Friday, December 26, 2008

30 Years Between Airings: Even The Kessel Run Took Less Than 12 Parsecs

With so many cable channels nowadays, there is almost no such thing as rare televsion. It seems that anything that ever aired has a channel devoted to its reruns, from game shows to reality shows to, well, shows. If it isn't on TV it's on Hulu, or A&E has a series of DVDs. If you are dying to see a commercial for Winson cigarettes that used Fred Flintstone as a spokesman, google it. It's there.

The New World is only so Brave though, and some things shall not see the light of day. I've been keeping my eye peeled for years now for THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL. It aired on CBS in 1978, featured the real cast of A NEW HOPE, and arguably drove the last nail in the coffin of variety shows. There is some demand for it but George Lucas, who is no stranger to revisionist history, has bought up the rights and locked the master in a vault in the Lucasfilm archives. Reportedly he told a convention of Australian fans "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it."

The two-hour video tells the story of Chewbacca's family and their tense wait for the big lug to make it home in time for Life Day, which is a familiar-seeming wookie holiday. The empire's evil forces conduct a thorough search of their tree-house for signs of rebel involvement. Variety segments (songs, sketches and the animated segment that introduced Boba Fett) are incorporated though the device of having wookies watch them on screens and other home entertainment devices. Guest stars include Harvey Korman, Bea Arthur, Dianne Carroll, Art Carney and a number by Jefferson Starship.

Yes, I'm serious.

This is the year when finally I was able to get my waldoes on a copy of this fabled special. I had it completely downloaded by Tuesday but I saved it until Christmas Day to watch, a little gift for myself and a kind of slow torture for my holiday companions. It's incredible. The first 15 minutes for example, introduce Chewie's family: his wife Malla, his son Lumpy and his irascable father Itchy. 15 minutes with no dialog, only Wookie noises. It's like watching a Chaplin movie in an insane asylum.

Meanwhile on the Millenium Falcon, Chewbacca and a surprisingly comitted Harrison Ford struggle to evade the forces of the empire, abandoning whatever presumably important mission they had been charged with so they can endanger the clan back home with Chewie's presence for Life Day.

The action, such as it is, is interrupted by the lame variety segments. On one hand you get an appearance by Diane Carroll singing a little song, on the other hand, in narrative terms you're watching a wookie watch television instead of doing something. And don't get me started on Harvey Korman. Three different characters and not one of them is even remotely amusing. It's as if he was struck comedy blind that week.

There is a real low-budget feel to the whole enterprise, though to be fair it's probably partially due to this being a VHS dub, and partially due to seeing characters who belong on film shot through the harsher gaze of video. Interestingly, Mark Hamill is so androgynous that he comes off closer to Dorothy Hamill. I think this was shot before the Camero accident that prompted Hamill's reconstructive surgery, which gave him a less boyish appearance.

The Boba Fett cartoon (Lumpy watches it to keep his mind off the Storm Troopers wrecking the house) is visual gold and narrative crap. It kind of reminded me of a few segments from eighties cult classic HEAVY METAL.

Anyway, other high points - Carrie Fisher sings an ode to Life Day which is kind of a mashup with the Star Wars theme; Bea Arthur sings a song which is a mashup with the Cantina Band song. Han Solo kills a storm trooper (no face mask either!) by causing him to plunge hundreds of feet to his death. Anything I haven't mentioned as a high point you can assume is a low point, the kind of thing which should have ruined the careers of everyone involved. Indeed, had Lucas not stepped in and sealed this thing up, that's exactly what might have happened. Shepard Smith puts it best when he describes the show as "a 70s train wreck, combining the worst of Star Wars with the utter worst of variety television."

It is, therefore, absolutely essential Christmas viewing. Next quest - a rough cut of THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED!


Publius said...

You DO like torture after all!

wamk said...

Not only did Piker torture himself, he tortured others.

Piker Cheney?

Publius said...

Dick Piker, even!