Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Review: 'A Disturbance in the Force: How and Why the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened'

For years, it seemed like some sort of weird dream. Yet I could remember every detail of staying up late at the age of four at my grandmother's house to watch the first piece of Star Wars visual entertainment since Star Wars. I could remember sitting right in front of the screen in a wood paneled den and the names of every member of Chewbacca's family and their UFO-shaped house in the trees and dozing off while struggling to remain awake and the creepy sensation of listening to Princess Leia sing that gross song. If my grandma and I hadn't spent the next few years laughing over the names "Lumpy" and "Itchy," I might have concluded that none of it had really happened, because there was no Internet to remind us that The Star Wars Holiday Special really did air on November 17, 1978, on CBS. George Lucas certainly wasn't going to remind us. 

Now remembered as the most heinous mistake ever made in the name of Star Wars, the infamous Holiday Special eventually slipped past Lucas's embargo to surface on bootleg VHS tapes, and it can now be enjoyed by anyone with YouTube access. Who would have thought that it would one day be easier to watch the Holiday Special than the theatrical version of Star Wars that caused millions to fall in love with the franchise? What a world we live in.

And, really, why would anyone but the most humorless basement dweller want to live in a world without The Star Wars Holiday Special? Where else can you see Boba Fett's debut as a duplicitous cartoon character? Where else can you see Mark Hamill with a year's supply of free Mary Kay samples caked on his face? Where else can you see Bea Arthur do an arhythmic two-step with Walrus Man? Where else can you see Chewbacca's dad get off to proto-Internet porn? Where else can you see the worst of seventies variety TV collide with the best of seventies blockbuster entertainment? Honestly, if you can't find any pleasure in at least knowing this travesty exists, you might not be worth knowing. And I'd rather watch The Star Wars Holiday Special than The Phantom Menace any day.

Would Steve Kozak? Considering that the network-television veteran both made a documentary and wrote a book about this topic, I'd like to think he would. He certainly affords it unprecedented attention in A Disturbance in the Force: How and Why the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened

Kozak also wastes no time in defining the thing that he believes motivated Lucas to plunge his precious space baby in the tacky waters of seventies variety TV: spite. That shouldn't be too much of a revelation since Lucas has always seemed to consume heaping bowlfuls of spite as if they were the breakfast of champions. It's certainly why we're not allowed to legally watch a high-quality copy of the theatrical version of Star Wars anymore. 

The ins and outs of this spite tale are fascinating. The object of Lucas's ire was a Warner Bros executive who not only demanded that the director's first film, THX-1138, be edited drastically but also attempted to get Lucas to agree to a rerelease of that film in the midst of Star Wars' success by arguing that the current phenomenon would fade from the public's consciousness as quickly as it took command. Lucas believed that the Holiday Special would prolong interest in Star Wars and prove that guy from WB wrong. Whoops!

There are also a lot of non-theoretical genuine revelations in A Disturbance in the Force, because Kozak leaves no asteroid unturned while exploring what you might assume to be a limited topic. It ain't! This is not only the story of how one guy's grudge begat a deathless nugget of televisual poop. It's also a tale of hazardous video shoots, drug-related chaos, unfettered merchandising, unstable leadership, stormtroopers suffering panic attacks, and--almost-- human/wookiee interspecies marriage. We learn everything there is to know about the unveiling of Boba Fett, what Bea Arthur and Jim Morrison have in common, why Hamill is so excessively made up, and why Grace Slick was a no-show during Jefferson Starship's horrid performance (drugs!), her reaction to that performance after Kozak asks her to watch it (bad!), and the role for which she was originally considered (proto-Internet porn!). A photo of Darth Vader choking the author of "White Rabbit" makes A Disturbance in the Force a true must-read for hardcore fans of Star Wars and Grace Slick. 

Speaking as such a fan, I'm as grateful that a book as entertaining, thorough, and weird as A Disturbance in the Force exists as I am that The Star Wars Holiday Special does. I'd much rather read it than the novelization of The Phantom Menace.

[Disclosure: A Disturbance in the Force was published by Rowman & Littlefield, which is also the publisher of my books The Who FAQ and 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute.]

All written content of is the property of Mike Segretto and may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.