Is there a better way to celebrate the holiday season than reminding ourselves of the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special?
If you’re a Star Wars fan, there’s a good chance you’ve heard plenty of jokes about Han and Chewbacca’s lovely trip to visit home that shook the entertainment world in 1978. Don’t remember? Grab your cocoa, and let’s take a trip down memory lane.
The holiday special was introduced to the world on November 17, 1978, after some various disagreements between George Lucas, writers, and producers. It was broadcast by CBS that evening.
The plot focuses on Chewbacca bringing Han Solo home for Life Day. As per Star Wars standard, the two run into some Imperial trouble on their way, leaving plenty of time for other antics on Kashyyyk. While his family waits there, Chewbacca’s wife Mallatobuck makes calls (including to Luke Skywalker), before opening the door to find… Stormtroopers!
The Imperial troopers search desperately for Chewbacca while his son Lumpy forms a plan. The troopers get distracted by a music box and a Chewbacca cartoon (featuring Darth Vader and Boba Fett); Lumpy works on a device that will give a fake message to the Stormtroopers. This is when we witness a broadcast about a curfew on Tatooine, which ends in song. Still with me?
Lumpy manages to trick almost all of the Stormtroopers — except for one. Have no fear, though, because Chewie and Han arrive just in time! With crisis averted, everyone is finally able to celebrate Life Day at the Tree of Life.
Also gathered at the Tree of Life are Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2. Now that all of our heroes are together again, they exchange kind words of appreciation for each other. Even Han says “All of you are an important part of my life.” And then Leia finishes it off by… singing. Yes, singing. Which we are definitely okay with. Perhaps it’s a bit reminiscent of her IRL mom Debbie Reynold’s wistful Singin’ In The Rain performances.
What brought the holiday special into the limelight was the terrible reception. It has been lauded as the “worst two hours of television ever” (David Hofstede), with a 3/10 Rotten Tomatoes score to sharpen the blow. After the backlash, the Star Wars special was never aired or formally distributed. Now it exists in memes, in our memories, and in poor quality bootlegs across YouTube.
Though George Lucas reportedly wasn’t happy with how the holiday special turned out, it clearly didn’t stop the cultural powerhouse that is Star Wars. The Empire Strikes Back came out a few years later, and though critics were mixed, the overall love for Star Wars prevailed. A 1980 review from The Guardian UK said:
It cost $22 million to make The Empire Strikes Back, which is just over 100 percent more than Star Wars. Star Wars grossed $400 million. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Empire did the same. It is technically even more proficient, has virtually the same ingredients and bursts forth into a world that still seems ripe for its special blend of nostalgically simple story-telling and complicated technology. If George Lucas wants to go on and on, imitating on the largest possible scale the Saturday morning serials of his youth, there seems no good reason yet why anything should stop him.
The holiday special was an interesting time in Star Wars history. Even if it wasn’t a… cinematic masterpiece, per say, there’s something about the made-for-TV-movie that practically oozes nostalgia. It’s strange in an almost endearing way and feels kind of like a fever dream. But maybe that’s the charm of it.
Albeit a little cheesy, Princess Leia’s speech at the end of the special is sweet; she speaks on togetherness and unity despite differences, which – we admit – is the perfect message for a holiday movie.
Have you seen the holiday special? Share your thoughts on it in the comments! Happy Holidays, and May the Force Be With You.