You Can't Be Nine Again

TELEVISION: Star Wars Holiday Special
Directed by Steve Binder (1978)

When I was nine years old, I cared about one thing, only one thing, and (as far as I knew) I cared about it more than any other nine year old in the world did. To save you the math, I'll just tell you... that thing was Star Wars.

Unless you were there, and the right age, you really can't appreciate what it was like. Star Wars was an effing epidemic for us. We walked around thinking Star Wars for years, talking about it, fantasizing about being anything from Luke Skywalker to John Dykstra (special effects wizard on the film), collecting the cards, coveting the toys, resenting the kids we'd heard about who'd seen the movie 96 times. In ways that I'm not going to bother explaining right now, it very probably changed the course of my life -- no exaggeration.

So I was eight when the movie came out, but on November 17, 1978, I was nine years old. That was when CBS aired the Star Wars Holiday Special on TV. This was like a container car full of cocaine derailing in Robert Downey Jr.'s back yard, for us. I couldn't wait. Yet somehow, when the evening came, my parents wouldn't let me watch it. I don't remember the exact reason. It was something like I had to finish my homework first, or I was being punished. No amount of begging, pleading, bargaining or cajoling would get them to back down. I specifically remember my mom telling me "It will be on again."

Of course, if you're a geek, you know that, notoriously, the Star Wars Holiday Special was never aired again, which is why, if you're NOT a geek, you're saying "Star Wars Holiday Special???" Whatever it was I was doing in the dining room (I do think it was homework), I couldn't sit still, I HAD to see the show, I could hear some of it in the other room, and managed to see little bits of it (like the first appearance of Boba Fett) on my trips back to the living room to beg for mercy, but in the end, I pretty much missed it.

Over the years following, I kind of forgot about it. I knew there had been an early appearance of Boba Fett, but the memory was woven of loose threads, like a long-ago dream that gets stitched into real memories, except in reverse. Then one day, thinking about the Boba Fett action figure that you could only get from a mail-in offer (which I could have got, but didn't -- something I'll eventually quit kicking myself for), it triggered the memory, and I asked whoever it was I was with -- John, I think -- "Was there a Star Wars Holiday Special?" Yes, there was, and it was horrible, he told me. He was older than me, though, and he couldn't know the unresolved nine year old within me.

So, more years pass, and then there's the internet. I managed to get a hold of a truly terrible copy of the video, but I had it, and I could finally watch it, even if it was 28 years later.

From this date forth, the yardstick by which I measure terribleness has been changed forever.

How terrible? The central story is built around Chewbacca's family -- that's right, Wookies, who don't speak English -- and their preparations for "Life Day" while they wait and worry about Chewbacca and Han Solo, who have run afoul of some local Imperials on their way home. This central narrative with Chewie's hapless wife Malla, scampish son Lumpy, and face-gumming old father (all of which is just wrong, wrong, WRONG), serves as the framing device for:

* Token cameos from Mark Hammill, Carrie Fisher (who sings the Life Day song in the end), Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and R2D2. There's also a brief bit of James Earl Jones' voice over some stock footage from the film.

* Some extremely nelly acrobats in a proto-Cirque de Soliel holographic performance.

* Art Carney as a daffy trader, who evidently got an incredible offer on his comedic timing, because he's entirely out-of-stock of that particular commodity.

* Harvey Korman in THREE agonizing character sketches -- as a four-armed TV chef (female), a malfunctioning android in an instructional video, and as a lovestruck chump who drinks through a hole in the top of his head, pining for Bea Arthur (more on this later).

* Diahann Caroll as the featured act in some kind of psychedelic soft-core erotic music video, drooled over by Chewbacca's father (or is it stepfather?), Itchy. Very creepy.

* Jefferson Starship as a holographic rock band. Very creepy.

* A kind-of-cool cartoon about Han, Luke and Chewie, which is where Boba Fett appears.

* A "Life on Tatooine" documentary that starts with cantina footage from the film, evidently via the cutting room floor, and culminates in a performance by Bea Arthur as the cantina owner, singing a kind of Brechtian dirge called "Goodnight But Not Goodbye" as she kicks all her patrons out, under Imperial curfew.

At times the special is sugar-coated kiddy (or "family") fare, such as you would expect from a holiday special stacked with second tier "stars" of the '70s. At other times, it's like a school play about fascism performed by students who were forced to perform but haven't rehearsed. And there are still other times when I don't know WHAT the hell that was. There's only so much shrugging and going "Eh, it was the '70's..." you can do.

Looking back, I think the nine year old me would have been too jacked up to sleep after watching that. It was MORE Star Wars, which was all I cared about -- nevermind GOOD Star Wars. But watching it now, it was mostly painful, and then funny, and then back to painful. I want to forgive it, but other than the cartoon, there's so little to redeem it.

I no longer have any questions about why George Lucas did his best to keep it from ever seeing the light of day again.

Crosspost Classic!  5.25.2006

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