Thus talking of things which The Star Wars Holiday Special does not care to sing, we passed from one sketch to the next until we stood upon the Life Day stage. There we checked our steps to study the next cartoon and the next vain lamentations of Mandalore; awesomely dim and grainy it was.
GREG SILBER: It’s really funny how much of this made it into canon despite Lucas hating it so much.
AVERY KAPLAN: I guess Mandalorians are always riding weird animals, huh? Yeah, the more he tried to bury it, the more it clawed its way into canon. At this point, there isn’t much in here that ISN’T canon!
AVERY: In season one episode eight of the Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian documentary on Disney+, Jon Favreau brings up including the Amban Phase-Pulse Blaster from the Star Wars Holiday Special, and the look on Lucas’s face is pretty hilarious.
GREG: I need to watch that!
AVERY: Well, here’s a surprise! The Beat’s AJ Frost has arrived to tell us a little bit more about what is arguably the most influencial element of the Star Wars Holiday Special: the animated segment that introduces Boba Fett!
AJ FROST: The Star Wars Holiday Special has many, let’s say, lasting qualities that have been talked about for decades. Most of them are… terrible, to be sure. But one of the most important, and prescient, aspects of the Special that has tremendous influence today is its impact on multimedia and transmedia: the ability for intellectual property to introduce a character in one space and have them featured in another.
The Special did this with its most positive feature: the animated short that introduced the world to Boba Fett. For decades now, the character of Boba Fett—and the subsequent boom of the Mandalorian mythos—has had an enormous impact on pop culture as well as “cult” culture. “The Faithful Wookie” works in a narrative sense because it captures the mystery that the Star Wars franchise—at its best—engenders: who are these characters? What are their motivations? Is there room for gray morality? Sure, it might be a little preposterous to ask these questions during what is a horrendous slog of “holiday” gruel, but it does lighten the mood a little bit.
The most remarkable aspect of the animated feature within the greater holiday special is that it is a minor artistic achievement. It has style, which is something that cannot be applied to the rest of the program (sorry Bea Arthur!). There is a European comic feel to the whole enterprise, probably due to the report that George Lucas directed the animation company to look at the work of Moebius. While the animation is rough, it has panache and, surprisingly, heart.
With The Mandalorian easily taking the crown as the best-crafted piece for Star Wars media in ages, it is fascinating to think that so much of the appeal of that show can be found in the Holiday Special. Boba Fett, even in this rough, early form, is cool. He looks cool. He sounds cool. He’s a badass and we’re along for the ride. While the Clone Wars and Rebels animated shows, not to mention the countless comics and books on the matter, explored the Mandalorian culture within the Star Wars universe, none of that would have been possible without the appearance of Boba Fett in the Star Wars Holiday Special.
Star Wars works best when it’s malleable. Boba Fett, and soon by extension, characters that look like him, are blank slates. We can see ourselves in that armor because there is nothing stopping us. We know what a wookie looks like and it doesn’t look like us. We know what a droid looks like, and that ain’t us. But a faceless void with a jetpack and a blaster? That is a pure form of escapism and adventure.
So, while the Holiday Special remains an indecipherable piece of media, it is also an avant-garde masterwork, still debated and (mis)understood. But something that we should take away from its sole positive contribution is that the potential of Star Wars is limitless. That even in a sea of mediocrity and horrible creative decisions, there will be standout moments that capture our imagination and transport us to that galaxy that we wish wasn’t so far, far, away.
AVERY: Oh no, Lumpy’s poor Bantha toy! Was that really necessary, Imperial Sleemo??
GREG: Poor kid’s gonna be traumatized. Which makes me imagine Wookiee therapy, which, I’m sorry, is a hilarious image.
AVERY: This middle act really foreshadowed the tragic elements of The Empire Strikes Back, didn’t it? Maybe that’s why Lucas wanted it buried. Oh, good, back to the unboxing video. And more Harvey Korman!
GREG: I know these bits are meant to be funny but they mostly are uncomfortable. And this bit is so… boring.
AVERY: Yes, they are just sort of… strange. And the “technical difficulties” just seem like loading errors. And now… an extended Tatooine sequence! Which, to be fair, is VERY Star Wars. And hey, more Korman… along with Bea Arthur!! I hope you like that “drink gets poured into head” gag, because you are definitely going to see it again.
GREG: It’s such a strange diversion and it’s not even fun to watch.
AVERY: I’m not entirely clear what the romantic goings-on in this cantina have to do with Life Day, to be honest. And that’s why it’s about to inexplicably continue… but maybe as a musical? Guys, finish your Mountain Dew and go!!
GREG: Wait, is that Greedo? Nice to see some familiar faces from the original cantina scene… even if the band still only knows one (1) song. The cantina band song, and the cantina song but slower.
AVERY: Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes know what the fans want, and they’re prepared to deliver! It’s… this one song! When will we get to see the planet of the giant mice in a Star Wars movie? Wait, so if this is after A New Hope. Shouldn’t Greedo be dead?
GREG: …huh. I guess he should be. Theory: life day is called such because a select group of random critters across the Galaxy get reanimated.
AVERY: And they do… this?
GREG: Sure why not.
AVERY: Wait, who’s playing the music now…?? The band just left!
GREG: It’s a life day miracle!
AVERY: The biggest surprise of all: that Lumpy subplot was going somewhere!
GREG: Plot twist of the century.
AVERY: These Imperials just can’t stop wrecking up this kid’s stuff!
GREG: I know stormtroopers can’t aim but Chewie was in POINT BLANK RANGE.
AVERY: Han spends a lot of his time on screen tricking characters into falling off things to their death, doesn’t he?
GREG: You’re not wrong.
AVERY: The power of Life Day! You know, I bet you haven’t had enough Art Carney yet!
GREG: Every moment I am without Saun Dann is agony.
AVERY: Okay, well, I guess this is an important part of Life Day?
GREG: Is… it?
AVERY: So you hold your orb aloft and then you’re… suddenly wearing robes. And you walk into… a star? But it’s… the Tree of Life? And of course R2-D2 & C-3PO are there.
GREG: Avery I’m really heartbroken that you invited me to your spaceship to show me the true meaning of life day, and now I have more questions than answers.
AVERY: If you thought Carrie was bringing a lot to the table, well, hold on.
GREG: Good lord where were you hiding those pipes Carrie?
And now, a special Life Day tribute to Carrie Fisher by The Beat’s own Ruth Johnson.
“I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”
RUTH JOHNSON: Carrie Fisher had more talent in her pinky finger than most of us will have in our entire body. That’s what it feels like, anyway. And watching her giving her all to belting out the Life Day song certainly reinforces that view. It’s not perfect–but considering they’re making her sing a song to a tune that’s not meant to be sung to–one of John Williams’ epic pieces–that’s okay. Carrie Fisher reportedly would only appear in the Holiday Special if they let her sing, and she was the daughter of musical queen Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, after all.
But as we all know, Carrie Fisher’s chief talents lay in her acerbic wit and hysterical point of view on some of the darkest times in her life. She was an epic figure, and she is sorely missed. The news that George Lucas would have focused his Star Wars sequels on Leia makes the sequel trilogy we got seem utterly pointless, to an extent, because that would have been as epic as Fisher was, and still is. “No one’s ever truly gone,” and thank goodness we have Carrie Fisher’s body of work (books, stand-up, movies, TV shows, too many to name here) to remind us of that.
AVERY: Did you know there were lyrics to the Star Wars theme? #canon
GREG: I did not!
AVERY: Surprisingly… kind of more poignant than many Xmas specials here at the end?
GREG: Especially in 2020, yikes.
AVERY: And now: some stock Star Wars footage.
GREG: “Hey remember that much better movie this is all based on?”
AVERY: So. I guess the Tree of Life musical number was some kind shared hallucination? And that’s it! You survived the Star Wars Holiday Special!!
GREG: Did I though? I feel.. different.
AVERY: That is the nature of Life Day.
The Legacy of Life Day: The Star Wars Holiday Special Lives On
While George Lucas famously wanted the Star Wars Holiday Special to be wiped from the face of the planet, the legacy of Life Day is stronger now than ever. In addition to the aforementioned references to the Star Wars Holiday Special in the popular Disney+ series The Mandalorian, there have been several other instances of November 17th – the date the special about the Wookie holiday originally aired on CBS – being commemorated in recent memory.
In 2014, the eighth episode of Star Wars Rebels season one, “Empire Day,” aired on November 17th. The episode features the eponymous holiday, which commemorates the anniversary of Sheev Palpatine dissolving the Old Republic, and attendance at related celebrations on Lothal is mandatory. While the fact that the episode aired on November 17th does not necessarily mean this holiday takes place on the same date as Life Day, it is common practice for a colonizing government to seize upon established cultural practices and replace them with their own. Could “Empire Day” be a forced replacement for “Life Day”?
On November 17th, 2015, the first Star Wars Battlefront game was released, and the sequel, Star Wars Battlefront II, was released on November 17th, 2017.
Also on November 17th, 2017, the Disneyland and Hollywood Studios attraction Star Tours: The Adventures Continue was updated to include two new scenes. The first features the appearance of Crait during the climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance in The Last Jedi, and the other depicts the Starspeeder 3000’s arrival at Black Spire Outpost on Batuu.
This year, November 17th saw the release of The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special on Disney+, which featured the heroes of the sequel trilogy celebrating Life Day on Kashyyyk by sharing a Tip-Yip meal with Chewie’s family. And although Disneyland remains closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, visitors to Hollywood Studios in Florida could purchase a special Boba Fett plush made of materials colored to match the Mandalorian’s first appearance in the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.