautiful human woman? Shouldn't he fantasize about a female with, you know, more fur?

Either way, Itchy is one dirty old man.

Princess Leia is found balancing the Rebels' checkbook.

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

She's got a big calculator and a bunch of paperwork, and she's going to town on it when Malla calls to see if she has any info on Chewbacca. Or maybe she's got the dreary job of counting all the dead from Alderaan's destruction.

Leia is also still wearing her hair buns, because we'd never, ever recognize her without them.

Han and Chewie share a major bromance.

Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and Harrison Ford as Han Solo
Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

On at least three separate occasions, Han and Chewie go all "I love you, man." Han later tells Chewie's family how much he loves them and thinks of them as family.

And we wretch.

Come on! That's not who these characters are or how they interact.

The Imperials are cliché bad guys.

Stormtroopers on the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

The Imperials in the Holiday Special feel the need to demonstrate how bad they are, and often. And in case their over-the-top villainy goes completely over your head, one of them rips the head off of Lumpy's stuffed Wampa toy.

See? Evil!

A band with "starship" in its name turns up purely because of its name.

Jefferson Starship
Jefferson Starship sings on the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

That's just a guess, but why else would a famous band show up in a Star Wars special?

An Imperial officer searching Chewie's house takes time out to chill to a virtual Jefferson Starship concert inside a holographic music box. The band plays "Light the Sky on Fire," which the Imperial taps his fingers along to.

Lead singer Marty Balin holds a microphone that looks like a pink lightsaber blade.

There's a laughably bad cartoon.

Boba Fett
Boba Fett in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

I could spend an entire article on this 9-minute abomination, but I'll try to sum it up for you. The impetus was to introduce Boba Fett to fans, as he was set to play an important role in the next movie.

The producers' note given to the animators at Nelvana Studios had to be something along the lines of, "See how ugly you can make the main characters while keeping them vaguely recognizable." Although the cartoon (and the entire Holiday Special) failed to launch a new TV spinoff as was hoped, not to mention a toy line, Nelvana's work somehow landed them the job of making the weekly animated series Droids and Ewoks in 1985.

Anyway, the story has the Empire and the Rebellion both looking for a "magic talisman" (because there are so many of those in Star Wars) that supposedly has the power to turn people invisible. Yeeeeeah.

Han and Chewie are acting all weird on the Falcon while hunting for the mystical doodad, and Luke chases after them. Chewie crashes the Falcon into a moon made of ketchup; Luke follows in a Y-Wing, only for a dinosaur to show up and start eating his ship.

But don't worry! A newcomer, riding a tamed dinosaur, comes along to save the day.

But do worry: The newcomer is Boba Fett, whose arsenal includes that trident used by the Little Mermaid's dad. Fett shoots the attacking dino with the trident and it leaves. He introduces himself to Luke, referring to him as "friend" a few times, and Luke decides to trust him. Just like that.

Luke and Fett reach the Falcon and learn that the talisman has nothing to do with invisibility. Instead, it gives off a sleep vibe/virus/something that only affects humans. Chewie discovered that they only way to stop it from killing them is to keep blood rushing to their heads, so he ties up Han and Luke and hangs them upside down by their feet.

(There's so much wrong with that entire paragraph.)

Fett wants to go to a nearby city for a serum to counteract the talisman, but Chewie insists on going with him. So we get a short montage of Chewie and Boba's Excellent Adventure, as they scale the balloon-like walls of an enormous city rising out of the ketchup ocean.

In a move that surprises no one, Fett is revealed to be working for Darth Vader, but R2-D2 helpfully intercepts their call. Fett gets the serum, he and Chewie escape the city, Fett calls everyone "friend" a bunch more times, and Luke and Han are saved.

Only after this do R2 and 3PO step up to reveal Fett's deception, forcing him to escape and promise that "We'll meet again, friend."

Chewie later says he never trusted Fett because of how the bounty hunter smelled. Han, Luke, Chewie, 3PO, and R2 share an uncharacteristic laugh and the Falcon flies off into the sunset.

Lumpy watches the cartoon.

Patty Maloney as Lumpy
Chewbacca's son Lumpy watches a holographic circus in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Hold on.

A cartoon starring Han, Luke, Chewie, Leia, the droids and Boba Fett is on TV at Chewbacca's house?

How can that be?

And why are cartoon adventures starring Rebel heroes being broadcast throughout the Empire-controlled galaxy as entertainment? Do our heroes know they're the stars of this cartoon? Do they provide the voices? Do they get paid? And doesn't this fame make their real exploits more dangerous?

Harvey Korman again. Still not funny.

Harvey Korman
Harvey Korman in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Harvey Korman tries so hard to be funny as a malfunctioning cyborg in a tutorial video that helps Lumpy assemble a transmitter. (It's another gift from Art Carney.) You can't help feeling bad for him.

"Oooh, I know! Let's do a long scene of the Wookiee kid plugging wires into a transmitter! It's like science! Kids will love it!"
"Yeah! And let's use Korman again, too!"

As before, Korman tries his best, but his comedic timing is wasted by the show's editing, and he can't salvage this snoozer of a scene that goes on way too long (like everything else).

Out-of-place guest star #3: Bea Arthur.

Bea Arthur as Ackmena
Bea Arthur in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

She was the title character on Maud. She was Dorothy on The Golden Girls. But did you know she was Ackmena in the Star Wars Holiday Special?

Yep. Somewhere in the multiverse is a dimension where Bea Arthur exists in the Star Wars galaxy as a bar matron named Ackmena. And not just any bar. The bar: the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine, and she's its owner.

To bring it into the completely unrelated story on Kashyyyk, the Cantina bit is part of a TV special on Tatooine, broadcast by the Empire as required viewing for all Imperials. In the Holiday Special's one and only witty line, an announcer tells viewers they must watch this Tatooine crap so that their own lives "will be uplifted by the comparison and enriched with the gratitude of relief."

This scene at least had the potential for authenticity, since it reused all of the makeup (the special's unrefined usage of which makes the Cantina creatures look like costume shop masks) and costumes from the film, as well as parts of the set. But no, it descends (much too slowly) into insanity.

So the Cantina band is still playing that jaunty little melody from the movie. Because they worked really hard to learn it and like playing it, so back off, okay?

Then, just when the show can't get any weirder, Maud turns up as the bartender. But that's not all: it's time for more Harvey Korman! (Just minutes after we saw him in his cyborg persona.) His third go 'round is a sad-sack Tatooine resident with a big hole on the top of his head (which he drinks through, naturally) who's got the hots for Ackmena.

But Bea Arthur is Bea Arthur no matter what role you put her in, and she at least manages to treat Korman's character like the absurd doofus he is.

It's an unfunny skit. That's all it is. Not only is it not Star Wars, it's not even decent variety show material.

Everything about the Cantina is nuts.

Bea Arthur as Ackmena
Bea Arthury and a giant rat in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

A real, actual cash register is behind Bea Arthur at the Cantina bar.

She vigorously pets an Ithorian the way you would a beloved puppy. It's painful to watch.

There's a giant white rat because the producers got hold of an extra costume from the H.G. Wells horror movie, The Food of the Gods.

Ackmena's bouncer is Lurch from The Addams Family. Pretty sure.

There's a Rodian who has super long fingers. Like those women who grow their fingernails to unhealthy lengths.

The Empire suddenly, for no apparent reason, imposes a curfew on all of Tatooine, so Ackmena has to close the Cantina. But her patrons aren't so interested in leaving, so she does the logical thing...

Bea Arthur sings a song. Set to the Cantina tune.

Bea Arthur as Ackmena
Bea Arthur singing in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Oh sweet lord, the song...

It's a slowed-down version of the Cantina band's one and only piece, with words added. Among other things, while singing, Bea Arthur:

  • pets and hugs the giant rat alien
  • skillfully kicks everyone out of the bar while singing -- because the song somehow makes everyone willing to leave where they were nearly rioting to stay moments before
  • does a lively dance with an Aqualish and then a weird jazz hands thing with that long-fingered Rodian
  • repels the hug of an alien I can only describe as the lovechild of Michael Myers and Mark Hamill's hair from this very Special
  • leads the entire crowd in a round of German-style (or maybe Polka-style?) stein-slinging, which turns into a conga line that finally gets everyone to leave

But wait. I've saved the craziest part for last. Every line of Ackmena's song is punctuated with the word...

(Wait for it...)


Yep, the same word repeated by Boba Fett in that godawful cartoon that was just on a few minutes ago.

Two people, casually tossing around the same lingo... It's almost as if they... know each other.

We're thinking the same thing, right? Boba totally had a little something going on with Bea. Oh yeah.

One lonely Stormtrooper threatens Chewie's entire family.

A Stormtrooper threatens Chewie's family
A Stormtrooper threatens Chewie's family on the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Lumpy uses his transmitter thing to trick the Imperials into leaving, but the commander orders one Stormtrooper to stay behind in case Chewbacca turns up. The trooper finds Lumpy and his transmitter and draws his weapon on all three Wookiees.

I have to stop here for a second, because one Stormtrooper is no match for three Wookiees. One is elderly and another is a kid. So what? We're talking about a race of creatures that regularly rip the arms off of other species just for losing at games!

Chewie and Han have the cheesiest fight scene ever.

The fight scene
The fight scene in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

The Stormtrooper threatens Lumpy. Chewie and Han show up and without even touching him, manage to get the Stormtrooper to fall to his death.

Chewie's family celebrates Life Day by walking into a star.

Wookiee Life Day festivities
Wookie Life Day celebrated on the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Maybe it's an artistic license thing, but it's still bonkers.

At long last, the Wookiees have been reunited. They all light these candle globe things, put on red robes, and suddenly they're walking in a long procession (seriously, who are the rest of these people?)... in outer space. Their destination? A big, bright star.

All of Chewie's friends are already at the ceremony waiting for him.

Chewbacca joins the Star Wars cast
Chewbacca and the Star Wars cast on the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Luke and R2-D2, and Leia and C-3PO must've dropped everything after hanging up from their respective calls with Malla. Because completely out of the blue, they're already rocking the party at the big redwood "Tree of Life" trunk when Chewie's family arrives.

Leia makes a speech and sings.

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia
Carrie Fisher in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Leia gives a speech that's aimed squarely at viewers, encouraging peace, love, and harmony. Then at long last, it's time for her infamous song, which puts words to John Williams' famous Star Wars theme.

I'll say this: it's not as bad as what I was imagining. Turns out, Fisher's got decent pipes and can carry a tune, which is even more impressive if she was in fact on recreational drugs while doing it, as suspected.

The best thing I can say about the song is that it's short.

Chewbacca daydreams.

Chewbacca's daydream
Chewbacca daydreams in the 'Star Wars Holiday Special'. Lucasfilm Ltd.

The Star Wars Holiday Special finally meets its ignoble end with Chewie daydreaming a montage of scenes from A New Hope. The clips culminate with the medal ceremony, because Chewie is still bitter about not getting a medal.