On Nov. 17, 1978 — a day that will live in infamy — The Star Wars Holiday Special aired for the first and last time on CBS. A two-hour musical variety show featuring the Star Wars cast (plus special guests Jefferson Starship, Harvey Korman, Art Carney, Diahann Carroll, and Bea Arthur), the holiday special was meant to capitalize on the success of the 1977 movie, and to give fans something to savor while they waited for 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. Instead, it became one of the strangest footnotes in Star Wars history, relegated to bootleg VHS tapes for years because Star Wars creator George Lucas (who was involved only tangentially in the production) absolutely hated it. Naturally, the full special is now available on YouTube, just in case spending the holidays with your family didn’t fulfill your annual cringing quota. Grab a drink or a Wookiee-ookiee, and watch the whole thing here.
The Star Wars Holiday Special revolves around Chewbacca’s family, who are celebrating the Wookiee holiday Life Day on their planet of Kashyyyk. Han Solo is trying to take Chewie home in time for the celebration, but Imperial troops are in hot pursuit. So Chewie’s family — his wife Malla, his son Lumpy, and his father Itchy (no really) — bide their time, watching various forms of entertainment on screens and holographic devices. These include an alien cooking show hosted by Harvey Korman in four-armed drag; a performance by Diahann Carroll as some kind of Wookiee-centric erotic fantasy hologram; and a scene of Bea Arthur as a Cantina bartender, singing aliens out the door after last call.
After an interminable number of these diversions — plus cameo appearances by Luke Skywalker, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader, and Princess Leia — Chewie finally reunites with his family. But the worst is yet to come, as Carrie Fisher belts out the ceremonial Wookiee song “Tree of Life,” a sappy ballad blasphemously set to the tune of the Star Wars theme song. (Listen below.)
As painful as the Star Wars Holiday Special is to watch, there was some considerable talent behind it. George Lucas reportedly didn’t do much beyond offering up his notes on Wookiee culture, but special effects wizards Rick Baker and Stan Winston spruced up the Cantina aliens and the Wookiee costumes, respectively. Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt made Chewbacca’s family speak (or growl gutturally, as the case may be). A who’s-who of the ‘70s variety show pros worked on the special, including costume designer Bob Mackie, songwriters Mitzie and Ken Welch (the parents of alt-country singer Gillian Welch), and joke writer Bruce Vilanch. But if The Star Wars Holiday Special is still appreciated for anything, it’s the fact that it introduced a character named Boba Fett — albeit in cartoon form — to the Star Wars universe. Watch that segment below.