THE BOOTLEG FILES: “THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL”

Here is what can be disclosed: Chewbacca’s family consists of his wife Malla (wearing an apron to designate her femininity), his father Itchy (a stooped, grey Wookie) and his son Lumpy (a mini-Wookie showing early signs of a weight problem). Roughly five minutes at the start of “The Star Wars Holiday Special” is spent with this family engaged in conversation. Actually, engaged in Wookie conversation, which sounds like endless growling and yawning to human ears. It is not certain what is being said since no one bothered to supply subtitles.
For the rest of the two-hour running time, “The Star Wars Holiday Special” wobbles from one incoherent segment to the next. Malla watches a TV cooking show hosted by Harvey Korman as a four-armed female. Art Carney installs a virtual reality helmet on Itchy and he gets to see Diahann Carroll, inexplicably wearing a disco ball as headgear, cooing light eroticism (“I am your fantasy. I am your pleasure”). Carney then sets up a holographic mini-theater showing Jefferson Starship for one of Darth Vader’s lieutenants, and this action has Carney engaging in a pathetic half-approximation of the Ed Norton hand and arm gestures. We visit the famed cantina from “Star Wars” where Bea Arthur is the owner-manager and she sings a haunting (or is it haunted?) ballad about friendship before pouring a drink into the hole at the top of the head of a grinning monster (played by Harvey Korman, who turns up in another segment as the video instruction guide for Lumpy’s new toy). There is also a short cartoon of “Star Wars” adventures that introduces the character of Boba Fett to the mix, but the artwork here is so shabby that none of the animated characters look anything like their human counterparts.
Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher show up in very brief appearances throughout the course of this insanity and none of them can keep a straight face. Fisher in particular seems ready to burst out laughing, especially in the soaring finale when she sings (?) a Life Day hymn while Wookies dressed in red robes parade around solemnly and Harrison Ford wrinkles his face in a manner that suggests his laxative is suddenly taking effect. Years later, Fisher would facetiously claim “The Star Wars Holiday Special” never existed.
George Lucas clearly wished “The Star Wars Holiday Special” never existed. Following the disastrous TV premiere on November 17, 1978, the program was yanked out of circulation. Aside from an appearance by Mark Hamill and the non-human cast of the 1977 film on “The Muppet Show,” Lucas would never again allow the “Star Wars” characters to appear in any production outside of his control. To date, the 1978 program has never been broadcast again and Lucas will not answer any questions regarding the possibility of putting it out on home video or DVD.
Back when “The Star Wars Holiday Special” was shown, home video was still in its infancy. Mercifully, the relatively few people who owned VCRs were smart enough to record the program and preserve it for bootleg posterity, thus polluting future generations with the zany debacle while offering warped nostalgia who caught it the first go-round.
“The Star Wars Holiday Special” is one of the most popular bootleg titles of all time and it has turned up in many unauthorized screenings at video lounges around the country. While many of the copies on the market seem to be eye-damning fifth- or sixth-generation dubs (or even worse), the fact that it survives and it is sought out is a well-deserved thumb-of-the-nose to the Lucas empire. Triple-shame on George Lucas for having the audacity to give us “Star Wars” films with the likes of Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen, but refusing to give us “Star Wars” with Art Carney and Bea Arthur. May the Force be with the video bootleggers!

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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Posted on November 27, 2003 in Features by
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