Written by: Pat Proft, Leonard Ripps, Bruce Vilanch, Rod Warren, and Mitzie Welch
Directed by: Steve Binder and David Acomba (Uncredited)
Prior to the latest trilogy, there was another cinematic addition to the Star Wars story arc that George Lucas had little to do with: a 1978 holiday special. Lucas in fact said if he “had time and a sledgehammer, [he’d] track down every copy and smash it.” The special has since acquired cult status as a beloved bad movie. Unfortunately, the special’s legacy does not quite stem from it being so bad it’s good. It’s almost there, but the truth is that it’s just a flawed creation that one can feel compelled to watch out of one’s love for Star Wars (and disbelief that Star Wars was ever the subject of a holiday special).
The film centres around Chewbacca’s family: his father, wife and son, as they wait for Chewie to return home for a Life day celebration. Being wookies, they do not speak a human language, leaving audiences to be entertained by their physical comedy. While, from the outside, their home resembles a complex tree house, from the inside it looks much less out-of-this-world than, for instance, Luke’s former home on Tatooine. For that matter, it could almost be the home of an (Earthling) 70s sit-com family.
I think it is important to note, that the special’s failure is not that it stars (effectively) non-verbal character. Silent films can be funny and/orbeautiful . The problem, with the special, rather, is that it does not want to imagine Chewbacca’s relative as heroes: instead they are an ordinary family who sits around while “actual” heroes, direct the film’s action from its margins. Much of the the special thus consists of the wookie family members watching tv and engaging with other visual-technologies. In the case of Chewbacca’s wife Malla watching a cooking show, this approach is hilarious. In the case of grandpa Itchy watching a quasi-romantic/sexual(?) fantasy through a virtual-reality device, it’s funny in the sense that it’s awkward. In the other instances, however, the vignettes-on-screens feel awkwardly drawn out. It’s kind of amusing that Jefferson Starship makes a cameo in the Star Wars universe, but their performance is unmemorable.
Stars Wars fans should certainly familiarize themselves with the special. In a brief animated sketch it introduces the character of Boba Fett and develops him more so than he was in his over-hyped roles in episodes V and VI. Furthermore, the film also features a holiday carol from Princess Leia. Fans should learn this song and sing it at future Life Day celebrations (or to piss off “there’s a war on Christmas” types). Unfortunately, the carol is not really memorable enough to justify its singing at other times of year, and the special itself is probably not worth seeing at more than one midnight showing. Anyway, here’s to hoping the loveable Lumpy gets a true shot at being a hero when Episode IX comes around.