Star Wars at 30: The worst programme ever made

There are some moments that change your life forever - a near-death experience perhaps, or maybe the irreplaceable experience of being so bored that the clock seems to go physically backwards. Well sir, I’ve had both of those things happen to me, but now I feel I’ve truly arrived. Because I’ve seen the worst programme ever made.”Wow!” you exclaim. “I witnessed the fourth series of Teachers too, but it wasn’t that bad, was it?” Hey, it was pretty cruddy, that’s for sure, and worse because you might have expected something half decent, but it looked like the collaborative output of Scorcese, Eisenstein and Orson Welles compared with…

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

I downloaded the Holiday Special for the sake of completism, and also because I’d heard it was quite bad and wanted to know for myself. The show was broadcast in November 1978, for American audiences bloated on Thanksgiving, and sated their desire for Star Wars, by this point at its peak. Conceived as a tangential episode to the overall Star Wars mythology, it was intended by George Lucas - who came up with the story - to keep the fans happy while The Empire Strikes Back was in production, and as a consequence it enjoyed a good share of the ratings.

A heavily made up LukeBut why haven’t we seen this? What’s the reason for a legitimate slice of the Wars, featuring all the main actors, not being released for British audiences, indeed for virtually suffering from a cover-up from the makers (it’s conspicuously absent from the ‘Empire of Dreams’ documentary on the trilogy DVD, which covers every other wart connected with the series)? Here’s the reason. It’s very bad. Very, very, very, very bad indeed. In fact, I’ve never known anything that’s made me want to tear my eyes out more, or at least force me to rush upstairs and explain to said eyes that I was really sorry and it wouldn’t happen again, honest. And it won’t.

The sad thing about the Holiday Special is that it ain’t just bad, in a Phanton Menace type sense of irritation, but it’s boring and meaningless too. It makes the prequels look generally like they were written by Harold Pinter. I’m almost at a complete loss to emphasise so completely what was wrong about it; indeed Lucasfilm have exorcised it from their collective. Heck George, I can forgive you for Jar Jar, because I know how bad it can really get…

The 90-minute show opens with a scene about the Millennium Falcon escaping from Imperial spaceships. Han and Chewie are on board, and for a short, blissful few seconds everything seems present and correct as the pair banter and argue about how they’re going to get out of their predicament… but wait! Is Han wearing a mass of make-up? He is! And as the credits roll, highlighting each member of the star cast, all just as tarted up (everyone from the film is in it apart from Alec Guinness, whose character presumably had the good sense to be dead at the time). Mark Hammill looks as though he’s been liberally coated in plastic, like a version of the toy figure that was hitting the stores at the time… but further horrors await.

The tale follows Chewbacca trying to make it back to Wookie World to participate in Life Day (no idea what this means) with his family, and so we get to meet his nearest and dearest. There’s Chewie’s wife, Malla, who at least looks like a Wookie and has a Wookie-ish name. His dad is called Itchy(!), and turns out to be a curmudgeony, randy old ape-type thingy. Finally, there’s Lumpy, Chewie’s son, a horrendous proto-Barney creation who’s supposed to be cute, all-American and a Wookie to boot. The first 15 minutes of the programme is dominated by their waiting for the, umm, Wookie of the house, as they communicate in growls and, er, that’s it. I mean, I’m sorry, but 15 minutes of this? It’s just a bunch of monsters talking to each other! The grown-ups try to placate Lumpy (I can’t type that word without a shudder echoing through my frame) by sitting him in front of table, upon which a series of green-clad acrobats appear in an effort to entertain him. I don’t suppose I need to add they didn’t do the same for me.

Gormaanda - that's Hedley!It gets worse. Malla watches a video of Gormaanda, a female chef played by Harvey Korman (in a personification of the mighty falling, he was once Hedley “It’s Hedley!” Lamarr in Blazing Saddles, and also shows up later in the show as a love struck alien, falling for Golden Girls’ Beatrice Arthur as an alien who drinks from a hole in the top of his head(?) - incidentally, Beatrice plays the barkeep of the pub at Mos Eisley, getting shot of her customers by singing to them, and hey, it works - who subjects her to an increasingly hysterical cooking lesson (”Whip… spin… beat… whip… whip… spin…”). And then, for no apparent reason, up pops Art Carney as Saun Dann, an intergalactic trader, who gives each of the Wookies a gift. The most incredible of these is a sort of virtual reality thing that looks like one of those old hairdryers, which is dished out to Itchy and shows him an image of Dianne Carroll. Real-life soul singer Carroll plays Holographic Wow (I’m not joking), who talks dirty to Itchy for a few minutes and then sings a song about something utterly unconnected with the plot.

Shortly afterwards (mercifully), a troop of Imperial guards enter, again without just cause, and proceed to ransack the place. They’re led by Colonel Camp, as I am wont to call him, clearly someone who relishes wearing his starched uniform of the Empire and barking out commands in what can only be described as a gay way. For reasons we’re best kept out of, Dann gives one of the imperial troops a videotape, which inexplicably introduces a performance from those well-known intergalactic rock maestros, Jefferson Starship. In a manifestation of torture, they play for what seems like a short eternity.

There’s more, much more, including a cartoon that features the very first appearance of bounty hunter, Boba Fett (it says something that the animation sequence is by some distance the best thing about this whole deal), and cameos from Luke and a clearly mid-Postcards from the Edge Princess Leia. Eventually, Han comes and sorts the troopers out, tells Malla and her hairy mates that they’re the closest thing to a family he has whilst trying not to look hugely embarassed by being involved in such cobblers, before leaving Chewie to it. What follows can only be described as a war crime, a diabolical plan to wipe out humanity.

Life Day, and - ulp! - Leia singsThe Wookie joins his family in a steam-filled room of, er, more Wookies (this involves a stereophonic Wookie whine) around something called the Tree of Life (scriptwriters at their most imaginative here), and then Leia starts singing. That’s right! And not only does she sing, but it’s a love ballad crooned to the Star Wars theme tune, a little like Anita Dobson and the Eastenders music, except worse. Worse! It’s not that Carrie Fisher’s bad, just the sheer audacity, shit lyrics and the sense you’ve been pounded by over an hour of improbably worse than Fresh Fields telly add up to a sense of bemusement and blasphemy that by all accounts had George Lucas declaring he’d like to burn every last copy of the film.

By now though, it’s nearly over. All that remains is for Chewie to reminisce over the broad sweep of Star Wars’s action (i.e. your series of clips, which translates as a merciful release) and finally for him to look as though (no! Horrible! My eyes!) he’s about to indulge in some Wookie love with Malla.

Words barely describe how bad this is. The really sad truth surrounding the Holiday Special is that despite all the web-based bile regarding it, if you see it’s available somewhere you will watch it, won’t you? Maybe you’ll believe the show isn’t as bad as all that - TPM was slated, and it was a better movie than its critics would have us believe, right? So why not the Holiday Special? Why not, huh? Why? Because those were my exact feelings as I waited for it to become available, gentle readers. I was eager and mad for it. The great lost episode of the Wars! I found myself dreaming, not prepared for one moment for the utter Corner of Wrong that awaited. I’d give it one ‘Darth’ for effort, but the truth is it’s so appallingly horrible that it wouldn’t be deserved. Think of the cliche ’so bad it’s good,’ remove the last two words, and you have the Holiday Special.

9 Responses to “Star Wars at 30: The worst programme ever made”

  1. Pete Says:

    Thanks for the review.
    Been reading all your other Star Wars reviews up til now, and have really liked them, but I since I’ve never seen the Holiday Special and have heard so many (bad) things about it, I just had to read this.

    What can I say?

    I want to watch it!

    Even if I don’t watch it all, I want to see how bad it is - the make-up, the horrid costumes, the star wars song!!

    Plus, I want to see if you can read the “I can’t believe I’m doing this trash” in the eyes of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher

  2. TD-0013 Says:

    Yes. Everyone -needs- to watch this, if only to claim it like a badge of service to the Emperor (George Lucas) and the galaxy at large. A very, very painful chapter in the saga, but still, if you’re going to call yourself a true Star Wars fan, you -must- watch the Holiday Special… If only so you can complain about it. Heh.

  3. Mike Says:

    Too true. Pete - I don’t blame you for an instant. Nothing can prepare the humble, innocent viewer for the horrors of the Holiday Special. It’s jaw-droppingly awful, in a way that both makes you doubt such a sack of cack could ever be made, and leaves you totally unsurprised over the fact it’s only available on the internet black market.

  4. Amanda Jones Says:

    Everyone -needs- to watch this,
    ———–

    I don’t really think they do. I don’t think anyone deserves to waste an hour (or however long this takes) of their lives on this. And I don’t think most people CAN sit through this even once. I ‘watched’ in on fast forward after the 10th minute, and don’t exactly feel like I have missed out. It’s just terrible, nothing else.

  5. Mike Says:

    I’m with you on that, Amanda, but I have to be honest and admit that even after all the bad/dire/comedy reviews of the Spesh I came across, I still had to see it for myself. Not sure whether it was through wondering if it was as bad as all that, or simply to see how poor it was through my own eyes.

    But you are right. It’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back.

  6. Mmmm » Star Wars at 30: The Ratings Explained Says:

    […] In any case, and whilst trying to put out of my mind the ‘no stars’ shambles that it is the Star Wars Holiday Special, we reach the lowest rated of the movies, the commercially massive and critically reviled The Phantom Menace. It has its moments, but TPM remains a massive disappointment, mainly because Lucas intentionally plumped for a kids flick whilst paying the lightest of lip service to his long haul supporters. I think it was Alan Hansen who once said you don’t win anything with kids, and here it proves to be the case. Jake Lloyd, who was ten when the movie hit the screens, looks like he has a lot of fun portraying Anakin as a child, yet his is a thankless task, transforming Darth Vader into an annoying, all-American munchkin, which looks wrong even as a set of words on the screen. It just about stays within the realms of plausibility that he wins the pod race on Tatooine. However, once his larking around in space leads to him destroying the enemy starship, any viewer’s patience must have been stretched to breaking point. Throw in Jar Jar Binks (who is conspicuously reduced to cameo roles after TPM), a Jedi Council that does nothing but sit around prissily, spectacularly dull scenes set on Coruscant, acting that shows clear signs of nerves at being set against a green screen, Liam Neeson never looking that interested in his work, and the usual lame gags, and it’s obvious the film is in trouble. The proceedings are very nearly saved by the late appearance by Darth Maul, his sizzling lightsabre battle, and some rather gorgeous effects that are occasionally mixed in with the inspired use of Cesena’s Royal Palace as a location. None of these are quite enough. It’s Jake and Jar Jar that set the tone, and TPM gets a shabby two Darths for its trouble. […]

  7. Bonnie Says:

    I’m actually one of those few fans who loved the Star Wars Holiday TV Special for its campiness, weird plot and Bea Arthur! It captures the bizarre variety TV show craze of te ’70s perfectly! And I have to admit, even if Harrison doesn’t look like he wants to be there, he sure is cute in the show.

  8. Takeshi Says:

    You have to admit, Star Wars at least has respect for geeks today, unlike back then when it was just another marketing machine: this is especially apparent in the scene where the Stormtroopers wreck that wookiee kid’s toys just for the hell of it, because they’re eeeeeevil and stuff.

  9. fernando Says:

    Hello

    First of all, i admite that i am a True star Wars fan. I’ve been called Geek so many times just and only because i love star wars. i dont care.

    I’ve never had read such a sincere and TRUE Star Wars: Holiday Special critic until yours. After all, i can say that i like (but not love) The Phantom Menace. I like too (but dont love) Attack of the Clones as well. I hate Jar Jar. But after all of this, I’ve never watched Holiday Special till the end. I can’t arrange it. Some friends and I were about to watch it (and tryied not to drive crazy in the meanwhile), but we quit just few minutes after when the little wookiee was watching the coreographic circus holographic sequence. Just Awful. Boring and awful.

    I can’t tell you anything after that. Didn’t watch Luke nor Leia there. And have no plans to do that as well haha.

    *sigh

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