In 1978, Star Wars had been out barely a year. In fact, owing to the long runs movies had in theatres — even the least successful movies lingered for months — you could still see it at your local cinema, even though it had been out for a year. George Lucas was already working on The Empire Strikes Back, but there was so much demand for more Star Wars that they couldn’t turn down a request for a TV special. In those pre-World Wide Web, pre-Netflix, pre-DVD days — hey, VCRs were still pretty rare creatures back then — TV was a bigger deal than it is today, and a Star Wars TV special was a guaranteed cash cow, no matter how rushed and terrible the end product was. And wow, was it rushed and terrible.
Even as an 11-year-old, I could see the warning signs as soon as the voice-over announcer got past the stars of the films and started introducing the other actors — Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Harvey Korman — that this was going to be yet another cheeseball variety show that just happened to have a Star Wars veneer sloppily applied to it. And it was just that — two hours of big 1970s stars doing song-and-dance routines, with just enough appearances from the characters from the films to hold it together as a Star Wars show. Even they weren’t enough, so they invented a family for Chewbacca, which ended up making much of the show an exercise in Wookie pantomime.
Even our film heroes weren’t at their best. Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill was recovering from a motorcycle accident and had to wear a thick layer of makeup to cover up the damage, and Carrie “Princess Leia” Fisher’s addiction was beginning to kick into high gear, and it shows.
Watch! Cringe! Enjoy!
In her defense of the Holiday Special, Bonnie Burton points out that one of the best things about the recording that’s been floating about the ‘net for years is the fact that the ads and announcements from the commercial breaks were preserved. Some enterprising soul has taken those commercials and other interstitial bits and put them into a single YouTube video: