Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Modest Proposal: The Star Wars Holiday Special

I've been meaning to set this down to paper (metaphorically) for a while, and since Christmas is right around the corner, it only seems fitting to do so now. As the above graphic indicates, this is an essay about the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.

For anyone not familiar with it, a brief history: The Star Wars Holiday Special was an all-new made-for-TV special starring the Star Wars characters and original cast. It featured a live-action segment as well as an animated one, which was the debut of a major new character to the Star Wars mythos, Boba Fett:
Unfortunately, the special was not produced by Lucasfilm or even 20th Century Fox; rather due to some arcane business deal it was farmed out to another production company, made by people who clearly didn't understand at all what made Star Wars so popular and trendsetting.

With appearances by Harvey Korman, Bea Arthur, and Jefferson Starship, The Star Wars Holiday Special feels like it was dumped in the lap of an old school TV variety show producer, someone who might have cut his teeth on The Dean Martin Show. Cheesy sets, shameless mugging, and funny names might be fine for Dean and his Golddiggers; but when mixed with Star Wars it made for an unfunny, excruciating viewing experience. I watched it over again a few years ago and even though the special is about ninety minutes, it feels like it goes on for approximately fifteen hours.

Anyway, the Special was a total bomb, and it was pulled from any sort of official Star Wars history, in perpetuity. Lucas never allowed it to surface again, and its never been mentioned in any of the numerous official histories of the Star Wars, except in some extremely rare instances. Lucas wants to pretend it simply doesn't exist, even once saying "
If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it."

Lucas' attitude of course keeps the Special from ever being officially released on DVD, one of the rare instances where a buck is not being made from something with the Star Wars name on it. Obviously Lucas and Co. hate the thing so much that they feel like they can't actually release it, even though the legion of rabid Star Wars fans would eat it up.

But of course, The Star Wars Holiday Special is available, all over the place: do a Google search, and you'll find copies available for sale on VHS, DVD, even Blu-Ray!
So Lucas' dream that he could wipe every copy of the Special off the face of the earth remains permanently out of reach, even for someone with resources as vast as his. So it remains available to any Star Wars fan who wants it; albeit in horrible-looking, fuzzy copies.

So my thought was this: why doesn't Lucasfilm just formally acknowledge that fans keep buying it, and release a deluxe edition of the Special, with crystal clear picture and sound, maybe even accompanied with some juicy extras? What Star Wars fan wouldn't want to see a great "Making of" doc explaining just what the hell happened?

But instead of making it a For Profit release, Lucasfilm states that they will donate all proceeds from the sale of The Star Wars Holiday Special: Deluxe Edition towards a cause--any cause Lucasfilm wants to support--cancer research, the environment, fighting animal abuse, whatever. That way Lucas doesn't feel like he's bilking his fans, selling them something he truly believes isn't any good, and in turn is using the Special to do something positive in the world.

This would also have the benefit of undercutting the sales from all the crappy-looking bootlegs out there, something that also must stick in Lucas' craw. After all, if you're a die-hard Star Wars and you want to own a copy of the Special, which would you rather have--a fifth-generation dub with horrible picture and fuzzy sound, or a Lucasfilm produced edition, with the best possible picture and sound and lots of extras, with all profits going towards charity? For Lucas and Star Wars fans, it's win-win-win!

I can appreciate George Lucas' feeling so proprietary about Star Wars--he is truly the master of this particular universe, and the Holiday Special must feel akin to that one relative who shows up every year for Thanksgiving dinner and gets drunk and says horribly embarrassing things. He'd rather just forget its existence.

But since the Bantha is out of the bag, and can never be put back in, why not just own up and do some good? After all, isn't that what Life Day is all about?


Caffeinated Joe said...

A good compromise, but I fear Lucas is too stubborn to give in. I watched this once, when it first aired, and never again. And I think I am okay with that.

studio gulag -- said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
studio gulag -- said...

Granted, it really is as completely awful as legend tells. But what truly makes it worth the time is the animated sequence-- a weird hybrid of american/anime style.

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