11:00 am EST, December 28, 2015

The ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’: It’s really that bad

The Star Wars Holiday Special is, no joke, so bad it's bad.

Meeting Chewbacca’s family, appearances by all of our favorite Star Wars main characters, and a bit of holiday cheer: What can go wrong?

Everything, apparently. While the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special seems to have the makings for a fun and relaxed Star Wars romp, it’s anything but. It’s actually pretty terrible.

Most telling is the fact that the special aired on television only once (November 17, 1978; one year after the release of A New Hope) and hasn’t been officially released in full in any way, shape, or form, since. In fact, the special disappeared so completely that a lot of people had trouble believing that it had ever existed in the first place. That is, until home-recorded versions of the two-hour TV special started popping up in the ’90s and making their way onto the internet in the 2000s.

Aside from the 10-minute animated sketch (which you can read more about below) that was most recently included as an Easter egg on the 2011 Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray set, the only way to watch the Star Wars Holiday Special has been through torrents and YouTube videos. The problem with that is that these videos and files have been taken down again and again over the years because George Lucas doesn’t want anyone to watch it ever again.

(Which means that these videos may be dead by the time you’re reading this. However, it’s usually pretty easy to find other versions by doing a quick YouTube search!)

This special may be terrible, but you should still watch it. (After all, it’s all technically canon!) Sure, the long holiday season may be finally coming to a close, but there’s no such thing as the best time to watch this holiday special. So, why not watch it now?

The premise

The Star Wars Holiday Special is all about family. Chewbacca’s family, to be precise! Han Solo is trying his best to get Chewbacca back to his home planet of Kashyyyk where his family is waiting for him to celebrate Life Day (their sort of Christmas/special holiday).

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Taking place in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Imperial forces are everywhere, making it difficult for everyone’s favorite duo to get to Kashyyyk. So, as they’re battling Imperial fighters off-screen, we’re cooped up in Chewbacca’s house with his family as they prepare for Life Day.

Who’s in it?

You’d think that the Star Wars Holiday Special would focus on and include our favorite Star Wars characters, right? Well, it kind of does in that all of your favorite characters from Star Wars make appearances. We get a little bit of time with Luke, Leia, Han, Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3P0, and, of course, Chewbacca. Even Boba Fett shows up (which we’ll talk about in a second).

But the story really just focuses on Chewbacca’s family: Malla (his wife), Itchy (his father), and Lumpy (his son). No Chewbacca, though. That’s right: For the majority of the special we, the audience, spend time with characters we don’t really know and have no real emotional ties to. Our favorite characters sort of flit in and out, being on screen for no more than about 7-10 minutes total (not counting the animated sequence) of the 97 minute special. No joke.

What’s in it?

The good

Star Wars Holiday Special animated cartoon

So while everyone will tell you that the Star Wars Holiday Special is one of the worst and most painful things you’ll ever watch in your life (which is actually pretty accurate), they probably won’t tell you that there are a few diamonds in the rough. (And by “diamonds,” we mean semi-/partially enjoyable parts.)

Though spending a lot of the special with Chewie’s family is awkward most of the time, there are a few moments of genuine emotion that pop up here and there. Malla’s concern for her husband is palpable and sympathetic, especially during moments when it looks like she’s going to break down. Even Lumpy, the awkward child, garners a moment or two of sympathy. The most emotional moment is one where Lumpy cries over his beloved (and recently beheaded) bantha stuffed animal.

There’s also a random sequence that takes Star Wars fans back to the Mos Eisley cantina where Bea Arthur (of Golden Girls fame) is running the joint and the cantina band is playing their hearts out. It’s kind of fun to see so many strange and familiar faces in one of our favorite locations again, although the scene runs on for far too long. Nevertheless, it’s still a (relatively) high point.

Most notable, however, is the animated sequence that occurs somewhere around the midway point of the special. Pretty much everyone who has ever watched the holiday special can agree that this is, hands down, the best part of the holiday special. Though it doesn’t really fit into the special as a whole and the animation is a little trippy (and Han Solo looks like he’s a combination of Harrison Ford and a horse), it’s the special’s most cohesive and fun segment. Plus, it’s actually the first ever introduction of the bounty hunter, Boba Fett! This cartoon introduces him far before his appearance in Return of the Jedi. It’s pretty rad, especially since it seems like he does more in the special than in the movies…

The bad

Star Wars Holiday Special Chewbacca's family

Pretty much all of it is “the bad.” From cooking lessons taught by a four-armed alien dressed in drag to the fact that none of Chewie’s family speaks English so the majority of the special’s “dialogue” is just grunting and groaning, the Star Wars Holiday Special is really something else. It’s one of those things that you go into thinking “Okay, I know it’s supposed to be awful, but how bad can it really be?” and, about 10 minutes in, say to yourself “This is far worse than I could have ever imagined.”

Oh, and did we mention the Life Day song that Leia sings at the end of the special to the tune of the Star Wars theme song (with some of White Christmas‘ “Count Your Blessings” mixed in)? We can’t help but watch (and listen to) that scene without cringing and feeling awful for Carrie Fisher having to do it (especially when she misses a few notes, although we will say that she does have a pleasant singing voice in general).

Seriously though. This special is so bad that one of our favorite non-Hypable podcasts, How Did This Get Made?, begrudgingly (and hilariously) covered it in their most recent episode. It’s a definite must-listen. (Fun fact teaser: Lando Calrissian was supposed to be introduced in this special!)

The ugly

Star Wars Holiday Special cast

While the majority of the Star Wars Holiday Special is pretty nails-on-a-chalkboard awful, there’s one sequence that really takes the cake. A little ways into the special, Chewie’s father Itchy sits in a sort of virtual reality program chair that lets you live out your fantasy. We won’t spoil the terribleness for you, but apparently Itchy’s sexual fantasy involves a sparkly disco woman. Believe us when we say it’s worse than it sounds.

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