Who’s Really to Blame for THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL?

by Frank Calvillo

Though virtually every fan loathes it, there’s no use in trying to pretend that The Star Wars Holiday Special is not a part of the incredible universe George Lucas created, whether anyone likes it or not. I’m sure there is no other combination of words which send shivers up Lucas’ spine more than those five, and pretty much anyone who has seen said special can more or less understand why.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is a bloated, confusing and unfocused piece of television which is definitely worthy of a lot of the harsh criticism it has gotten throughout the years.

However, upon watching the special again for this editorial, I was struck by two things: first, how dire the program remains, even all these years later, and second, how the incredible amount of hatred towards it seems to grow stronger with each passing year. After the special (thankfully) ended, I thought about it for some time and came to the conclusion that while the hour and a half runtime feels like five hours thanks to the schizophrenic content, its reputation today is only partially deserved.

I have no cause or desire to champion ANY aspect whatsoever of The Star Wars Holiday Special. None. From the incredibly dated (even for its time) effects, to its curious animated segments, the entire special is beyond any form of justification as far as I’m concerned. However, placing it in the context of when it was made, the special isn’t horrendous, it’s just lousy.

I can pretty much guess how the special came to be. A major network probably had airtime to fill, Lucas’ burgeoning franchise had not yet become the mega-sensation it is today and the practice of variety specials were still considered popular staples in the late 70s. If you look beyond the flimsy central storyline of Han Solo and company trying to get Chewie back home to his family in time for “life day,” The Star Wars Holiday Special does play out like an old school variety special. Populated with the likes of classic TV stars such as Bea Arthur, Diahann Carroll and Art Carney (all on hand for a variety of songs and skits that don’t really have much to do with anything) how can the entire special NOT come off feeling like a chance to fill some air time during the ratings-hungry Christmas season by shamelessly latching onto a popular film craze?

These kind of specials were always par for the course, and most of them came and went without much notice or disdain. Anyone remember Shrek the Halls? So why does this special live on as one of the worst travesties of all time?

Well, part of the blame must fall on Lucas. The man was so displeased with the special that he famously attempted to burn every copy he could get his hands on and threatened legal action if it were ever to be aired in repeat viewings or released on home video, leading him to acquire the reputation of one of the most litigious men in Hollywood. Such a reaction to his own work has only heightened people’s curiosity factor over the years, making The Star Wars Holiday Special just as infamous as its feature film counterparts in many ways. Had Lucas tried to walk away quietly from it, the special would have had a better chance at becoming a piece of Star Wars trivia, rather than a glaring blemish on an otherwise stellar film series.

Yet, Lucas isn’t alone for giving the special the reputation it has today. As much as it pains me to say it, some of the blame must also be shared by the fans.

With each passing year, Lucas’ saga continues to grow in popularity, gaining more and more loyal devotees, spanning generations. You would be hard pressed to find ANY other series whose audience has literally come to define the term fanatic. It’s these people who know every line, every scene, every piece of behind-the-scenes information. They have devoured the tie-in books and argued back and forth over the quality and merit of the much-debated prequels. In short, there is not a single piece of Star Wars-centric film or literature which has not been analysed and scrutinized by this eternally-devoted group. It’s understandable then that such a large and vocal fan base would consider The Star Wars Holiday Special to be a genuinely degrading insult to the world they have mythologized to no end. It’s their mythologizing of the world Lucas created which has made them look down so strongly on the special, making sure that it remains known and regarded as the as a debacle of epic proportions rather than just another attempt to fill air time.

In many ways, it can be said that the special is a rite of passage for any true Star Wars fan. You simply are not a true Jedi if you haven’t experienced the special at least once in your life. It may be fashionable among the Star Wars elite to hate it, but in the end The Star Wars Holiday Special remains nothing more than an obvious attempt for a network to grab high ratings and a studio to sell more toys.

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