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A new doc finally explains The Star Wars Holiday Special


This first look at the documentary A power failure comes from the film’s debut at the 2023 SXSW conference.

A few decades after the one-time broadcast on November 17, 1978, The Star Wars holiday special was a secret handshake among nerds. “Weird Al” by Yankovic “White & Nerdy” video features a scene where Al buys a bootleg VHS of the special in an alley next to a dumpster, nodding to how much currency this infamous televised fiasco had among fans in the days before YouTube. Now a quick search on that particular site will turn up several full uploads of the special – much to the fear of George Lucas, who has publicly expressed his wish to self-destruct every instance of Star Wars’ first major misstep.

Therefore The Star Wars holiday special easier to find in 2023, however, doesn’t make it any less baffling. Once a fan discovers its existence and looks at it, but they can access it, Lucasfilm never officially released it The Star Wars Holiday Special, and probably never will a series of questions inevitably follows. “What?!” comes first, followed by “Why?” and how?” The new documentary A power failurewhich premiered at this year’s SXSW film festival, attempts to answer these questions.

The movie opens with the “WTF?” of it all, in a montage featuring sound bites from pop culture talking heads like Seth Green and Kevin Smith, both of whom have inextricably linked their personalities to their love of Star Wars. These are interspersed with old clips of Star Wars actors, including Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, refusing to discuss the special, making it a holy grail and compelling mystery: “The Star Wars Peculiarity she don’t want you to see it!”

This part of the movie is fine. It’s fun and lively, but it doesn’t really add anything to the legend. Then the movie brings in people who can answer the special’s questions, rather than simply repeating them in colorful ways, and A power failure something much richer and more interesting.

Photo: Lucasfilm

The most surprising A power failure reveals about The Star Wars holiday special is the caliber of the talent involved. The crew was the best 1978 television had to offer, and CBS enlisted its top stars to appear on the show. And yet, somewhere, somehow, everything went to hell. Here are a few questions that are actually covered in it A power failure:

Why does the Star Wars Holiday Special exist?

Basically, because of a combination of conventional wisdom about late ’70s movie promotion and George Lucas’ resentment of 20th Century Fox. Back then Star Wars was not embedded in our cultural consciousness as it is today, and studio executives thought the enthusiasm over the film would be temporary, despite its box office success. An executive told Lucas that at a meeting in the summer of 1977, and Lucas began pushing to get Star Wars characters on TV as much as possible, to prove that exec wrong. (The fact that Star Wars toys were still rolling out a year after the movie first hit theaters, and that Lucas had a personal financial interest in selling those toys didn’t hurt.)

But why the song and dance numbers?

At the time, variety specials were TV staples—more often than daring sci-fi adventures told in the style of old-fashioned serials, which meant putting Lucas’s new movie model in an old box to sell to the masses. A power failure dispute that The Star Wars holiday special wasn’t the worst of Star Wars’ late ’70s TV appearances: that credit goes to a 1977 episode of Donny & Mary in which Donny Osmond played Luke, Marie Osmond played Leia (who was still Luke’s love interest at the time, not his sister), and Kris Kristofferson played Han. The clips in the document support this thesis.

Why does The Star Wars Holiday Special feel so disjointed?

A combination of factors play a role here. First, the original director, David Acomba, was fired after three days for spending most of the show’s budget within those 72 hours. Steve Binder, a professional who had also directed the Elvis ’68 comeback special, stepped in to get the job done. But Binder had another obligation that prevented him from being involved in the editing of the special, so that job fell to a couple of producers named Ken and Mitzie Welch, who had done a lot of variety shows but knew nothing about editing, Star Wars., or science fiction in general.

Who designed all those wild costumes?

Bob Mackie, RuPaul and Whitney Houston’s favorite fashion designer, and the premiere client for film and TV in the late 1970s. Mackie, now 84, has a great sense of humor about the whole thing, and his interviews are a highlight of the film.

Art Carney and Bea Arthur sit together in their Star Wars costumes looking at the camera in a posed publicity photo for The 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special

Photo: Lucasfilm

Why is Bea Arthur sniffing a rat in the cantina?

Just like the rest of the masks used The Star Wars Holiday Special’s cantina scene – and the original Mos Eisley Cantina in it Star Wars, by the way – the rat was a leftover from another production that effects artist Rick Baker had worked on in the past. The rat was also featured in the 1976 creature feature The food of the gods.

Why do Chewbacca and his family speak for nine minutes in the untitled Shyriiwook?

More misguided conventional wisdom: CBS executives believed viewers would switch channels if they saw subtitles.

Why is Jefferson Starship in The Star Wars Holiday Special?

Because they had a song called ‘Hyperdrive’ and the band had ‘Starship’ in the name. Real.

Was Lucasfilm embarrassed about the special after it aired?

Not really. TV was more fleeting in the days before VCRs became commonplace, and interviewees in the doctor saw it The Star Wars holiday special as kids say they and their peers loved it – mainly because of the Boba Fett cartoon, which marks Fett’s first official appearance in the universe. Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni were two of those kids, which is why Mando’s gun attracted The Mandalorian is modeled after Fett’s on the holiday special.

Is Disney now ashamed of the special?

The company has begun selling Life Day merchandise and officially declared November 17 — the day the special aired on CBS Star Wars vacation in its theme parks. So, as always with Disney, it’s fine with any add-on product as long as the company can make money off it.

Why is Chewie’s dad celebrating Itchy Life Day by watching Wookiee porn?

Some mysteries are best left unsolved. All we know is that Cher was supposed to play the role of Diahann Carroll, but dropped out at the last minute.

A power failure is currently looking for a distributor and has no scheduled release date. Polygon will update this piece when the movie becomes publicly available.

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