By Jack MacDonald, MA, Film & Television
In an effort to keep reinvigorating the interest in Star Wars, a TV special was made and circulated a year after the release of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). This was outside of George Lucas’ artistic control, however, it featured not only the original cast, but also a plethora of guest stars – how could it fail? Pretty definitively in this case.
‘Happy Christmas everyone!’ or, I should say in this case ‘Happy Life Day’; God help me! This is the creation that the majority of the Star Wars cast and crew are reputed to have wished gone and buried.
The production was largely a jaw-droppingly weird effort to string together a sort-of-plot involving the lovable and tough Wookie Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and rebellious pilot Han Solo (Harrison Ford). It centres on their attempts to get back to Chewie’s family in time for Life Day: an event whose pertinence no-one even bothers to explain within the story, but from what I can gather, brings all Wookie-kind together in some hairy festive celebration.
Ironically, this family were never mentioned in the previous film – even when Han Solo woodenly tries to explain that they are ‘like his family too.’ The majority of this special unfolds on Chewie’s family’s arboreal homestead occupied by his wife Mala, grandfather Itchy, and son Lumpy. The genius executives that greenlighted this special, failed to include subtitles for when the human characters aren’t there to conveniently re-interpret Wookie-speak, so viewers are left frequently and bafflingly as mere bemused witnesses of uninterpretable Wookie discourse and debate – we’re off to a good start.
Life Day: an event whose pertinence no-one even bothers to explain within the story, but from what I can gather, brings all Wookie-kind together in some hairy festive celebration
This furry domestic set-up appears to be reflective of the US’s favourite and familiar family-based sitcom scenario so beloved of this era. However, this is clashingly contrastive of the landscape of Star Wars – a common theme throughout this whole special. While they sit and wait for Chewie and Han, the story cuts away several times to a series of nonsensical, irritating and unintentionally hilarious scenarios involving the contemporary popular guest stars; Art Carney, Harvey Korman, Diahann Carroll, Bea Arthur; who, to be honest, were all looking like they would rather be just about anywhere else.
One particularly bemusing segue involves Mala and the family under threat from the empire, but in between, a cooking show involving Harvey Korman as a sub-Julia Child-esque alien monstrosity is inserted; baking a Tatooine creature from a galactic recipe. In a further tangential mishap, grandpa Itchy is given a machine by Art Carney’s trader character which simulates a sexual fantasy involving Diahann Carrol and LSD-infused visuals, I’m not joking, I only wish I were. Periodically, the original cast shows up to earn what their Star Wars related paycheque requires of them, which is mostly very little.
By the time Han and Chewie finally show up, you find yourself simply not caring anymore and just flabbergasted by the display of absolute drug-fuelled compilation of inane subplots that really dares any Star Wars fan to reconsider the prequel’s many shortcomings.
The finale presents ‘Wookie’s Life Day’ with Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, singing about its importance, while Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill (looking like a permed-up Ken doll) and of course, R2D2 and C3PO looking at all of this with what feels to be utter shame – at least as much as R2 and C3PO can express that non-verbally.
A complete waste of celluloid: it is a TV special with misplaced ambition and is bogged down by a script that conjures up horrific television clichés within a Star Wars context. The main cast looks embarrassed and horrified by what they presumably drunkenly signed up for. The guest stars are not funny and only appear to mug at the camera for all they’re worth.
Whatever loose structure the production had is ruined by continually stopping to make way for sketches that not even Spitting Image would dare to use, and actually only exists because of misguided executives wanting to put on their own variety show for devoted Star Wars fans and failing miserably. Yet, for how insane this special is, it scores well among the ‘most notable best-worst productions’ of all time. It has to be seen to be believed.
What are your favourite festive flops?