The Cultural Gutter

hey, there's something shiny down there...

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Death to Life Day

Keith Allison
Posted December 26, 2013

swhs-thumbA lot of people my age have vague memories of a Star Wars holiday special back from some time in the 1970s, but beyond that their memories go blurry. Maybe they recall it had something or other to do with wookies, but specifics are difficult to drag up from the recesses of the mind — and not without good reason. In my circle of friends, it was referred to simply as A Very Wookie Christmas, and the search for a copy was nearly as furious as our search for a copy of Bruce Lee Versus Gay Power. Nowadays, for better or for worse, you can just pop onto Youtube, or any number of torrent sites, and download a copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special — or Bruce Lee Versus Gay Power. But in the early days human civilization (the 1990s), such searches were far more complex. The quest for Bruce Lee Versus Gay Power lasted years, and when it finally ended in success, the film proved very quickly that none of the effort had been worth it. The search for The Star Wars Holiday Special was similarly involved, and when it finally culminated in my possession of a VHS copy, I soon discovered I was better off with Bruce Lee Versus Gay Power.

The show aired as part of the Thanksgiving season in 1978. During the holiday season, there would be a glut of Christmas-themed specials which consisted mostly of Donnie and Marie Osmond singing, then acting surprised when special guest stars stopped by the family room set for a visit. “Who could be at the door on Christmas Eve? Why, it’s Tim Conway!” followed by the requisite applause being piped in. When we caught wind of there being a Star Wars holiday special, the children of America wept sweet, sweet tears of joy, which George Lucas actually harvested and turned into money. The prospect of spending the holidays with the cast of Star Wars was wonderful. Finally, instead of David Madden, Alan Sues, or Henry Gibson dropping by for a visit, it would be Walrusman or that Imperial guy with the big muttonchop sideburns.

swhs01

Plus, it would answer a question I’ve had since I first saw Star Wars: what do they do when they’re not, you know, star warring? Is Darth Vader’s average day spent filling out paperwork, doing photo ops, and dealing with new zoning laws? I mean, the guy has an empire to run. And how come in space, no one has television? In Star Trek, it’s because they’d all rather get together and read poetry or listen to Data’s violin recital. But surely Han Solo enjoys kicking back and seeing what’s on TV once in a while. Mostly though I wanted to see Darth Vader decorating a Christmas Tree and going, “Who could that be at my airlock door? Why, it’s that guy with the big long nose who ratted out Han Solo at the cantina!”

Well, the holiday special would answer all our questions in excruciating detail about what Star Wars people do when they’re not shooting blasters and posing for action figures.

fams

It’s all about Chewbacca’s struggle to return to the wookie home planet. Only it’s not about Chewbacca at all. Almost the entire two hours of the special focuses on Chewie’s family. There’s his wife Molla, who is worried that her husband won’t make it back in time for Life Day, the most sacred of all wookie holidays, and who keeps hassling Chewie with trivial domestic gripes while he is in the middle of being shot at by the entire Imperial armada. There is Itchy, Chewbacca’s father. You remember that ugly orangutan monster from Big Trouble in Little China? Well, he looks like that. And then there is Lumpy, Chewbacca’s son who looks like that annoying brat from Eight is Enough. I swear!

lumpy

While they wait for Chewbacca to get home from his life of running guns and breaking the law, the Chewbaccas amuse themselves in all sorts of ways. Molla frets in the kitchen and watches a really long cooking show. Itchy watches a little wookie porn. That Itchy does this right in front of his family is what’s more disturbing. Lumpy innocently plays with his stuffed bantha. Lord knows what Itchy would do if he got a hold of that. Keep in mind that the entire show, which up until now seems to have been about fifteen hours long, has been performed in wookie, with lots of lame community theater arm-waving and pantomime. In order to inject some English into the special, the Chewie family is visited by their old friend. Who could that be at the door on Life Day Eve? Why, it’s Art Carney! Weak applause. That’s actually just as lame a guest appearance as Dave Madden and not nearly as satisfying as if it had just been Sammy Davis Jr. Art Carney hangs with the Chewies and brings Lumpy a hologram of some Cirque du Soliel meets The Moomenshontz sort of thing. So for about ten minutes we get to watch people dressed as chickens do flips.

No wonder Chewbacca left this dump. The wookie home planet is boring, and I’m beginning to think wookies are boring, too. I always figured wookies would get rowdy and play polo with the heads of their enemies like in The Man Who Would Be King. If what we see from Chewie’s family is any indication, then it’s no wonder The Empire conquered wookies so easily. By comparison, even Ewoks seem fierce. I’m beginning to think that the whole thing about wookies pulling people’s arms out of their socket is just a front. They seem more likely to take you off to the side and explain to you, possibly through some sort of modern theater performance, how you’re really hurting their feelings.

To remind us that we are in the Star Wars universe, we occasionally cut to Han Solo and Chewbacca aboard the Millenium Falcon trying desperately to outrun stock footage of star destroyers.

Molla places a call to Luke Skywalker, who is really dolled up with eyeliner and is working with R2-D2 on his space ship engine, which is sitting out on blocks. Thus Luke becomes much like the white trash guy in my old neighborhood, who had the engine for his Mustang sitting on blocks in the front yard while he worked on for what seemed like years. I guess Luke is from a small rural planet, so it only makes sense. Luke reassures Molla that Han and Chewie are probably just dead drunk with a couple of three-breasted hookers in some space cantina.

From time to time, storm troopers also stop by to hassle the Chewies. Luckily, Art Carney wows them with another little hologram, this one of the band Jefferson Starship. So we get another five minute guest performance as the band, dressed like jaunty space harlequins, performs some droning song (even more so than their usual stuff) that is apparently a big hit with storm troopers. Itchy, in the meantime, watches cartoons, which are for some reason about Luke, Solo, and the rest of the gang. The cartoon, which is drawn in a weird style that reminds me of some of the stuff in Heavy Metal magazine, is notable only because it introduces the character of Boba Fett. All in all, you have to wonder about The Empire. Can they really be so bad if they allow people to broadcast animated features about the sworn enemies of the government? If they were as evil as we’re supposed to find them, they would have made everyone watch Gran Moff Tarkin explain the benefits of big sideburns on Imperial officers.

swhs02

You were probably thinking, “This all sounds really good, but what we really need is a rousing cabaret number with Golden Girl Bea Arthur.” Well, you got it, buddy! Cut to Tatooine and the famous Cantina at Mos Eisley space port. Bartender Bea Arthur rips into a rousing torch song with the cantina regulars, who may be wretched scum and villains but are still way into melancholy cabaret acts. These scum and villains do a lot of hugging and back patting and misty-eyed looking off into the distance while talking about how times just aren’t simple anymore, and sometimes we have to bid farewell to fond friends and memories. I know bad guys can get nostalgic and do soul-searching sometimes, but do we really need to see Greedo knocking one back and going, “Yeah, I used to be somebody.”

So after an endless parade of wookie cooking, wookie porn, Bea Arthur musical numbers, Jefferson Starship, holograms of clowns, and wookie arm waving, Chewbacca finally gets home, which allows Han Solo to hug a lot of wookies. But wait! Who could be knocking on the door on Life Day Eve? Why, it’s Luke Skywalker! And here’s Princess Leia looking all whacked out on space cocaine. And C3PO because why not! Life Day consists of a bunch of wookies loitering at a tree for about five minutes while Princess Leia belts out a song set to the tune of the Star Wars theme that reminds me of that Saturday Night Live skit where Bill Murray sings the Star Wars lounge song. The only real difference is that Carrie Fisher performs with glazed eyes and a stare far more distant than even the one Luke used when he gazed off with yearning for adventure at the two setting suns in the desert skies of Tatooine.

swhs03

Pretty much everyone considers this a black eye on the handsome face of the Star Wars franchise, though I at least enjoyed it more than Phantom Menace. In fact, given the bruising that the franchise has endured with the atrocious prequel films and George Lucas’ refusal to release the original three films on DVD without his latter-day digital tinkering, the Star Wars Holiday Special is fast becoming among the least embarrassing of the growing number of Star Wars foibles.

This review maybe makes it sound like it’s so bad it’s good, and in some ways, I guess it is, but in most other ways, it’s sort of like putting live hornets in your butt. Now we know why we all blocked the existence of this movie from out collective consciousness, relegating it to the distant nether-regions of vague recollection, sort of like that song, “What Do You Get a Wookie for Christmas When He Already Has a Comb?” Well, apparently you get him some porn or a hologram of Marcel Marceau.

swhs09

Comments

6 Responses to “Death to Life Day”

  1. Chris Szego
    December 26th, 2013 @ 10:03 pm

    I have never been so glad to have not seen something. The review, however, I wouldn’t have missed for anything.

  2. Carol Borden
    December 26th, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

    This review is like the grail for me–it heals the old, weeping wound I received from the Star Wars Holiday Special.

  3. alex macfadyen
    December 27th, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

    Grandpa’s watching porn in the living room again. Merry Christmas!

    That cooking show Chewie’s “wife” (really? seriously?) watches starred Harvey Korman, in blackface, as Chef Gormaanda – some kind of horrible 4-armed Julia Child parody. Tragically, it can never be unseen.

    Perhaps the search for the VHS was also thwarted by George Lucas destroying as many copies as possible, a sentiment shared by anyone who ever watched it. I imagine it like The Ring, only the consequence of watching is that you die on the inside within a week.

  4. DEATH TO LIFE DAY | Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit
    December 28th, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

    […] full article > […]

  5. Carol Borden
    December 28th, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

    Now that Chewie’s family is apparently canon, I often think of the terrible life his wife leads, stuck with her creepy father-in-law and terrible son. I wouldn’t be surprised if she sent bounty hunters after Han. Or just became a bounty hunter herself. Maybe she could fly around with Boba Fett.

  6. Keith Allison
    December 29th, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

    Star Wars might be the only property where everything ever is canon, no matter where it appeared: film, tv, comic books, novels, toy sets, a screen saver, the back of a Burger King glass…

    Back in 1999 or so when I first got a copy of this and posted about it in some forum somewhere, this…let’s call him an enthusiastic fan, tracked me down via my domain name registration and called me, desperate for a copy. No worries, I said, it’s not cool that you called me but I can make a copy for you and send it your way. Not good enough, too long, even next day air. He was going to get on a plane that day, be in New York by the evening, and could I meet him and have a copy for him then?

    I did not respond.

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    TCM’s Movie Morlocks Blog has a selections of horror movie write-ups from female writers including the Gutter’s own Carol.

    ~

    Rosie Cima writes a little bit about the history of Halloween including a look at seasonal stores, sexy costumes and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. (Thanks, Paula!)

    ~

    Happy Dreams Daycare is a daycare for children from horror movies. It offers a welcoming environment regardless of any person or supernatural issues at home.

    ~

    At Die Danger Die Die Kill,  friend of the Gutter Todd Stadtman shares a list of fine films to enjoy this Spookoween season! “Halloween movie lists have become a staple of the season. But one has to admit that there’s a numbing amount of overlap between them. I mean, does one really need to cram that much Vincent Price into their cinematic diet all in one go? In response, I have called shenanigans, emerged from my sharecropper’s cabin, stumbled down the hill and perched myself in front of the community center’s battered old Mac to do something that I should have done long ago. Below is a list of movies that, if you can find them, will guarantee you a Halloween like no other.”

    ~

    At Teleport City, the Gutter’s own Keith is sharing Haunted History. Meanwhile, at her personal site, the Gutter’s own Carol is doing her version of 31 Days Of Horror: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

    ~

    The Internet Archive has archived Starlog, Heavy Metal and they have a collection of Warren Publishing magazines like Blazing Combat, Vampirella, Eerie and Teenage Love Stories.

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: