The Simple Goodness of “The Star Wars Holiday Special” and a Ten-Year-Old’s Imagination
Picture November 1978 as Thanksgiving approaches. A little “science fiction western” released last May has enthralled the hearts of generations young and old. Grandparents snicker at this “new thing” reinvigorating the movie industry just being entertainment from their childhood. Parents enjoy the lack of nudity, “f-bombs,” and politically-driven lectures that infect most cinema. Dads look forward to buying cool Star Wars toys for Christmas. The kids replace “bang-bang” with “pew-pew” in playground epics.
In late 1978, Star Wars exists as toys, stickers, posters, and custom vans. Marvel fills the demand for new stories with a giant rabbit named Jaxxon and a mutton-chopped, bipedal Jabba the Hutt. No one cares about cannon much less a three part epic. The demand for galactic conflict is moved to TV. Battlestar Galactica scares George Lucas enough for him to sell the rights of Life Day to a variety show producer. That’s my speculation but he did file a lawsuit against that rag-tag fleet.
Variety shows rule the holiday airwaves. The USMC tough Bea Arthur is finished teaching feminism to male America on Maude. Harvey Korman looks for laughs after The Carol Burnett Show ends. Art Carney is a respected television actor but no longer working regularly.
Is a picture taking shape? Star Wars’ time in the spotlight has diminished slightly in the public eye. Toys, comics, and 10-year-old imaginations serve as the lone platforms for new content. To the average person the event has passed. Any mention of a sequel is for hardcore fans alone. Sequels generally fail so catastrophically that they garner little interest.
So don’t blame George Lucas for getting Mark, Carrie, and Harrison out in the public eye for a few dollars. He really needs every dollar to advance the revolution in film making he is spearheading. The Jedi Master is a pioneering genius in cinematic arts along with creator extraordinaire.
Here we sit, too closely to the TV for mom’s liking, waiting to see wonder again. The Star Wars Holiday Special pops onto the screen with an introduction more akin to The Price is Right than the iconic John Williams’ score. Next we see names of people associated with an average TV show along side our expected heroes. Unexpected names but that’s okay. Next we get Wookies, a new world, and Life Day. The story bogs down a bit but excitement remains. Itchy’s lusty video bores immensely taking valuable show time. Luke, Han, Chewie, and Leia are still to come, right?
Finally Luke appears in a video call from a space garage. We jump excitedly as the Millennium Falcon speeds across the screen. The lead in by Art Carney and the weird video foreshadowing internet debauchery are forgotten.
Imperial soldiers force their way into Chewie’s home scaring young Lumpy. That’s good too, right? Too quickly the Star Wars Holiday Special is finished. For a short, glorious few minutes we see ships in space, creatures in a cantina, and stormtroopers rousting a house. Bea and Harvey’s moments are just unimportant filler. The next day school yards are filled with the “pew-pew” of galactic battles as boys fight to be Luke and girls to be Leia. Everyone else serves as imagined new members of a rebellion or even an empire.
Don’t get me wrong, the special is widely panned. The older kids make fun of it in attempts to disrupt the fun. Some profoundly wise pundits say it’s the end of a fad like the mood rings and pet rocks. The American people are always discarding the old to get to the new. None of that matters to you. All you see is more Star Wars.
After the show Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers fleetingly fill our desire for flying spaceships and colored laser blasts. TV executives prove to be too cheap and short sided to take advantage of a trend. TV returns to detectives, doctors, and lawyers. Frustration at the ending of all our shows won’t be relieved until we see snippets of an Empire Striking Back in early 1980. A few exciting moments on a WGN kids show blow our minds. Luke is in new clothes and Leia is captured? She screams that there’s a trap! The rest waits for a full theater later in the year.
Slowly after Empire, the phenomenon really starts. A sequel that lives up to the original surprises all. A newly empowered fandom evolves to become what we know today.
History is best understood when viewed in the context of the time. Star Wars‘ success is owed to the times as well as the story. The beloved mythology had to fight an ignorant Hollywood in the 1970s. At the time Disney thinks it’s The Black Hole and Roger Corman thinks Richard Thomas is Mark Hamill. So does Star Wars survive because of a holiday special? Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt it either.