When Star Wars landed in theaters 40 years ago, it changed the world forever. It created millions of fans around the world and fans consumed every element of pop culture, becoming a reference point for movies, TV and music. On November 17, 1978, The Star Wars Holiday Special debuted and, in the years since, has become almost as mythologized as the original film.
With Star Wars becoming the most parodied property of the time, the minds behind the franchise knew a special created for the holidays was sure to be a huge hit, without quite realizing how big of a risk they were running by not fully developing their idea. The special managed to bring some of the biggest stars from the special, like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, to give audiences their first glimpse of what these characters did after the destruction of the Death Star.
As the holidays approach, some may be tempted to catch up with the Holiday Special, which isn't something we can advise for one's own mental health. Given how famous the special has become amongst Star Wars fans over the years, there is surprising information that might be even more shocking than the special itself.
Scroll down to learn more about the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special!
One element of the special that makes it so fascinated is that, for as well known as the special is amongst fans, it only ever aired once. Those forward-thinking fans of the time recorded the event and it has been circulating ever since.
The advancement in VHS and DVD trading helped spread the special across the globe, with the internet becoming the go-to source for any curious fans to check out what an atrocity the special was.
Unlike our culture's current obsession with expressing our thoughts on shows and movies on social media, audiences of the time almost completely forgot about the special as the next day was the Jonestown Massacre, in which over 900 people died of cyanide poisoning.
In the years since, Lucas has expressed his regret over the project, often saying that "if I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every bootlegged copy of that program and smash it."
He told Maxim magazine in 2002, "That's one of those things that happened, and I just have to live with it."
The promotional tagline of the special read, "Luke Skywalker and Han Solo battle Imperial forces to help Chewbacca reach his imperiled family on the Wookiee planet—in time for Life Day—their most important day of the year!"
What audiences got, however, was far from what was promised. The special focused on Chewbacca's family waiting for him to return home, featuring various video calls with Luke and Leia, in addition to brief scenes of Han and Chewie in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon.
Some of the more jarring and long-running sequences of the special didn't feature anyone from the movie, but instead were musical productions starring the likes of Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll and Bea Arthur.
While it was technically true that the event revolved around a "holiday," it wasn't any that anyone ever heard of, as the "Life Day" celebration was created to merely serve as a generic event in the galaxy far, far away.
While the Holiday Special is widely-derided, and for good reason, there are still some positive things that came out of the production.
On a production level, the Holiday Special marked the first time James Earl Jones was credited as performing Darth Vader. Despite Jones' vocal performance helped establish Vader as such a terrifying presence, he felt as though he didn't do enough work on the film to be credited as performing the character, actively refusing to be credited for his work.
Following the Holiday Special, Jones wouldn't be credited as Vader for another five years with Return of the Jedi.
Fans who originally witness the Holiday Special would have to wait two years to see more of another new character, the bounty hunter Boba Fett. Introduced in an animated segment, Boba Fett encountered Han and Chewbacca before Han would get frozen in carbonite. His presence wasn't as intimidating as it was in The Empire Strikes Back, but his small role in the special made his appearance in that sequel possible.
Audiences didn't get to spend much time there, but the Holiday Special saw the debut of Chewbacca's home planet. That planet would eventually be known as "Kashyyyk," with it being referred to in this special as "Kazzook."
The Star Wars Holiday Special might have aired in November when it was potentially quite cold across the country, yet temperatures on set were quite different.
An inherent flaw in the concept of focusing on Chewbacca's family meant that performers would have to wear heavy, fur-covered outfits to film their scenes. Between the warmth of the suits and the intense lights on set, the performers could only stay in their costumes for 45 minutes at a time, as they would overheat and get dehydrated.
The Wookiees weren't the only one who had to deal with cumbersome costumes, as the patrons of the Mos Eisley cantina had it much worse.
In the film, the cantina was poorly lit, as opposed to the cantina sequence in the Holiday Special that was much brighter. With the special using the same costumes used in the film, they clearly weren't designed to sustain the temperatures on set, which resulted in many of the extras in costume passing out while filming.
Many Star Wars fans will quickly point to the prequel trilogy as the low point of the saga, or possibly remember the embarrassment of the Holiday Special. Two other made-for-TV experiences, however, are often overlooked, which are Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor.
Debuting in 1984 on ABC, Caravan of Courage told the story of a family whose ship crash-landed on the forest moon of Endor. The parents were kidnapped, forcing the two children to team up with the Ewoks to locate them. George Lucas reportedly created the film for his younger daughter, as the TV movie was much lighter in tone than the film trilogy. Lucas helped create the story, but wasn't directly involved in the movie's production.
Caravan of Courage became a surprise hit with children and even won an Emmy Award for its visual effects. Battle for Endor debuted on ABC the following year and leaned even more heavily into the Ewok characters, with most of the human family from the previous film dying early on in the film. Lucas once again helped craft the story but remained hands-off for the film's production.
When viewed as entertainment for children, these Ewoks films are adequate, but given some of the success of the theatrical endeavors of the Star Wars saga, these two made-for-TV movies are nearly as embarrassing as the Holiday Special.