The following is an article from Uncle John's Slightly Irregular Bathroom Reader.
Think you’ve seen every Star Wars movie? Wrong!
Released in May 1977, Star Wars was one of the highest grossing movies of all time. Cast members became instant stars and any toy or product with the Star Wars logo flew off store shelves. Fans couldn’t get enough. Still, the producers were worried. The sequel wouldn’t come out for three more years. How could they make sure fans wouldn’t lose interest?
Director George Lucas came up with an idea: The Star Wars Holiday Special, a two-hour TV show to air near Thanksgiving, 1978. Lucas wrote a story about how the Star Wars characters celebrated Christmas, or “Life Day,” as they called it. The plot of the program would follow Chewbacca’s family (his wife Malla, son Lumpy, and elderly father Itchy) as they awaited Chewbacca’s return home for the holiday. But Han Solo and Chewbacca would be held up by Darth Vader, bent on ruining Life Day for the entire universe. They’d fight him off and make it home to Wookiee world… just in time for Life Day!
THE SAGA BEGINS
Lucas sold the idea to ABC. Who wouldn’t want a chance to take on Star Wars? It might have been a Christmas classic, but by the time production was scheduled to start, Lucas was too busy with the early stages of making The Empire Strikes Back. ABC left the holiday special in the hands of a team of novice writers who had worked on mostly short-lived TV variety shows.
Early on, it looked like the show might be pretty good. Almost all of the original cast agreed to appear. The production team behind Star Wars was on board for special effects and makeup. There would be cameo appearance from some of TV’s biggest stars- Harvey Korman (The Carol Burnett Show), Diahann Caroll (Julia), and Beatrice Arthur (Maude). Advertisements promised never-before-seen action sequences of Han Solo and Chewbacca flying through space fighting Darth Vader’s spaceships. It looked like a surefire winner.
THE MEDIOCRE STRIKES BACK
The Star Wars Holiday Special aired at 8PM on November 17, 1978. All expectations instantly evaporated during the first fifteen minutes, which consisted of Chewbacca’s family arguing in Wookiee language… without subtitles. That foreshadowed the rest of the program: a tacky variety show with a Star Wars theme. It had no plot. It mostly showed Chewbacca’s whining, grunting relatives relatives watching 3-D television, with sequences that included Bea Arthur in an off-key song and dance number; a virtual reality erotic dance from Diahann Caroll; a performance of “Light the Sky on Fire” by Jefferson Starship; and a cooking show with a six-armed Harvey Korman in drag. It all concluded with a “Life Day” carol sung by Princess Leia- to the tune of the Star Wars theme song. (Actress Carrie Fisher later confessed that she was “highly medicated” during filming). As the show progressed and each sequence became more outlandish than the last, most of the 20 million viewers flipped over to Wonder Woman.
Today, anybody with a DVD player can see any classic movie anytime. In 1978, however, the prospect of seeing Star Wars in your own home was irresistible, which explains why ratings were so high. But despite its initially large audience, reviews were awful and true fans hated it.
So did George Lucas.
He was furious that the special had corrupted his beloved characters. Because of his anger (and his clout), Lucas managed to prevent The Star Wars Holiday Special from ever airing again. He assumed the show would be an unfortunate but quickly forgotten misstep in his career. But that’s not what happened. 1978 was the beginning of the VCR revolution, so many viewers taped the show, which set into motion a vast bootlegging network that widely distributes this otherwise forgettable flop to this day. Though most copies are of poor quality, they can still be obtained cheaply over the internet. Lucas was forced to give up on his goal of cleansing his reputation by erasing the Holiday Special from existence. “If I had the time and a sledgehammer,” he once commented, “I would track down every bootleg copy of that program and smash it.”
The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Slightly Irregular Bathroom Reader, a fantastic book by the Bathroom Readers' Institute. The 17th book in this the Bathroom Reader series is filled to the brim with facts, fun, and fascination, including articles about the Origin of Kung Fu, How to Kill a Zombie, Women in Space and more!
Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!