Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Forgotten Star Wars (part 1)... The Star Wars Holiday Special

A lot of people already know about the Holiday Special. With the rise of youtube there's hundreds of copies floating around. Apparently George Lucas once said he'd like to track down every available copy and smash them with a hammer. Man, that guy is control freak – I can't think of any other director who's gone back through his past work and re-edited stuff so much. He famously updated the effects of the original Star Wars trilogy in 1997 (to much fanfare) and did further changes before putting them on DVD. He also added a bunch of new effects shots to THX 1138, his underrated directorial debut too. He even re-edited the TV whole series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles by cutting out the actor who played the 93 year old Indy. Anyway, I'm getting off the point. I just think it's humorous how he'll never erase the Star Wars Holiday Special – it's pollinated throughout too many websites (now including this one) – and it'll never be forgotten however much he wishes it was.
Let's start off for those who haven't seen it. The Holiday Special was a one off TV show that was released in 1978 around Thanksgiving. It used almost all the main principle actors from A New Hope (with the exception Alec Guinness) in small roles and a few bits of stock footage. Lucas wasn't involved in its creation (he's always kept very quiet on his involvement) but he obviously, at some point, okayed the idea.

The majority of the story revolves around Chewbacca's wife, son and grandfather as they sit around their treehouse (which looks a lot like any 70s American home) waiting for Han and Chewie to arrive to celebrate that famous Wookie holiday Life Day. Now I know what you're thinking, Chewbacca only talks in growls and barks in the films, how does his family communicate? Surely the audience need to understand what's being said? Maybe they speak English or there's subtitles. 

No. They bark and growl for THE WHOLE SHOW. In fact, the first 10 minutes we don't see any human characters. It's like some obscure experimental theatre. 
Then finally we get some human actors... well, we get Han and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon, once again trying to outrun an Imperial Cruiser. The show was made almost directly after the original Star Wars and Harrison Ford was obviously still quite cheap and he's used the most of all the original cast. They use a number of shots from A New Hope of the Falcon flying and possibly a few of Vader, who's on the ship pursuing them. I guess Vader's pretty easy to dub.

Luke and Leia both appear via some kind of video phone, that Chewie's wife uses. She asks them where Chewbacca is? At least I think she does, you basically have to guess all the wookie dialogue. Mark Hamill is gloriously caked in make-up. I can understand the foundation as I think this is just after his car crash. But the eyeliner? Also, Carrie Fisher looks pretty zonked out in all her scenes. I don't want to say that she was on drugs at the time but if you've read her biography, she probably was.

So the story is basically Chewie's family sitting around there house. Yep, that's it. What a great storyline, sitting, and waiting, and watching TV (we'll holographic TV).

Yes, after watching this for the first 15 minutes you realise you've actually been tricked. The Star Wars Holiday Special isn't going to have any kind of story, it's a thinly disguised variety show! Jefferson Starship appear and play a song. Chewie's son watches a cartoon about Han Solo and Chewie (how does that work, why have they made a TV show about two random smugglers? This is getting to meta). A lot of people will tell you the cartoon is the most interesting bit, it's not. It's just mildly exciting not watching wookies growl at each other for a few minutes. 
The animation is very loose, with the faces of most characters being very droopy. It is of note that the section was animated by Nelvana – a Canadian animation studio that produced the great animated film Rock & Rule that I'll cover at some point in the future. Here though, it's obviously been quite rushed and the story isn't much but people laud it for having the first appearance of Boba Fett prior to The Empire Strikes Back.

One of the most disturbing bits is when Chewie's grandfather watches some female dancer on hologram. Obviously the actor in the suit had to show some emotion but unfortunately it's all a little exaggerated and it comes off like he's getting aroused! I can't help but feel this is disturbingly similar to the scene in THX 1138 where Robert Duvall watches holo porn.
But wait, just as you're about to fall asleep (this is easily the most soporific thing I watched... and I've watched a lot of DTV Steven Seagal) two stormtroopers and an Imperial Officer arrive in order to trap Chewbacca when he arrives. Yay, finally some plot momentum. Oh, wait, they decide just to sit around as well. I've got to say I'm not sure why they are going after Chewbacca, Luke was the one who shot down the Death Star, but hey, what the hell, nothing else makes sense in the show.

Okay, let's speed things up. The Officer and one of the stormtroopers are tricked into leaving the house. One stormtrooper stays behind. Han and Chewie finally arrive. The stormtrooper runs at Han, trips and falls over the edge of the treehouse. Bizarrest death ever! 
I'm guessing TV censors wouldn't let Han just shoot the stormtrooper (like he did to loads of troopers in the U-RATED A New Hope). Oh well. If you pause the video just as the stormtrooper falls you can see the look in Harrison Ford's face as he contemplates the rest of his career and thinks “Oh well, back to carpentry after this.”

Oh, Harrison don't worry. At least, you don't have sing a song about 'Life Day' to John Williams' iconic Main Star Wars Theme. Yep, the show decides that having a stormtrooper trip and fall was too much of an anti-climax so it ends with Carrie Fisher singing (talk about ending on a 'High' note). And as for the set, good knows what it's meant to be! There's stars in the background and fog on the floor. Are they floating in the clouds? Carrie Fisher's singing's pretty good – damn those drugs, she could have had an awesome solo career.
So the show finishes with a montage of shots from A New Hope. I think these were meant to be Chewie's memories. Or maybe they are a way of trying to remind everyone to forget this show and go and see the film at the cinema again.

Well, that's it. Good luck to anyone who wants to watch the show in its entirety. Here's a link to a Google Video version that has the complete thing as one file.
Really it is worth just skipping through it for curiosity. I watched it once 8 years ago and haven't watched it since (except to show friends little bits). It sort of burns into your memory like that. If you think your okay with wasting two hours of your life, go for it.

Next time... We delve into another Star Wars TV film (one that Lucas isn't so ashamed of) Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure

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