How Star Wars Redeemed the 1978 Holiday Special
Although it's not available to watch on Disney+, The Star Wars Holiday Special lives on in other ways.
Not only did the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special delight MCU fans but it brought back the slightly foggy memory of the original inspiration: the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, a controversial TV oddity most fans of the galaxy far, far away would sooner like to forget. Yet, curiously, while The Star Wars Holiday Special is rarely anyone’s favorite, modern creators have spent years reincorporating many of its ideas and lore into Star Wars canon in ways that are beloved by fans today.
While the special itself is no longer part of official Star Wars continuity, and it’s not even available on Disney+, many elements from the TV film can now be found on modern shows like The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett as well as in the pages of the canon books and comics. Here are all the ways Star Wars has continued to revisit the Holiday Special over the past few decades, and how it’s even redeemed some of its best ideas…
The Star Wars Holiday Special first introduced audiences to the ragtag group of Wookiees that make up Chewbacca’s family. But Malla (Chewie’s wife), Itchy (his father), and Lumpy (his son) became sensations for all the wrong reasons, derided often by fans for their slapstick nature and very questionable costuming (Lumpy looks terrifying). That they’re central to the story’s plot certainly didn’t help the special. While these characters remained dormant for years after their debut, the now-non canon Legends continuity did bring them back from time to time in small roles in the books, such as after Chewie’s death in The New Jedi Order series.
After Disney rebooted the canon in 2012, it had the opportunity to completely erase this trio of Wookiees from existence, but recent releases have actually ensured that the full group are once again members of Chewie’s family tree. Now formally known by their full names — Mallatobuck, Attichitcuk, and Lumpawaroo — these Wookiees caused a stir when they were referenced in Solo: A Star Wars Story, but it wasn’t until the release of the canon books Aftermath: Empire’s End and Life Day Treasury that they officially appeared in the flesh. These stories confirm that they continue to be a loving and caring support unit for Chewbacca and the reason he keeps on fighting for a peaceful galaxy.
One of the Holiday Special‘s biggest additions to the fledgling Star Wars saga was the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk, a forest planet populated by massive trees on which Chewbacca and his people built whole cities. It’s a novel concept that fleshed out the Wookiee culture’s deep connection to nature, but the budget constraints of the special meant TV director Steve Binder couldn’t really capture the visual marvel of this setting. Instead, Kashyyyk was largely explored through the Lumpy and Itchy shenanigans going on inside Chewie’s house, which again, didn’t help matters. Regardless, the name, concept, and aesthetic of the luscious forest world, and the Tree of Life at the heart of the planet, became key elements of the planet’s later appearances in the saga.
Fast-forward to the canon timeline and Kashyyyk has become an even bigger part of the galaxy far, far away. The planet was fully realized on the big screen in Revenge of the Sith as the site of one of the film’s big battle sequences, and has since appeared in many books and comics as well as the video game Jedi: Fallen Order, which allows players to explore the planet like never before. Despite its humble beginnings, Kashyyyk is now one of the most iconic planets in the galaxy.
Boba Fett was always destined to appear as one of The Empire Strikes Back‘s new and exciting rogues, but The Star Wars Holiday Special, released two years earlier, gave Lucasfilm an opportunity to get fans excited about the character before the arrival of the movie sequel. The result was the special’s animated segment, “The Story of the Faithful Wookiee,” in which Luke, Han, and Chewie meet Boba Fett for the first time. This is the cartoon that established Boba as a cunning bounty hunter, as he first pretends to befriend the heroes and later double crosses them. It’s here that we also learn that he’s an agent of the Empire, something that would be explored in more detail in the movie. And if you’ve ever wondered where that shot of Boba riding the dino-like ichthyodont came from, that’s from “Faithful Wookiee.”
This animated sequence is perhaps the best part of the special, although it has since been wiped from canon with the rest of the TV film. Of course, that didn’t stop Boba Fett from becoming one of the most instantly recognizable characters of all time, although most fans are more likely to credit that to his role in Empire than the Holiday Special. But when you dig into all the other bits of lore and iconography from the “Faithful Wookiee” that later made it into other parts of Star Wars canon, it’s impossible to ignore this cartoon’s impact…
Death Watch Design
Intriguingly, Boba Fett’s initial design in The Holiday Special is not the final look that’s seen throughout the rest of the Star Wars saga. While the general feel of the Mandalorian armor is the same, the shape of the helmet is a lot longer upon the face, which is emphasized by Nelvana’s animation style. The colors chosen are also not the iconic greens and browns but instead a shade of blue that feels as if it might have played into the choices made for Jango Fett down the line.
What’s most notable though is that the helmet design and choice of colors can be seen again in The Clone Wars animated series. There are clear visual parallels between the costuming of the Death Watch group of Mandalorians and that initial Boba Fett debut. Today, that inspiration lives on in Katee Sackhoff’s Bo-Katan Kryze, a former member of Death Watch whose armor brings back the blues and browns Boba’s original look, this time in live action.
Amban Phase-pulse Blaster
The final area of note from the “Faithful Wookiee” concerns Boba Fett’s weapon of choice in the cartoon. He’s armed with the Amban Phase-pulse Blaster, a rifle that wasn’t seen again in Fett’s armory in The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, it wasn’t seen again on screen until it was brought back in The Mandalorian, with Din Dijarin using the exact same weapon to dispatch his enemies during his own bounty hunting adventures. No longer a piece of minutiae from the old days of Star Wars canon, it’s front and center in one of the most popular Star Wars stories ever released. These days, you can even buy a NERF version of the rifle.
The Star Wars Holiday Special needed its own holiday for the characters to celebrate. Earth doesn’t exist in the galaxy far, far away, so Christmas wasn’t an option. Thus, the Wookiee holiday of Life Day was born, a celebration of family and harmony at the foot of the Tree of Life. It’s a festivity that the rest of the galaxy later adopted after the fall of the Empire. But with the loss of the Holiday Special, Life Day also disappeared for a time.
The appeal of such a joyous occasion couldn’t stay gone for long, though. In terms of the canon timeline, a Star Wars Adventures comic from 2020 finally brought the holiday back to Star Wars continuity. But even before that, Star Wars fandom had already adopted “Life Day” as their own unofficial holiday to be celebrated on Nov. 17 of each year, the date on which The Star Wars Holiday Special first aired. It’s now very common to see fans saying “Happy Life Day” to each other on social media during the holiday season.
Chalmun’s Cantina in Mos Eisley is one of the most iconic locations in Star Wars history. The Tatooine spot made its debut in A New Hope and returned in the special. Ackmena (played by the legendary Bea Arthur) was introduced to audiences as one of the cantina’s bartenders, even treating regulars to a “Closing Time”-style song, accompanied by the famous Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes band. The tune is…certainly memorable.
Ackmena might be one of the reasons we don’t talk about the Holiday Special anymore, but just like so many other elements from the TV films, she also made a surprising return. Two short stories in the recent short story collection Star Wars From a Certain Point of View — “We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here” and “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” — both feature a bartender named Ackmena. Not only does this nod to the original incarnation but the character is fleshed out further with a second, slightly nefarious side-hustle: conning the locals.
The Mind Evaporator
The less said about the Mind Evaporator, the better. Also known as the Proton Chair, the Evaporator was essentially a VR device that in the context of Legends was used by Itchy to train for combat and, in the weirdest of scenarios, to watch the performance of holographic singer and dancer Mermeia (Diahann Carroll). It’s a creepy moment from the special that’s best left forgotten.
But the Mind Evaporator has been returned to canon since. In the official canon book Star Wars: Complete Vehicles, the Mind Evaporator is mentioned as a device used by Attichitcuk to work on his throwing skills for battle. His Mermeia search history has been mercifully erased from the archives.
The Star Wars Holiday Special actually featured another example of entertainment commonly associated with the festive period: a cooking show. The character Mallatobuck tunes into Gormaanda’s (Harvey Korman) holovid to put together a feast for the family. The scene brings in to question what anyone who worked on the project was thinking, with the erratic chef producing a concoction of foods in a… rambunctious way undoubtedly meant to poke fun at Julia Child.
Believe it or not, Gormaanda remains a significant cooking celebrity in the current canon galaxy, and was reintroduced in the story “A Recipe for Death” in the collection Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens: Volume I. In a fun twist, Gormaanda’s name is now been attributed to recipes in themed cookbooks including those based on Life Day and Batuu, the colorful setting of Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge theme parks.
The Move to Animation
As you might have guessed, The Star Wars Holiday Special introduced animation to the galaxy far, far away. Animation studio Nelvana would go on to further expand the Star Wars saga in cartoon form with the shows Droids and Ewoks. Then, in 2003, George Lucas tasked Genndy Tartakovsky and Cartoon Network to create an animated series based on the Clone Wars. The result was the critically-acclaimed microseries Clone Wars, which took a similar short form approach to telling Star Wars tales as “Faithful Wookiee” did.
In current Star Wars canon, animation plays an even bigger part in terms of exploring the galaxy beyond what’s in the movies, with shows like The Clone Wars, Rebels, The Bad Batch, and Tales of the Jedi introducing new characters and planets that now also inform the live-action series on Disney+. Love Ahsoka Tano and Bo-Katan Kryze on The Mandalorian? They’re originally from The Clone Wars! Dave Filoni, the creative powerhouse behind those hits is a massive fan of Star Wars history, so it’s no coincidence that the animation side of Lucasfilm has essentially been built up from the notion of what could have been from that first short film.
The Vintage Collection on Disney+ and the Future of the Holiday Special
While The Star Wars Holiday Special as a whole isn’t currently available to watch on Disney’s streaming service, there is a way to experience a small piece of it this Christmas. In 2021, Disney launched “The Vintage Collection” on the service, where fans can finally stream classic animated adventures like Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars, Ewoks, and Droids, as well as the live-action Ewok movies Caravan of Courage and The Battle for Endor. Also included in the collection is “The Story of the Faithful Wookiee,” so that new fans can finally watch this vital piece of Star Wars history.
Does this mean that The Star Wars Holiday Special may one day arrive in full on the service? Well, not if Lucasfilm wants to honor the wishes of George Lucas, who never released the TV film in any other format after its original airing on CBS, and famously said he’d like to smash every copy of the special with a sledgehammer.
Of course, not everyone working on Star Wars today feels the same way Lucas does. Jon Favreau, who oversees The Mandalorian and its spinoffs for Disney, has said that the Holiday Special was a major influence on the live-action series. He loves the original so much he’d even sign on to make a new special: “Oh I would definitely be interested in doing a holiday special,” Favreau told Variety in 2019. “I’ve been thinking about it. It’s ready, the ideas are ready. I think it could be really fun.”
Sounds great. Just please, no Lumpy.