Look at the Worst Moment in Star Wars History and Its Collectibles
by Pete Vilmur
I hate The Star Wars Holiday Special. This is due not so much to the mind-numbing boredom one must endure for two hours while watching it, but to the gut-wrenching embarrassment one feels for the actors involved. Mercifully, the special aired only once on the evening of November 17, 1978, but has lived on in the cult realm of bootleg videos and website downloads. The original director, Canadian David Acomba, got off easy--he walked off the set early on in the production. His chief contribution, however, would outlive all the anachronisms the show is mired in today. Nelvana Studios of Canada, the animators responsible for the short cartoon, which featured the first appearance of Boba Fett as well as voice roles reprised by the original cast, was his idea. Steve Binder, Acomba's replacement, could only hope to be remembered so fondly.
In short, the storyline involves Chewbacca trying to return to his home world of Kashyyyk to celebrate a religious Wookiee holiday called Life Day. But the imperials are there first, looking for the rebels and harassing Chewie's family. Members of the Wookiee household consist of Chewie's wife Mallatobuck (Malla), his son Lumpawarrump (Lumpy), and his father Attichitcuk (Itchy). Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher make token appearances and are joined by a supporting cast consisting of Art Carney, Bea Arthur, and Harvey Korman. Carney plays Saun Dann, a kindly trader; Arthur plays Ackmena, owner of the Mos Eisley cantina; and Korman actually plays three characters in the show: Gormaanda the chef, a "dromboid", and Krelman, a patron of the cantina. Some of the sketches involving these veteran performers are actually pretty funny, but the overall silliness of the show leaves us feeling shamefully sympathetic towards the core cast.
So why collect items associated with the Holiday Special? I've pondered this question ever since I picked up my first SWHS item, an old TV weekly advertising the event on its cover. My conclusion? It's not too far removed from the kid who stashes pictures of leggy blondes from the Sears catalog in the recesses of his sock drawer--we're not *supposed* to collect these things but yet we're somehow drawn to them. Why? Because Uncle George would disapprove. I collect SWHS stuff because the show was so bad. It's a bittersweet source of guilty pleasure in a hobby preoccupied with variants and values. In any case, to me these few pieces represent an homage to the low point of the Star Wars legacy. They're a celebration of all that can go wrong within the scope of a great idea.Because Lucasfilm would rather forget the Holiday Special ever happened, much of what we know about the scenes behind the scenes have been culled from a handful of sources. First and foremost among all Holiday Special collectibles is the presskit. Extremely rare and fiercely sought after by collectors of Star Wars promotional material, this media exclusive provides the most in-depth coverage of the special and the "talent" involved in its creation. For example, we learn that fashion-world giant Bob Mackie was the costume designer for the special, which showcased the sequin-studded gown that upstaged disco performer Diahann Carroll's
The first commercial publication to lend any coverage to the Star Wars television event was Starlog magazine, which devoted four pages and the cover of its nineteenth issue to the show. While only one page of copy was written for the article, the remaining three pages showcase a nice variety of images, most of which I've seen nowhere else. At about the same time the Starlog went to press, a French-Canadian magazine called Lundi published a full page image showing a stilted alien towering over a smaller humanoid. This scene was actually cut from the Mos Eisely spaceport portion of Star Wars and briefly re-inserted during the cantina sequence of the Holiday Special. There is no accompanying article but it is a noteworthy image nonetheless.
Some of the general story elements from the show were recycled for the now somewhat scarce Wookiee Storybook, which spins a strangley familiar yarn for Lumpy and company. No Imperials are present in this scenario, but the basic plot points are the same. Lumpy is in danger and Han and Chewie must return to Kashyyyk to rescue him. Yeah, thanks for the recap. Yawn.
Nearly a decade and a half would pass before another author dared to bring up the HS again. Jon Bradley Snyder, current editor of the Star Wars Insider, penned a short but frank article on the shortcomings of the HS in his seminal fanzine Star Wars Generation. One of my favorite Star Wars-related publications to date, it poked fun at the SW legacy from a devoted fan's perspective. Unfortunately, Lucasfilm wasn't amused and dealt Snyder a cease and desist after just one issue. Lucasfilm was apparently impressed, however, with his unbridled passion for even the foibles of the Star Wars universe, as well as his sharp journalistic skills. This convinced Lucasfilm that he would make a great senior editor for their Fan Club magazine, which was just then having its title changed to Star Wars Insider. This leads us to two Snyder-penned HS articles that have appeared in the Insider since its inception. First was a basic rehash of the Star Wars Gen; it appears in issue #23 along with a couple of nice photos. Next was an article delving into the world of Star Wars animation, which included a few nugget-rich paragraphs on the Holiday Special animated sequence.
Speaking of the HS animated sequence, this 12-minute gem is the sole transcendent element in an otherwise abysmal television program. In the minds of most fans, it rescued the entire special from total and utter infamy. The animated plot sets Luke in search of Han and Chewie on an alien world. Right away, Luke and the droids must be rescued by Boba Fett, who unbeknownst to them is searching for the same thing Han and Chewie came looking for: a mysterious and powerful crystal. After finding Han and Chewbacca, Luke contracts a strange virus, the cure to which might be found in one of the local cities. Chewie and "friend" Boba go looking for it as R2 intercepts a transmission meant for Fett from none other than Darth Vader. This, of course, reveals the bounty hunter's true intentions. The two then return with the cure and R2 spills the beans on Fett. He escapes and vows not to fail again.
An article that explored some of the history behind the making of this featurette appeared in Overstreet's Fan Magazine #5, published in October 1995. This article personally led me to the author, Joe Cesaro, who was the current caretaker of several original cels and background plates from the HS animated sequence. I was lucky enough to pick up an original Boba Fett cel from him at the time, as well as pore over 38 original background plates which had miraculously survived in an animation archive acquired by the company. I recently caught up with Joe and his associate Jay West, who are heading up Sunday Funnies, Inc., which still houses many of these original cels and backgrounds. A booth devoted to the HS animated sequence is planned for the 2001 Comicon in San Diego, where many of the originals and limited edition reproductions will be available for sale.
The most recent publication with anything significant to add to the short list of source material for Holiday Special enthusiasts is the omnibus entitled Star Wars Chronicles, which devotes a generous four pages of rare images to the program (although some of these appeared earlier in a Japanese publication called All About the Star Wars). There are some rare behind-the-scenes shots of cast and crew as well as several cel setups from the animated featurette. This book is an absolute must-have for the serious Star Wars fan who wants a thorough run-through of the creative process behind the Star Wars phenomenon.
Among Holiday Special collectibles that were planned but never made are a couple of Kenner toy items. One is a somewhat hokey set of Wookiee family figures conceptualized by Kenner in 1978. My guess is that the combo-packaging for these figures would have been more of a novelty to SW figure collectors than the figures themselves. What I personally would have loved to see produced was the Boba Fett Sea Serpent, which got at least as far as a few concept sketches. This piece would have been a wonderful homage to the imagination of the animators, since its appearance in the Star Wars universe is exclusive to the highly-stylized HS cartoon. In any case, it seems the Holiday Special aficionado is forced to settle for collectibles in the two-dimensional universe, since any toy tie-ins were quickly nixed after the show's abominable single airing. (Thanks to Lisa Stevens and Vic Wertz for providing images of these items).
Because of its low-profile status amongst the media and fans alike, The Star Wars Holiday Special suffers from an extreme lack of collectible material. It's unlikely that even Lucasfilm will ever publicly acknowledge the HS with a bona-fide video release [if you can't find a bootleg copy, you haven't been looking hard enough-- Ed.], although hopes are high that the animated featurette will find its way onto a Star Wars DVD as a supplemental. I've enjoyed a mischievous pleasure in collecting SWHS memorabilia, probably because I know that Uncle George would cringe at so subversive a notion. Call it the despicable hoard of a deviant collector, or an impassioned devotional to a visionary's mea culpa; this small grouping of items represents the only tangible link I have to the saga's most embarrassing moment. After all, having become so steeped in the lore of cult status, The Star Wars Holiday Special will forever remain the show that Star Wars fans love to hate. Not even Jar Jar Binks could change that.
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