According to Carrie Fisher, George Lucas gave her a copy of the special as a gift for recording the DVD commentary for Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). She claimed that she played it at parties when she wanted her guests to leave.
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George Lucas famously tried (and failed) to buy up all master copies to make sure it was never broadcast again.
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The special has never been released on video, but bootleg videos circulated for years, and the show can be seen all over the internet. George Lucas remarked at an Australian convention, "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every bootlegged copy of that program and smash it."
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Bea Arthur claimed she only appeared in this special because her youngest son was a big fan of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977).
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Harrison Ford was particularly reluctant to appear in this special, but eventually was convinced.
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Mark Hamill's face was heavily made up as he was recovering from reconstructive surgery after a near fatal car accident.
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According to David Acomba, he recommended Robin Williams for the special, but the producers turned him down.
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The Life Day song Carrie Fisher sings is based on the theme from Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). Fisher demanded that she be allowed to sing in this special, but didn't like the song.
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Contrary to some reports, Kenny Baker did not perform as R2-D2 in any part of this show. A remote control version was used instead.
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The Cantina sequence took an entire day to shoot. The actors in alien costumes began to pass out due to lack of oxygen. Oxygen tanks were provided for them to use between takes.
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Bruce Vilanch has admitted that he was using cocaine heavily while helping to write the special.
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George Lucas came up with the idea of focusing on Chewbacca's family. Writer Bruce Vilanch objected, because the dialogue would all be in the Wookiee language. He feared that the special would turn into "one long episode of Lassie." But Lucas refused to change it. According to Vilanch, Lucas originally intended for the story of Chewbacca's family to appear somewhere in the "Star Wars" saga.
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A scene featuring Darth Vader talking to an officer on the Death Star was actually cut footage from Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). In that scene, Leslie Schofield, who portrayed Chief Bast, appeared as an unidentified officer. An unused scene of stormtroopers searching Tatooine is also used.
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Forty years later, almost all of the surviving cast who appeared in this show are still embarrassed by its existence. C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels said that George Lucas has been known to walk out of interviews when an interviewer starts to ask questions about this show, and has said that the show will never be made available again. In the 1990s, Lucas said that he believed the master tapes no longer existed (this, however, was proven false as the special's cartoon turned up on the 2011 saga Blu Ray release). Harrison Ford has said that he doesn't remember much about appearing in it, and has never seen it, so there's no point in asking him any questions. Mark Hamill has cleverly dodged most of the questions asked of him about it. Only Carrie Fisher talked about it publicly.
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The Holiday Special is the first time that James Earl Jones was credited with performing the voice of Darth Vader. The next time would be during the end credits of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
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According to producer Mitzie Welch, the sequence with Diahann Carroll was intended to be "soft-core porn that would pass the censors."
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Saun Dann was an early incarnation of Lando Calrissian. In early drafts of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980), George Lucas describes him as a gambler who runs a general store on Kashyyyk, "a guy who trades with the Indians."
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The animated segment produced by Nelvana Limited, which later produced Star Wars: Droids (1985) and Ewoks (1985), includes Boba Fett's first appearance. Don Francks provided the voice for Boba Fett in both the Holiday Special and the Droids series.
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At the premiere for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015), Harrison Ford was asked how he'd feel about reprising his role as Han Solo for another potential Star Wars holiday special, to which he replied, "I'd kill myself."
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The entire Fett cartoon would get an official home video release as an Easter Egg on the 2011 Star Wars: the Complete Saga Blu-ray set and remains the only portion of the Holiday Special officially released in any home video format. It would later be the only part of the Holiday Special featured on the Disney + streaming service.
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David Acomba was the original director, but he quit after a few days of shooting. He directed the musical numbers by Bea Arthur and Jefferson Starship. Acomba also commissioned the animated segment featuring Boba Fett.
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Almost all of the alien masks in the cantina scene are the exact ones from the original 1977 film although they were repainted for the special.
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The Wookiee planet is called Kazzook, one of the names George Lucas considered before it became known as Kashyyyk.
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The Amban sniper rifle, which Boba Fett uses in the animated short, was adapted into the official canon. It is the standard weapon of Din Djarin in The Mandalorian (2019).
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In 2004, the official Star Wars site confirmed that documentary filmmaker Kevin Burns was allowed access to the original print for use in his Empire of Dreams documentary; however, the segment using footage from the holiday special was ultimately left out of the final cut.
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In 1978, the script for Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was still being written, and release was scheduled for summer 1980. According to Mark Hamill, George Lucas devised this one-off television special to keep the unexpected success of the original 1977 release fresh in fans' minds and keep the merchandise selling in shops, concerned that the Star Wars brand would quickly be forgotten. When Lucas watched the final production, he was horrified, and felt it could easily be seen as an attempt at a cheap cash-in. While he was too late to stop the broadcast in the US and Canada, he was able to prevent the show from being aired in most other territories where Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) had been a massive success.
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WILLHELM SCREAM: When the stormtrooper Han tangles with stumbles and falls from the balcony of Chewbacca's treehouse.
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While most of the original cast of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) has expressed embarrassment over the special, Peter Mayhew was quoted as saying he enjoyed the experience.
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Listed in the book, "What Were They Thinking: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History", in the #1 spot, titled "The Worst Two Hours of Television, Ever".
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There was talk of a possible spin-off television series, but it never got past that early stage.
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The special was broadcast in its entirety in the United States only once, on Friday, November 17, 1978 (the week before Thanksgiving), on the television network CBS from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time (EST), pre-empting Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk. It was also broadcast on the Canadian television network CTV from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, Eastern Standard Time, in New Zealand on TVNZ, and in Australia on the Seven Network.
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Malla (Chewbacca's wife), Lumpy (Chewbacca's son), and Itchy (Chewbacca's father) were nicknames of their actual names: Mallatobuck, Lumpawarrump, and Attichicuk respectively. Although the events of this TV special are non-canon, Chewbacca's family was later incorporated into the official Star Wars canon.
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Many small, or independent, or "art house" theaters would show this special around the holidays, and surprisingly enough, actually were able to pay Fox/Disney for the license to show it (though it is still shown as a bootleg, often with the bumpers before the show starts, legal IDs for the TV stations it was recorded from, and even some actual commercials shown). However, this ended in November 2019 when Disney yanked all of the licenses.
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Ben Burtt created Malla and Itchy's vocalizations from recordings of bears and lions at Olympic Game Farm in Sequim, Washington. For Lumpy's vocalizations, he used a recording of a baby bear at the San Diego Zoo. Some of these recordings were later reused in The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (2020) over 40 years later.
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The large white rat puppet in the Cantina scene was made for The Food of the Gods (1976). It is referred to as a Tin-Tin Dwarf in the Star Wars universe.
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Chewbacca's family appeared again in "Star Wars: The Wookiee Storybook," a children's book published by Random House in 1979.
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All the acts were loosely linked together with material which involves the Wookiees' preparation for Life Day on Kashyyyk, Han and Chewie's attempt to bypass the Imperial blockade and make it to Chewie's family, and the Imperial garrison's search for rebels. The plot strings together a series of musical numbers, celebrity cameos and other variety show acts. These include songs and comedy routines by such 1970s talents as Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman and Bea Arthur, and a circus-style acrobatics routine including uneven bars and juggling. The most notable segment is an animated cartoon featuring the onscreen debut of Boba Fett.
The high point of the special is generally considered to be the animated segment known as "The Faithful Wookiee," which is the first official Star Wars cartoon. It was written by Lucas and produced by Toronto animation firm Nelvana Ltd., which would later produce Droids and Ewoks, two Saturday-morning series based on the franchise in the mid-1980s. Lucas requested that the visual style be inspired by Moebius. The vocal talents of the main cast are featured. Intended as an in-universe flashback, Luke wears a yellow jacket similar to his outfit at the end of A New Hope. The cartoon introduces Boba Fett, whose appearance was based on footage of the unpainted costume from The Empire Strikes Back, and according to Nelvana co-founder Clive Smith, their suggestion to "scuff up his costume a little bit" influenced the character's live-action appearance. The final costume design made a public parade appearance two months before the Holiday Special aired. The simplified color scheme for the cartoon was later repeated for Fett's appearance in Droids. According to the official Star Wars website, Fett was voiced by Don Francks in the special. Inverse also credited the role to him based on his work in later Nelvana productions.
Prior to the special's airing, the Kenner toy company considered creating a toy line based on the special. While the project was canceled because of the unpopularity of the special, several prototype versions of the figures are known to have been created. Those depict the Chewbacca family and seem to be simply modifications of Kenner's officially released Chewbacca figure.
In 2007, as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations for Star Wars Hasbro released an "Animated Debut" Boba Fett action figure. This was one of the first official acknowledgments of the Holiday Special.
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Jefferson Starship released their song from the special, "Light the Sky On Fire", as a single, with their 1974 song "Hyperdrive" as the B-side.
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The "Life On Tatooine" segment was introduced with several bits of footage that never made it into the finished version of A New Hope, including a sight gag involving a short human escaping a giant creature by running between its legs.
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The special went through two directors. The first, David Acomba, was brought in through an attempt to "make us different in variety shows", according to Lippencott. Acomba, a classmate of George Lucas at USC film school, was unfamiliar with a multiple-camera setup, which caused some problems. Acomba also felt that there was a divide between himself and the producers, and chose to leave the project after finishing only a few scenes, including the cantina and Jefferson Starship. He was then replaced by Steve Binder, whose only contact with Lucasfilm was a "Wookiee bible" detailing how the species should look and behave.
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In addition to playing the Wookiee Malla, Mickey Morton also played the cantina bouncer Tork and Chef Gormaanda's second pair of arms.
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While outlining the original Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) and planning its potential sequels, George Lucas imagined a "film just about Wookiees, nothing else." After the original film's success, its cast made a few appearances on TV variety shows. According to Charles Lippincott, who was head of marketing of the Star Wars Corporation, CBS brought the idea of doing a TV special to him and Lucas, although there is some internal dispute about this claim. According to Jonathan Rinzler, "Everybody agreed that a television special was a good idea." Lucas was busy moving his production company to a new location, which was not heavily involved in the special. Though Lucas is uncredited, it was his idea to build the narrative around Chewbacca's family.
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In their previous incarnation as Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship played the infamous 1969 concert at Altamont Speedway that became the basis for the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter. George Lucas was part of the camera crew on that film, although only one shot of his was used in the finished movie.
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Don Francks, who provided the voice of Boba Fett, made his Hollywood feature debut in Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Finian's Rainbow (1968). George Lucas served as an uncredited production assistant on that film.
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Don Francks (voice of Boba Fett in the animated segment) was the father of Cree Summer, who has performed voices in several Star Wars animated projects and video games.
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This special aired in Canada one hour before it aired in the U.S.
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Though Life Day is often conflated with Christmas, the themes of the story are closer to American Thanksgiving traditions. The special originally aired the week of Thanksgiving.
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Ackmena is now officially part of the Star Wars canon, having appeared in the short story "The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper" from the anthology A Certain Point Of View.
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A fleeting glimpse of Obi-wan Kenobi, from Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), appears at the end of the special as Chewbacca remembers the events of the original film.
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"The 'Star Wars Holiday Special' is so notorious. [Creator] George [Lucas] once asked us, 'Please, never mention it again,'" Hamill said during a conversation with the Dean of the University of Southern California's USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Willow Bay Tuesday evening. The virtual event was part of the school's Amplified series. (Oct 2020)
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