Friday, December 23, 2011

The Star Wars Holiday Special teaches us to hate Christmas, life

In accordance with ancient Pointless Side Quest Christmas tradition, I'm once again posting a revised and expanded version of my post on The Star Wars Holiday Special. Please to enjoy, for a certain value of "enjoy."

It's the Christmas season once again. To celebrate, this is the time of year when this blog make a foray beyond the world of video games into the larger world of holiday entertainment. Sadly, there is a dark side to Christmas. I'm not talking about the weather, or the parents rending each other apart like rabid beasts at Toys R Us, or the built-up resentment that can explode at family gatherings, or those horrific modernized versions of Christmas carols that every place of business in the state of Illinois is apparently required by law to defile my eardrums with for the entire month of December. No, I speak of something much worse...

The Star Wars Holiday Special has appeared on American television once, in 1978, and oozed into various foreign markets to make similarly brief appearances over the next few years. It has never been rebroadcast in the US and has never been released on home video in any format. George Lucas, who would probably release a boxed set of the prequel trilogy with an added bonus DVD containing 90 minutes of footage from the parking lot security cameras of Skywalker Ranch and call it the "Star Wars Ultimate Edition" if he thought anyone would buy it, disavows it and has refused to make it available.

Scorned by legitimate society, it exists only in the form of unauthorized copies made from VCR recordings of the original. Like so many other blasphemous tomes of daemonic horror bearing unspeakable eldritch knowledge never meant for the eyes of Man- Friedrich von Junzt's Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Abdul Alhazred's Necronomicon, Kevin J. Anderson's Jedi Academy Trilogy- it circulates covertly in the dark corners of the world (I think that's an entirely fair description of most file-sharing networks) where students of the grotesque and unnatural risk their very sanity to seek it out.

It was in 2006 that I acquired a copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special, complete with the original 1978 commercials. It should have been a fine year: Neal Asher, David Drake, and Stephen Baxter all had multiple new books rolling off the presses. Ace Combat Zero came out for the PlayStation 2, and the release of the PlayStation 3 paved the way for me to actually buy one three years later. Iron Maiden, Evergrey, In Flames, Norther, Strapping Young Lad, Tool, Motorhead, Blind Guardian, and Týr released new albums. Instead, there would be only the taste of ashes.

Now, one thing I share with several of my friends is the ability to enjoy crap. From 1950's skiffy schlock, to watching a near-comatose Richard Burton mumble his way through the uncut version of The Exorcist II, to Sylvester Stallone's arm wrestling epic Over the Top, to the climactic scene of The Satanic Rites of Dracula where Christopher Lee is killed by running into a small shrubbery, to Oscar-winning actor George Kennedy and a bunch of stupid teenagers trapped on a boat where they are picked off one by one by an evil hybrid cat/rat/godawful puppet in The Uninvited, to a seemingly endless horde of Godfrey Ho "ninja" "movies" created by buying the rights to various Asian films, redubbing them, splicing them together with new footage of white guys in brightly colored and sometimes rhinestone-studded pajamas running around and doing flips in what appears to a small municipal park, and feebly attempting to tie them together and pretend that the resulting Frankensteinian abomination was a coherent story, we've seen it all. We take that sort of thing in stride.

I want you to have that context in mind when I say that my first two attempts to watch this had to be aborted within the first half hour because the guys I was watching it with couldn't stand it any longer.

The plot, such as it is, is that Chewbacca is returning to his home and family on the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk to celebrate "Life Day," one of those vague holidays characters in kids' fantasy shows would celebrate when it was snowing and they wanted to do something festively nonsectarian. But the system is in the grip of an Imperial blockade fleet commanded by recycled movie footage of Darth Vader, and... Well, basically, there's a string of largely unrelated, godawful variety showesque events set in something that resembles the Star Wars universe featuring various C-list celebrities until things finally shudder to a halt what seems like several geological epochs later.

It's got all of the heroes from the movie making their return, plus James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader. The only major actors from Star Wars not present- unless one also counts David Prowse, who appears only in the form of reused movie footage, or Carrie Fisher, whose soul appears to have departed her body and wandered for much of her screen time- are Alec Guinness as Ben Kenobi and Peter Cushing as Tarkin, whose characters were saved from appearances here by the sweet, merciful embrace of death.(Which makes it suddenly seem very suspicious that Kenobi and Tarkin both met their ends because they conspicuously chose not to protect themselves from imminent danger, and either possessed supernatural powers that included the ability to sense horrible, cataclysmic events or hung out with people who did.) What could possibly have gone wrong?

There are some things the human mind cannot explain, only try to describe. Some of the thrilling spectacles we're treated to include:

Over ten minutes of Chewbacca's family screaming at each in Wookie, sans subtiitles! This is what the show leads off with. Little-known fact: Lucas actually wanted the first 20 minutes of the original Star Wars to focus on R2-D2 making random beep-bloop noises while doing routine maintenance on the Tantive IV's cafeteria vending machines, but was forced to start the movie with an exciting space battle instead when the studio said that his original cut of the film was too long.

Chewbacca's elderly father Itchy groaning in ecstasy while watching virtual reality porn! You have no idea how badly I wish I was making that up. NO idea.
Ever wondered what an elderly Wookie having an orgasm looks like? Of course not, but now you know anyway.

Reused footage from the movie!

Reused footage from the movie tinted bright green, so that a shot of the Millennium Falcon approaching Yavin can double as a shot of a bright green Millennium Falcon approaching Kashyyyk! Alternately, if you're a die-hard Star Wars fan desperately trying to escape from the implications of this monstrosity actually being a canonical part of the Star Wars universe, it could be interpreted to mean that the entire special is actually taking  place inside the Matrix. In which case it's arguably a better Matrix film than Matrix Revolutions.

Several minutes of Chewbacca's repulsive son Lumpy watching miniature holographic acrobats! That's right, Chewbacca's immediate kin consists of two guys named "Itchy" and "Lumpy." Presumably, the name "Chewbacca" is a human-pronounceable approximation of the Wookie word for "Scabby" or "Oozing."
Lumpy! I've already mentioned his role in the Special's events, but the very existence of this... this thing appalls me so much that it warrants its own entry. With the possible exception of that loathsome, soulless homunculus wrought in obscene parody of a human child from Son of the Mask (the CGI baby, not Jamie Kennedy), nothing has ever filled with such instinctive horror.


Harvey Korman in a dress! And in two other separate parts, as an amorous Tatooine cantina patron and a cyborg instructional video announcer (a cyborg who announces in an instructional video, that is, not an announcer in an instructional video about cyborgs) who appears to be suffering from some sort of degenerative motor neuron disorder. Not since Peter Sellers in Dr. Stranglove has there been such a multi-role tour de force!

The musical stylings of Bea Arthur! This is actually the closest we get to a high point.

Harvey Korman trying to get into Bea Arthur's pants! Though anyone hoping for some actual on-screen Hedley-on-Maude action will be disappointed, sadly.

An animated segment featuring the  most repellently butt-ugly animation in human history! It does have the first-ever appearance of Boba Fett, which some people may be interested in. Frankly, I've always considered Fett one of the most overrated characters in fiction. It's a damning indictment of how low our society's standards of masculinity have fallen when possessing some basic tracking abilities, dressing like the Rocketeer, flying around in a big metal shoe, and being killed by a blind man is enough of a résumé to be declared Biggest Badass Ever.

One odd thing is that the cartoon, like a number of other segments, is actually introduced as something being watched by Lumpy. Which implies that this segment depicts events that are fictional not only to us but to the characters, and that the cartoon itself actually exists within the Star Wars universe.

Which, I just realized, means that Jefferson Starship does, too.

A brief appearance by an incredibly bored-looking Harrison Ford, who doesn't even try to conceal his utter contempt for the proceedings!

Mark Hamill wearing more makeup than Queen Amidala, Bozo the Clown, and Dick Clark combined!
Usually I'd be reluctant to say something nasty about this, since it's probably to conceal the injuries Hamill had suffered in a car crash the previous year, but The Star Wars Holiday Special exists on a plane where human concepts of morality and decency are not merely absent, but meaningless. If you gaze into the bellowing unsubtitled Wookie abyss, the bellowing unsubtitled Wookie abyss gazes also into you.

Carrie Fisher singing a festive Life Day carol set to the tune of the classic Star Wars theme while clearly stoned out of her mind! But you don't have to take my word for it:

She's no Bea Arthur, I'll tell you that much.

Eventually, Chewbacca makes it home for the holidays with his repellent family. To the best of my recollection, no one learns a valuable lesson about The True Meaning of Life Day, if in fact it has one.

I really can't do justice to how teeth-gratingly bad it is. I have no strong personal stake in Star Wars. I liked the original movies and a few of the tie-in books, but I've never had the strong emotional attachment to Star Wars that some people do. I didn't like the prequel trilogy but never had the sort of "I have sworn a Sicilian blood oath of vengeance upon George Lucas' and his entire family line because he murdered my family, burned down my village, and deflowered my house pets" response that is often seen on the Internet. The idea of crap with the name Star Wars on it is not some sort of personal affront to me. Given that sitting through this made me want to gouge out my own eyes and just run through the streets of Chicago gibbering like a lunatic until my heart and/or lungs burst, I can only imagine how devoted Star Wars fans feel about it.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

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