Fandom docs are a dime a dozen these days, and it really takes something really special to break out from the pack. Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak managed to do just that with A Disturbance in the Force, their deep dive into one of the most infamous pieces of mainstream “lost” media The Star Wars Holiday Special, which just screened at Fantasia. The variety special made in an era pre-internet and home video, was meant to bridge the gap between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and sell the toys that were finally hitting shelves in time for Christmas. The special only aired only once on November 17th, 1978 and seemingly vanished, that is until the internet made it readily available on nearly any streaming service it could be posted. With Star Wars now a constant in the pop culture zeitgeist, Disturbance does a great job at not only giving context to the failed experiment, but also showing how a litany of factors might have contributed to it being as terrible as it is.
Presented to those who tuned in that fateful night as “a sequel – of sorts, to Star Wars” (TV Guide), the filmmakers dig deep, providing interviews with nearly everyone who had some kind of influence over the production to uncover just what happened, and help it make sense to audiences today. For those that have never gazed into the abyss that is the Star Wars: Holiday Special it follows Chewbacca and Han Solo as they attempt to return the Wookiee to his home world of Kashyyyk for Life Day, which is essentially Wookiee Christmas. What made this completely insane by today’s standards is the ENTIRE cast of the original film returned for this TV special, that featured not only such strange casting choices as Beatrice Arthur, Art Carney and Jefferson Starship, but it also featured the first on screen appearance of a bounty hunter named Boba Fett.
While the easy route would have been to simply skewer the special for cheap laughs. Disturbance instead takes the high road doing a fantastic job at first giving the viewer a foundational knowledge of 70s musical variety shows and the power players behind them. It does this so we can properly appreciate the variety show as a genre of its own and how they played into the different family demographics. From there the film begins to chronicle the troubled production with the Special’s writers and director(s) who are quick to point out Lucas had much more of a creative hand in it than he would have liked us to believe. While the filmmakers slowly build to the airing of the special, the interviews with cast and crew are strategically interspersed with a pop culture peanut gallery of celebrity Star Wars fans to color how this is perceived by fans today.
My only gripe would be that the doc is primarily forced to lean on archival interviews with the core cast and crew (Hamill, Ford, Fisher, Mayhew and Davids) for their reflections. Thankfully there’s been enough journalists to bring it up over the years much to their visible dismay, that the filmmakers were able to cull what feels like a balanced perspective from the cast and even Lucas himself. It’s that balance that the filmmakers hit perfectly as they build to the show’s premiere and ultimately the lackluster product. Part of what makes this so fascinating is just how in an age where Star Wars is such a controlled and canonized thing, that they could make Bea Arthur the manager of the cantina or base an entire musical segment around Wookiee VR porn.
Overall the trajectory of the narrative was surprisingly engaging and informative with the filmmakers doing an excellent job at making the audience laugh, while satisfying the superfans like myself with their constant search for answers. While A Disturbance In The Force FEELS like something that would be on Disney+ the fact that its narrative leads to the conclusion that Lucas might himself have ultimately been responsible for this train wreck, may be a bit too honest for Lucasfilm right now. That being said, A Disturbance In The Force is a comprehensive and hilarious document that’s a must see for all Star Wars fans – those have seen The Holiday Special and those who have tried to sit through it.