The Star Wars Holiday Special and its vintage merchandise

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A few years ago I wrote two articles for the Archie McPhee website Monkey Goggles. It was a fun site with quirky humor/pop culture articles and I was glad to contribute.  My buddy Shawn over at Branded in the 80s also wrote a few articles for the site.  Unfortunately, it seems Monkey Goggles has stopped updating so I thought I’d archive the articles I wrote here before they are swallowed by that unforgiving beast, The Internet.

Anyway, the first article I wrote was about discontinued soda. I published it last week.  The second article I wrote was about The Star Wars Holiday Special.  The Holiday Special aired for the first time on November 17, 1978, which makes it 33 years old today.  I thought reprinting the below article on the TV special’s 33rd birthday was appropriate.  And, stay tuned, the Nerd Lunch podcast is going to devote an entire episode to The Holiday Special.  That should be coming up in December.  I can hardly wait to record it.  Until then, enjoy this article.

And I may be biased, but I have to say, this is one of my very favorite articles I’ve ever written.

SW Holiday Special

The Star Wars Holiday Special is legendary amongst Star Wars fans. Created to bridge the gap between the first Star Wars movie in 1977 and its 1980 sequel The Empire Strikes Back, The Holiday Special only aired once in America and immediately rocketed to infamy by being so notoriously bad that it swings back over to good, ninja-kicks it in the groin, leaves good in a crumpled heap, and moves all the way back into shockingly horrible. To sit and watch the two hours of boring insanity contained within the Holiday Special is like an endurance trial for hardcore Star Wars fans. The awkwardly-inserted musical numbers and endlessly boring live-action scenes combine to create a perfect storm of awfulness.

Not surprisingly, George Lucas hates The Holiday Special. And by “hates it,” I mean that Lucas once said that if he had the time, he would find every copy of it in existence and smash it with a sledgehammer.  Lucasfilm doesn’t officially comment or discuss the special, as if by pretending it doesn’t exist will cause all of us to forget it ever happened. But we will always remember, George.

Holiday Special Press KitThe Holiday Special turned 31 years old last November, so I decided to celebrate the anniversary by taking at look at some of the rarest of “Star Wars” collectibles — those based on the Holiday Special. There was a big marketing push before the special aired back in 1978, but after it died its fiery, televised death, Lucasfilm pretty much cut it loose and left it to die like a gutted Tauntaun. As a result of this abandonment, the spectrum of Holiday Special collectibles is very small. Let’s take a look at some of the items one would look for if they wanted to collect merchandise pertaining to one of the most reviled television specials in history.

Like most films, the Holiday Special was preceded by a press kit (left). It’s a package of information that was sent out to newspapers and television stations to promote the airing of the upcoming special. The official Star Wars Holiday Special press kit contained a booklet, several black and white stills, production information and a mini-poster, all contained in a silver folder. Since press kits are meant for media only, complete sets of these can be very hard to find and only a few complete copies are known to exist.

Starlog 1979If you can actually sit through the Holiday Special and not doze off or throw your 12″ Boba Fett through the TV in utter rage, you’ll be treated to an appearance by Jefferson Starship for no other reason than “why the hell not?” The song the band performs, Light the Sky on Fire, was released as a 45″ single and the record sleeve mentions the song’s appearance on The Star Wars Holiday Special as if that somehow gives the even-then aging rockers street cred. The B-side? A song called Hyperdrive that wasn’t used in the special but probably could have been had the producers hated their audience just a little bit more. Diahann Carroll also performed in the Holiday Special, but smartly decided not to ever mention her connection to the show.

The January 1979 issue of Starlog (right) actually featured the Holiday Special on its cover, and inexplicably chose to use a picture of Bea Arthur and a bunch of cantina aliens on the cover instead of Han or Chewie or Luke or, God forbid, Chewie’s family. I mean, you are doing a cover story on the first new Star Wars in over a year and a half and you choose Bea Arthur? It’s like going with a story on a new “Godfather” movie and using Moe Green on the cover. Was Starlog trying to jinx everything? From now on, Starlog, I lay the blame for this entire Holiday Special fiasco at your doorstep.

Wookie Storybook

The year after the airing of The Star Wars Holiday Special, Random House released a children’s book, The Wookie Storybook, based on the show. It related the further adventures of Chewie’s oddly-named family members Itchy, Lumpy and Malla. While the book is not officially a tie-in to The Holiday Special, the Wookie tree house designs, as well as Chewie’s family members, look exactly like the characters and sets from the show. So, really, this book is the closest we as a society get to The Star Wars Holiday Special Episode II: Even More Wookies.

Holiday Special figures

Before the Holiday Special horrified its audience in 1978, plans were made by Kenner to create Chewie’s family as figures. Above is a salesman’s photo of prototypes for these figures. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at these things), none of these figures were ever actually produced. In the assortment above you see Chewie, older Chewie, short Chewie and Chewie with boobs.

These are essentially all the vintage items you can find pertaining to The Star Wars Holiday Special. There are also some issues of TV Guide with interior ads for the special, as well as some animatics of a possible toy based on the serpent Boba Fett rides in the Holiday Special’s animated sequence. However, when the Holiday Special tanked, almost all merchandising ideas were dropped as if they were radioactive.

(Recently, though, several toys with a connection to the Holiday Special have been released; click here to read about those.)

So let’s celebrate the 33rd anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special by watching a bootleg copy with lots of friends, lots of drinks, and let’s discover together what was considered terrible before the Star Wars prequels existed.

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2 Responses to “The Star Wars Holiday Special and its vintage merchandise”

  1. A 45″ single? Wow. That must’ve made Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida sound like a radio commercial jingle.

  2. ++rickl Love to see the turntable that spins that piece of vinyl.

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