Happy Life Day, everyone!
On this day in 1978, millions of children gathered around their family televisions to watch the Star Wars Holiday Special. I was one of them. The previous year, I had seen Star Wars (and it was just called Star Wars. This was the original release, long before “A New Hope” was added as a subtitle). I was four and a half when it came out, and I was an instant convert. I’d seen the movie about 10 times in theaters, I had all the action figures, I had a vinyl record that was basically an audio recording of the movie that I was wearing out the grooves on. Star Wars was everything to me.
And now, there was finally more!
Empire Strikes Back wouldn’t come out for another 18 months, so any shred of Star Wars content was welcome. So I was very excited about this!
For reasons, that will soon become clear, I do not have memories of my six-year-old self watching this, so I’ll let my mom take over here and describe my reaction:
“You were so excited. But once it came on you wouldn’t stop crying.”
Yes, the Star Wars Holiday Special is where so many children learned about disappointment for the first time. Don’t come at me with your scorching takes about how The Last Jedi ruined your childhood. You obviously didn’t spend an evening in November 1978 crying over your grape juice and Jiffy Pop because you just watched an old Wookiee named Itchy get aroused by an intergalactic Diahann Carroll. I have blocked my initial viewing of this show from my memory.
The Holiday Special is legendary in its awfulness. The “plot” ostensibly centers around Han and Chewie trying to get back to Kashyyyk in time for Life Day, the Star Wars version of Thanksgiving, but really it’s all about cramming in some truly awful comedy bits and songs. All of the characters you know and love from the movie — Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2, Threepio — were contractually obligated to make an appearance, but you can tell they aren’t real happy about it. Harrison Ford can barely be bothered to grumble his lines, and Carrie Fisher had the good sense to get stoned out of her gourd before singing her stirring Life Day ballad.
And speaking of stirring, how could anyone forget Harvey Korman’s legendary cooking video where he dresses up in drag and has four arms and shows Nala — Chewbacca’s wife — how to make Bantha Surprise?
Or Bea Arthur singing in a cantina? Or Art Carney as a human fixer, trying to aid the Wookiees? Or the fact that about half of this show is just Chewie’s family — wife Nala, Dad Itchy, and son Lumpy — hanging around their tree house and grunting, with no subtitles?
It’s comically bad. It owes more to the campy variety specials of the 1970s than it does to Star Wars. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from the Brady Bunch Variety Hour or Donny & Marie, not the highest grossing film in history. George Lucas loathed it, and his name appears nowhere in the credits. According to legend, he said that if he had time and a hammer, he’d destroy every copy.
The Holiday Special has never been officially released on home video or for streaming. (The animated segment that introduces Boba Fett — The Legend of the Faithful Wookiee — has popped up on Disney+, under the heading “Star Wars Vintage.”) It’s amazing that the special even survived at all. George Lucas bought up all the rights to it, allegedly so it could never be rebroadcast. I would assume that there were a few families that had early VCRs that managed to record it, and then did not destroy those tapes or use them to record episodes of Dallas. But, ever since YouTube became popular, those grainy recordings have found a digital home, allowing for new generations to be traumatized each year.
And maybe because of those campy YouTube clips, the concept of Life Day has become actually popular! It’s actually a canon holiday in the Star Wars universe. It’s mentioned in the first episode of The Mandalorian! (Just as Din is about carbon freeze him, Bobby Moynihan’s character complains that he wanted to get home for Life Day.) Disney made a Lego Star Wars Holiday Special, which featured Nala, Lumpy, and Itchy coming to visit Chewiee on the Millenium Falcon. So, his family is canon. Along with Diahann Carroll as a space temptress, I suppose…
Disney has even leaned into marketing it. You can buy actual Life Day merch! There’s a Chewbacca plush with him wearing his red Life Day robes! They had a whole Life Day event at Disney World last year, where you could get photos with a glowing Life Day orb! You can even get your own official robes!
I have to admit that I find this very bizarre. I understand that if there is a buck to made off of something, Disney is going to make it. But the Star Wars Holiday Special was literally traumatic to me as a child. I know that everything under the sun gets reclaimed at some point, but the Holiday Special? For real?
Granted, there is some tongue-in-cheek attitude from Disney and Star Wars about this. There is an acknowledgement that the special was dreadful, but hey, let’s have some fun with it. Sure, but someone is buying those $60 Life Day hoodies.
In case you think I’m exaggerating how bad this is or making a mountain out of the molehills of youth, I am going to include a link to the special below. Watch it for yourself! But I would recommend you follow Carrie’s example and have a few edibles before doing so.
And remember: when making the Bantha Surprise, it’s whip then stir.