Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Star Wars Holiday Special

It's that special time of year again, scorehards. Snow is falling, the colored lights are in shop window displays, and Black Friday body counts have long been finalized: we are in the thick of the Christmas season. What better time than now to turn our attentions to the Star Wars Holiday Special?

Originally broadcast in 1978 to a scathing critical and audience reception, the two-hour television special was largely forgotten for decades, only re-emerging into the popular consciousness thanks to the cruel and unfailing memory of the Internet. The SWHS was your typical '70s TV variety show, only set in the fertile soil of the barely one-year-old Star Wars universe, and featuring just about everyone who mattered from the original cast. The results are... well... maybe you should just read ahead and let the nanobots break it down for you. But you'll see that there's a reason why George Lucas (the guy who thought "midichlorians" were a sensible addition to the Star Wars canon) has done everything in his power to bury this thing.
  • The picture quality on our copy of the special is everything you'd expect from a nigh-40-year-old program that was digitally transferred from a chewed up VHS cassette. = -19pts 
  • Han struggles to break through an imperial blockade in order to get Chewie back to his home planet Kashyyyk (for some reason referred to as "Kazook" here) so he can celebrate Life Day with his family. As long as it still involves a fat man in a red suit climbing down chimneys with a sack full of toys, we're into it. = +3pts 
  • We are introduced to Chewbacca's horrifying family in the credit sequence:

    Chewie's father, Itchy...
    His wife, Malla...
    And their son, Lumpy

    Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, his brother Scabby and cousin Gurgly had to be cut from the script. = -30pts
  • Other notable guests: Bea Arthur, Jefferson Starship, and Hedley Lamar from Blazing Saddles. = +20pts 
  • Holy shit, is that Boba Fett in the animated segment that they're teasing? = +80pts 
  • Following the opening credits, we are greeted by a tender scene in the Chewbacca household (sans the head of house) that's devoid of any human dialogue, and which goes on for what feels like 47 hours. = -28pts 
  • It's like they tried a little too hard to humanize these Wookies. There's something comfortingly blank about Chewbacca's features that mark him as both alien and relatable, but there's a weird uncanny valley thing happening with Malla, Itchy, and Lumpy that, combined with domestic setting, makes us feel like we're watching the rabbit sitcom from Inland Empire. = -11pts 
  • But Malla is a little chunky, which is admirable considering that, were this special to be remade today, she would most assuredly played by a size-zero swimsuit model with huge fake boobs. = +7pts 
  • Why is there a snack dish out on the kitchen table if no one is allowed to snack on its contents? = -2pts 
  • The 47-hour domestic scene is, at last, broken up by a holographic acrobatics show. This does not exactly count as an improvement. = -13pts 
  • Concerned that Chewie has not come home yet, Malla calls up Luke and R2 to ask for his whereabouts, thus continuing the program's motif of never having more than one character in any scene speaking a human language. = -4pts 
  • By the way, looks like Luke got a new haircut/unnerving, dead-eyed glare since A New Hope wrapped. = -6pts
  • The only thing creepier than Luke trying to coax a smile out of Malla is the sight of her actually doing it. = -15pts 
  • The conversation with Luke ends abruptly when R2 ruptures something on the X-Wing the two of them were repairing and Luke gets enveloped in a cloud of steam and (presumably) scalded to death. = +4pts 
  • Why would an imperial naval trooper be responsible for inspecting Saun Dann's curio shop? = -3pts 
  • In his first of many roles in the special, Hedley Lamar plays a four-armed alien version of Julia Child. = +10pts 
  • ...In blackface. = -40pts 
  • Vader gets about 18 seconds of screen time. = -14pts 
  • Saun Dann,beleaguered shopkeeper/rebel symph, shows up at Chewie's house with Life Day presents for the whole family, then asks Malla, "What does an old friend get?" Is this holiday special about to take an unsavory turn as we find out how Malla has been making ends meet while her husband gallivants across the universe with his...ahem..."partner?" = -16pts 
  • Saun Dann presents Itchy with a machine that visualizes his sexual fantasies. There's a whole lot that we don't understand about Wookie culture. = +12pts 
  • Looks like Itchy has a fetish for human women. = -18pts 
  • By the way, absolutely everything about Diahann Carroll's spoken intro to her song is designed to make your skin crawl at a cellular level. = -25pts 
  • For not cutting back to a scene of Grandpa Itchy furiously masturbating in the living room while plugged into his porno chair. = -33pts (Go big or go home.) 
  • The appearance of the storm troopers at the Wookie family's front door sends this special into Sound of Music territory, with potential to veer straight into Inglorious Basterds. = +7pts 
  • The frontman of holographic Jefferson Starship looks like he's singing into a radioactive dildo. = +5pts 
  • To distract himself from the storm troopers tearing his bedroom apart upstairs, Lumpy sits down to watch a cartoon about his dad. It's worth pointing out that this animated feature is, hands-down, the only halfway watchable thing in this entire special up until now. = +12pts
  • When did Dr. Eggman join the Rebel Alliance? = -4pts 
  • Boba Fett saves Luke Skywalker's life by tasing a sea serpent, while sitting astride a different sea serpent. = +50pts 
  • Boba Fett, upon being discovered as an Imperial spy, flies off in his jetpack. Of course, if he was wearing a working jet pack the whole time, one wonders why he bothered scaling the cliff wall earlier in the featurette. = -3pts 
  • Also, there is something seriously wrong with Han's face. = -8pts
  • Hedley Lamar shows up in his second role as a malfunctioning cyborg delivering an instructional video. It's every bit as funny as it sounds. = -22pts 
  • Whoa! We're back on the Mos Eisley Cantina! = +10pts 
  • And Bea Arthur is the bartender! = = +15pts 
  • ...But unfortunately, here comes Hedley Lamar in his third role as a stalker-alien who consumes liquid by pouring it into a hole on the top of his head. = - 35pts 
  • Bea Arthur chases all the alien patrons out with a song set to the tune of the "Cantina Band Theme." = +13pts 
  • ...Only to find that she's alone in the bar with stalker Hedley Lamar. Weeks later, some storm troopers were probably called out to a remote location in the desert to investigate a moisture farmer's report that his bantha came back chewing on what appeared to be a human femur. = -26pts 
  • Lumpy tricks the imperial forces into abandoning their post, except for one storm trooper, who will undoubtedly learn a lesson about the true spirit of Life Day. = +2pts 
  • Wait, never mind, Han and Chewie show up and throw him off a cliff while he emits a Wilhelm scream. = +8pts 
  • I guess we can just take on faith that no one from the Empire is going to come back to investigate the last place the storm trooper was stationed before he mysteriously went missing? = -6pts 
  • Is it just us, or was there a sexually charged moment that passed between Han and Malla? = +3pts 
  • Your guess is as good as ours as to what's going on here. = -17pts

  • How did all of the main characters end up in the same place? = -9pts 
  • Princess Leia takes us home with a heartwarming rendition of our favorite Life Day carol. = +2pts 
  • Chewie reflects on all his fond memories from Episode IV, making the fatal mistake of reminding the audience of what they'd rather be watching. = -21pts
Total Score = -163pts
Available on: Just Pirate Bay, for the foreseeable future; there's not enough CGI in the world for Lucas to retcon this mess into working order

So, yeah, obviously this was one of the most ill-conceived moments in television history, but can we talk more about the Boba Fett thing? This was two years before Empire came out, making it the first appearance by the beloved bounty hunter. It's also notable because, if you add it to the canon, it pretty much triples the amount of spoken dialogue that Boba Fett gets in the original films. Seeing him rendered in the quirky style of Nelvana Ltd. (who also brought us the Droids and Ewoks animated series in the '80s) almost made up for the rest of the special, which combined miserable storytelling, the worst of '70s MOR, and cringe-worthy comedy routines into a hellish cocktail of nostalgia-destroying horror. It's not hard to see why Lucas wanted this locked in a lead-lined vault as soon as it saw the light of day; had it been widely circulated, there's a good chance it could have snuffed out the fledgling franchise before it even had a chance to breathe.

Looking back from the 21st century, though, it makes less sense to continue hiding it. After all, it's still a hell of a lot more fun to watch than Episode I.

Score Technician: Joe Hemmerling

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