Two years ago I wrote an article about the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. For this post I’ve touched up the previous post with an edit and a few new observations. Including a brief comment on The Mandalorian.
In November of 1978, when the now rather infamous Star Wars Holiday Special aired, I was ten years old. I watched the special myself, on CBS. I’d seen Star Wars three times in the theater, in an era in which most people only watched any movie just once (unless a movie was re-released, as the Walt Disney fairy tale stories often were). I was as much a target audience for the TV show as anyone ever could be, because I loved Star Wars that much. Plus, I was a kid without very sophisticated tastes. Yet at the time I was mostly unimpressed.
My opinion hasn’t really changed, but still I’m thankful I got to see the special as it aired live. And there’s one good thing that came from it.
Note that at the time, seeing Star Wars (which hit theaters in 1977) only three times as a kid was like Charlie in the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory only buying two Wonka bars–he obviously would have bought more, but couldn’t afford it. I overheard other kids at the time saying they saw Star Wars as many as a dozen times or more. Clearly not everyone was that much of a fanatic, but for those who were not alive then it’s hard to explain how much of a phenomenon A New Hope was in comparison to pretty much every other movie for most people (note that nobody back then called it A New Hope–everyone said “Star Wars“). Lots of people saw it far more times than anybody thought was normal at that time.
Back in 1978, I lived well outside of the small town of Whitefish, Montana. Cable TV existed back then, but we didn’t have it (we were outside the service zone). Our TV antenna picked up one and only one channel–which was an NBC outlet (on which I’d watched the original Star Trek cartoon as it aired earlier in the 70’s). So in order to watch the Star Wars Holiday Special, I had to spend the night at a friend’s house. It’s sad perhaps, but I don’t even remember which friend I stayed with–but I do remember the Holiday Special, though not in comprehensive detail.
I remember it focusing on Chewbacca’s family, his wife and son and father, as they prepared to celebrate a “Life Festival” that obviously was meant to parallel the US holiday of Thanksgiving. The parallels with our own place and time struck me as too much to really make sense in context of the Star Wars universe, even when I was ten–but I didn’t hate it for that reason. Han and Chewie were eager to come to this celebration, but were blocked for some reason. They eventually arrived, and the various bits of strange Star Wars-themed entertainment that were tucked into the special ended and the viewing audience got the chance to see the main Star Wars actors together. I found that moment to be the highlight of the show and that it more or less justified the rest, which mostly was not very interesting to me.
I had no idea then that the special would eventually be considered one of the worst pieces of television of all time. Not so bad it’s good–it’s widely considered to manage to be full-time cringe-worthy, painful to watch, without the enjoyment that comes from laughing at genuinely campy entertainment. (If you are curious as to why the holiday special is seen as so terrible, follow this link to a USA Today article about it.)
I vaguely remember an original cartoon that was aired with the special. It made no real impression on me at the time, but it introduced Boba Fett as a character and today, post facto, is considered the best part of the Holiday Special. I just watched this cartoon on YouTube (you can too if you follow this link–it’s a bit over 9 minutes long) and would say it’s so-so at best. But it isn’t horrible and introduced a character who would prove to be iconic. So even what is widely seen as total garbage as a piece of entertainment had at least one success story…and that small success story in turn inspired the series The Mandalorian, a modern hit.
And that’s what makes me feel thankful about the Star Wars Holiday Special. I haven’t seen it again since 1978, but it must have been pretty terrible to fail to impress me at the time–yet still, it contained one good thing, one positive aspect worth remembering. A diamond amidst the rubbish.
It’s just so easy to be critical of entertainment that isn’t our cup of tea, an attitude I’m guilty of plenty of times myself. Unless all is up to our standard, we don’t like it. In a way, that makes sense–only one cockroach at a restaurant table tends to spoil a meal for most people.
Yet isn’t part of the spirit of Thanksgiving to find the good, even if it’s surrounded by bad? To be grateful for what we have received, instead of griping about what we haven’t?
I didn’t even like the Star Wars Holiday Special at the time all that much, but I’m thankful to have witnessed it in its original context. As a piece of my personal history, I’m thankful for it.
And isn’t it encouraging, for those of us who create stories, to think that even a real stinker of a piece of entertainment can have at least one good aspect? I mean, even if we authors fail to obtain our lofty goals for a story, that doesn’t necessarily mean all is lost. One small thing can make a positive impression on others, even if our critical selves see nothing but our own shortcomings. (Which is how I often feel about my own writing, to be honest.)
And isn’t it interesting, that the launch of Boba Fett came in the middle of an otherwise failed production? And that this particular character, one in the middle of an awful mess, inspired The Mandalorian, which is really quite good? If not great?
So let me end this by calling on those who enjoy speculative stories to be less critical (I’m including myself here). Let’s be thankful for those things in stories that are good, even if they’re in the midst of elements that fall short. 🙂