Way back in 1978, the only “Star Wars” movie that anyone had ever seen was “Star Wars IV: A New Hope”, which had been released in 1977. But the public hungered for more and, at the time, the release of the next movie installment (“Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back”) was still 2 years away.
According to an article that was published in the Sept.-Oct. 1980 issue #42 of the magazine “Mediascene Preview”, George Lucas and Charles Lippencott (the then head of marketing at the now defunct “Star Wars Corporation”) were approached by CBS Television about doing a “Star Wars” TV special (though there is some dispute about this).
Nonetheless, George Lucas had imagined an un-subtitled “film just about Wookiees, nothing else,” around a family of Wookiees and their celebration of Life Day, when he was outlining “Star Wars”. This concept became the basis for the “Holiday Special” and the man hired to write the special was writer Bruce Vilanch, whose prior experience was predominantly with writing variety TV shows, including the “Donny and Marie” show, “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour”, “The Barry Manilow Special”, “The Paul Lynde Halloween Special” and “The Bette Midler Show” (a TV special).
This above list is rather important in connecting some dots:
- Among the episodes of “Donny and Marie” that Bruce Vilanch wrote for was the first episode of season 3, which aired on Sept. 23, 1977.
- Ep. 1 of season 3 of “Donny and Marie” was the episode that was essentially a series of “Star Wars” variety show musical skits strung together as a single story.
- The episode featured Kris Kristofferson (as Han Solo), Redd Foxx, Paul Lynde (as an Imperial Officer), Anthony Daniels (as C-3PO) and Peter Mayhew (as Chewbacca) as the guests. Thurl Ravenscroft voiced Darth Vader in the skits and acted as the narrator.
Bruce Vilanch wasn’t the only writer brought in for the “Star Wars Holiday Special”. Four other writers were also involved:
- Rod Warren (who also wrote for the “Donny and Marie” show, including the same “Star Wars” themed episode that Bruce Vilanch helped to write, as well as an episode of “Redd Foxx”)
- Pat Proft (who’s credits include previously writing 4 episodes of “The Carol Burnett Show” and 1 episode of “Redd Foxx”)
- Leonard Ripps (who had previously worked on an episode of “Redd Foxx”)
- Mitzie Welch (who’s credits include writing musical numbers for “The Carol Burnett Show”).
What about actors who appeared in the “Holiday Special”? First, all of them had extensive experience acting on various shows that appeared on CBS Television.
- Harvey Korman was a regular on the “The Carol Burnett Show”. Thus, he had worked with both Pat Proft and Mitzie Welch.
- Art Carney had previously appeared twice on “The Carol Burnett Show”.
- Diahann Carroll had also previously appeared twice on “The Carol Burnett Show”. She had worked with Miztie Welch on the second appearance.
- Bea Arthur‘s long-running sitcom “Maude” had ended earlier that year in 1978. She had also had a lot of previous experience on other variety comedy TV shows.
Now, for anyone who hasn’t seen the “Star Wars Holiday Special”, it can best be described as the un-subtitled Wookie story as originally envisioned by George Lucas combined with various variety-show-esque musical skits.
The “Star Wars Holiday Special” was ever only aired once on Nov. 17, 1978 and the reviews and fan response were very bad. In fact, it’s current rating on IMDb is 2.3 out of 10 stars. Consequently, it was never been released on disk and George Lucas (who isn’t in the credits) prefers to not discuss it. Copies only exist in bootleg form.
As poorly received as it was (and most people who watch it don’t like it), a few things that were introduced in the “Holiday Special” have become part of “Star Wars” canon:
- Boba Fett (though he was only shown in animated form), who appeared in the next 2 movies (“Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back” and “Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi”).
- The Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk and its architecture. (This wouldn’t be seen again until “Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith”).
Thus, even though the “Holiday Special” is mostly despised, parts of it live on in the “Star War” canon.
- The Star Wars Corporation
- The Star Wars Holiday Special Article on Wikipedia
- Writer Bruce Vilanch
- Writer Rod Warren
- Writer Pat Proft
- Writer Leonard Ripps
- Writer Mitzie Welch
- The Carol Burnett Show (Wikipedia Article)
- Harvey Korman
- Art Carney
- Diahann Carroll
- Bea Arthur
- “Donny and Marie” Show
- “Donny and Marie”, Season 3, Episode 1