The infamous Holiday Special is sort of a cinematic Bigfoot. It's so notorious, everyone reading this knows which Holiday Special we’re talking about. Many speak of it, but few have actually seen it, and facts about The Star Wars Holiday Special are sparse and murky. The Special was a much-hyped television event that aired exactly once in 1978, and has since been passed around via bootlegged tapes and, eventually, Internet piracy. The singular live airing adds to the event’s mystique, but it was hidden for reasons more closely related to shame.
The "story" follows Chewbacca’s Wookiee family as they await Chewie’s return for Life Day, which is basically Space Christmas. The Special is a sort of variety show, with multiple bizarre, oddly placed vignettes interspersed throughout the main drama. The story of what happened to The Star Wars Holiday Special is almost as outrageous as the TV event itself. Though it has been largely buried, erds have famously long and detailed memories, so the infamous TV special lives as a curio for an entirely new generation of Star Wars fans.
The Star Wars Holiday Special, ostensibly a Christmas film, aired only once, on November 17, 1978. It was a highly anticipated event, with a full-page advertisement in TV Guide (that was a big deal, at the time) and a runtime of 98 minutes. A massive home audience tuned in for the second installment in the Star Wars saga. The Special reportedly reached around 13 million American homes.
The Holiday Special features cameos from some classic comic actors, like Art Carney and Richard Pryor, but it’s Harvey Korman who puts in the most work, playing three different roles. Unfortunately, his standout character was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Korman’s turn as Chef Gormanda, a four-armed alien, saw the veteran actor wearing blackface. That’s right, The Star Wars Holiday Special is not just awful from a storytelling perspective, it’s also unconscionably racist. Despite the insanely offensive costume choice, the physical comedy of a gangly Wookiee trying to keep up with the cooking pace of a four-armed alien is one of the few legitimately humorous moments in the Holiday Special.
The Holiday Special culminates in a musical number where Princess Leia sings the "Life Day" song, which conveniently goes to the tune of the Star Wars theme. This performance was a major reason Carrie Fisher signed on to the Special in the first place, as she was looking to launch her own musical career.
The "Life Day" song obviously didn’t help her there, although the quality of her singing suggests she wasn't quite as enthuiastic by the time the special actually came around.
Perhaps the most bizarre scene in the entire Holiday Special occurs fairly early on, when Chewbacca’s father, Itchy, plugs into his personal hologram machine, the Mind Evaporator. Despite the foreboding title, the Mind Evaporator allows users to turn their fantasies into holographic realities.
Itchy immediately uses it to imagine a human woman in a revealing dress and a wig, because apparently Chewie’s dad is into some freaky stuff. She starts by attempting, quite successfully, to the seduce the elderly Wookiee with a bit of breathy dialogue about how “adorable” he is. The woman then sings a vaguely erotic song. Throughout the show, Itchy grunts with what appears to be pleasure, despite the fact that his entire family is in the house.