1 9 7 8 (USA)
1 x 120 minute episode
A Thanksgiving TV special spin-off to the (then) biggest movie of all time sounds like a no-brainer. And that must have been the thinking at CBS on 17 November 1978, when they launched this fiasco on an unsuspecting public.
Unfortunately for the viewers, who were looking forward to two hours of space battles, one-liners from Han Solo and an extra glimpse into the mind of George Lucas, what they got was something altogether more surreal.
In fact, Lucas doesn’t seem to have had much to do with it (he was up to his eyeballs with The Empire Strikes Back at the time) and so disappointed was he with the final product that he tried to buy up all the master tapes to ensure that it was never seen again.
Co-written by Pat Proft (one of the men behind Airplane!), it must have appeared to the viewer as one giant spoof – but it’s not, and the show is a litany of disaster.
Chewbacca is trying to get back to his home planet (Kashyyyk, pronounced “Kazzook”) to celebrate the important Wookiee festival, Life Day, with his wife Mala, son Lumpy and father Itchy. Unfortunately, the Empire (minus Darth Vader) is on the tail of the Rebel forces.
Since Wookiees don’t speak any English, they are helped by the local human trader and Rebel sympathiser, Saun Dann (Art Carney). We get a glimpse of Wookiee family life, as well as catching up with all the stars of the movie. However, nothing really connects with anything . . .
The show opens with an unsubtitled sequence of Chewbacca’s family at home which lasts for ten minutes as they potter about their tree house and make growling noises.
To lighten the boredom now shared by the cast and audience alike, they switch on their hologram unit, unleashing a parade of miniature gymnasts, who proceed to perform a Lilliputian dance montage.
Mark Hamill shows up with R2-D2 on a monitor to wish them a ‘Happy Life Day’ and looks as if he is on the brink of laughter throughout his scene.
To introduce Saun Dann, we see him in his workshop, while an Imperial Guard browses for goodies. The scene ends with the guard walking off with a personal groomer (ie: a nose-hair trimmer). Meanwhile, Mala prepares a meal by watching a drag-queen cooking show.
There are shots of starfights from Star Wars, with specially shot footage of Han and Chewie in the cockpit. Harrison Ford does his very best to lend some credibility to the proceedings, but even he finds it difficult when he has to say such lines as “I feel the same way about you, pal . . . and your family”, and then remark about little Lumpy, “I think his voice is changing.”
There’s a ten-minute, rather sexually charged kaleidoscope effects sequence, in which white-feather-headdress-wearing Diahann Carroll tells Itchy – who is watching on his virtual reality headset – repeatedly that she finds him adorable, before launching into a love ballad.
The camera cuts to the hairy biped gurning and groaning with pleasure. It’s a deeply disturbing moment.
Boba Fett makes his first appearance (remember, this came out before The Empire Strikes Back) in a cartoon in which Luke and the druids go to rescue Chewie and Han from an evil Imperial talisman.
Fett initially pretends he’s their friend before being caught chatting to Darth Vader and making his escape.
Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls shows up as a sassy bartender in the Tatooine cantina from the movie.
First, she is chatted up by a besotted customer, then she leads the bar clientele in a song about the Empire’s decision to shut down her establishment, accompanied by the Cantina band from the film.
The special culminates with everyone important from the movie (except Alec Guinness and Vader) standing at the Tree of Life, while the Wookiees – dressed in gospel-choir crimson cassocks – celebrate Life Day.
After a stirring speech about coming together to defeat evil, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) dazzles the crowd with an epic tune about happiness, to the melody of the movie’s title music.
To top it all off, there’s a holographic performance by the Jefferson Starship singing Light The Sky On Fire.
Lucas recognised immediately that he had commissioned a clanger. The show was broadcast in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand and aired only once. Since then, he’s forbidden any release by Lucasfilm on any home-viewing format. Speaking at a fan convention he famously said: “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.”
Princess Leia Organa
James Earl Jones (voice)
The Great Zorbak