Life Day is one of those holiday traditions that only a Star Wars fan can truly appreciate. The whole thing came about because of the only real stain on the legend of Star Wars. You guessed it: it’s the The Star Wars Holiday Special. It aired on broadcast television only once, on November 17, 1978 — the year after the smash debut of the film Star Wars, which would later be retitled as Star Wars: A New Hope.
It was supposed to be a warm fuzzy holiday special, pointedly agnostic with respect to religious alignment – but this horror of television production was about 90 minutes long, but where the original film was produced for $13 million, the television special was done for only $1 million — doing the math, it comes out to about ten cents on the dollar.
And it shows.
Unlikely casting includes Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Diahann Carroll, with a strange gratuitous insertion of the pop band Jefferson Starship as a holographic music act. The script and production were both something that George Lucas had little to do with, though he was sent dailies, so presumably he knew how badly everything was going. Nathan Rabin of the AV Club wrote, “I’m not convinced the special wasn’t ultimately written and directed by a sentient bag of cocaine.”
Horrors included in the show were cheesy wookie ceremonial robes (the only time in the history of the franchise that wookies have felt the need to wear clothes – hey, they’re covered head to toe with fur), a made-up wookie holiday called Life Day, an overly hair bun heavy Princess Leia singing – singing – a life day song, as well as the Star Wars theme with lyrics. There was also a child wookie named Lumpy who was intended to be cute and endearing, but only managed to end up looking freakish, glassy-eyed and disturbing at best.
There is one significant aspect of The Star Wars Holiday Special that might surprise even the most dedicated fan: it was the first appearance of the character Boba Fett, in an embedded cel animation sequence – so, like it or not, everything that happened in this appalling hot mess is canon.
Today is Boba Fett’s birthday.
Boba Fett’s success as a character happened almost by accident. He was almost a throwaway character, first introduced in this production, and as it turned out, with a much longer backstory than Lucas had time to explore in his first outing. His first live action appearance was in The Empire Strikes Back, and oh, what utter magic followed.
Still, in all, if it does nothing else, The Star Wars Holiday Special puts things in perspective. The next time one of your Star Wars fan friends complains about Jar Jar Binks, remind them that it’s been worse – a lot worse – and show them this.
Despite all this, The Star Wars Holiday Special is still considered a cultural treasure by Star Wars fans. It’s worth watching, even if just for the old toy commercials – this was when the Star Wars toys were just getting started, and if you have any of the toys from these commercials you are a true blue Star Wars fan (and possibly richer than you imagine). November 17 is now permanently ensconced in our geeky family traditions.
When George Lucas was asked about it, he is supposed to have said:
If I had enough time and a hammer, I would go out and destroy every single copy of it.
Happy Life Day anyway, and may the Force be with you.