Celebrating Life Day: 'The Star Wars Holiday Special' turns 40

Ask any number of “Star Wars” fans about their favorite story from a galaxy far, far away and you’re likely to get any number of different answers. Some love only the original trilogy. Others prefer the prequels. Some don’t even like the movies at all and enjoy their “Star Wars” in animated form. Diversity, after all, is one of the immense charms of the franchise. There is one opinion, however, that tends to be shared throughout all of “Star Wars” fandom: “The Star Wars Holiday Special” is not very good.

In November of 1978, “Star Wars” was about a year and half old with “The Empire Strikes Back” just as far away. Although fans were hoping for an adventure in line with what they had fallen in love with on the big screen, CBS instead treated them to something truly peculiar: a variety show set within the “Star Wars” universe. As Han Solo races Chewbacca home to Kashyyyk (pronounced “Kah-zook” in the special) for the Wookiee holiday Life Day, Chewbacca’s family watches some very strange performances on their entertainment feed with guest appearances from talent like Art Carney, Bea Arthur and even, via holo-performance, Jefferson Starship.

“That’s one of those things that happened,” George Lucas told Maxim in a 2002 interview, “and I just have to live with it.”

Despite its glacial storytelling pace, “The Star Wars Holiday Special” has nevertheless been embraced by die hard fans over the years. Chewie’s family have reappeared in the expanded mythos and even images from the upcoming “The Mandalorian” tv series hint at details inspired by the infamous broadcast. It was in an animated segment of the special, after all, that the world was first introduced to bounty hunter Boba Fett.

“The holiday special is definitely canon,” “The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams smiled in a 2015 interview with MTV News.

Recently, “The Last Jedi” featured some sage advice from Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico.

“That’s how we’re gonna win,” she tells John Boyega‘s Finn. “Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.”

But the endurance of “The Star Wars Holiday Special” — be it genuine or tongue in cheek — is proof positive that fans have found a slightly different way to win: By loving what we hate.

Silas Lesnick is the Senior Editor of Moviebill and a lifelong “Star Wars” fan. He has been covering entertainment news out of Los Angeles for more than a decade. You can reach him via e-mail or on Twitter.


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