Twas the night before Christmas
and all across the site
A reviewer was asking
“this is a joke, right?”
Well, it’s Christmas Eve. By this point, everyone who celebrates is settling in, winding down, and getting ready to enjoy some seasonal fare.
Since Thanksgiving, I knew I wanted to do a writeup on a particular holiday special. I went over a few good options (two other runners up I almost went with here were Moral Orel‘s ‘The Best Christmas Ever’ and The Twilight Zone‘s ‘Night of the Meek’), but then something happened.
The Star Wars Episode VII teaser hit the web, with a wave of excitement/complaints to follow. In light of this, I knew it was time to dust this little monster off so people could take it in its proper context and realize, as Star Wars goes, VII isn’t shaping up too badly.
Also, as one of the ultimate ‘everyone has had a turn at it’ examples of bad television, I rather liked the challenge of trying to find something else to say. I can’t guarantee it will be completely new, but I’ve at least made an effort.
The story to this, such as it is, is relatively well known to anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the special. It helps that there’s really not much to it – in the SW universe, they’re coming up on their Winter holiday equivalent known as Life Day, and Han is desperately trying to get Chewbacca back to his family in time. Meanwhile, Chewie’s family is subjected to a passive aggressive version of Funny Games care of an Imperial team occupying their house.
And celebrity guest stars. Lots of them. Many of whom they didn’t even bother trying to justify.
Which is part of the biggest problem with this special. For all the many, many faults it has, the biggest is the fact that it really doesn’t hold itself together well. That story I mentioned above? You can get maybe a half hour out of it. Meanwhile, this was scheduled for a two hour block of time. Even dropping ads, it’s over ninety minutes.
So a lot of this is padding and desperate playing for time, only some of which works.
In fact, I’ll just get the pros out of the way now since it’s a short list anyway. For starters, I have to give shoutouts to Mark Hamill, Art Carney, and Bea Arthur on this one. I can’t necessarily say they do great work here. They do, however, at least make an effort, which says a lot compared to the rest of the cast who are varying degrees of tuned out (in Harrison Ford’s case, to comical effect).
Incidentally, bonus points to Carney: with this, he can now say he’s been in both one of the best and one of the worst holiday specials put to the screen.
About the one other thing I can say counts as a plus on this is the mid-point animated sidestory. Even that’s not particularly good, but it at least feels a bit more like the Star Wars everyone came to love, albeit run through a Heavy Metal filter.
Okay, back to the griping.
This is a special that really needed to be shorter, or completely rewritten. As it is, there are prolonged segments spent on musical numbers (by the likes of Diahan Caroll and Jefferson Starship) and comedy sketches that often painfully misfire, most painfully when misusing the legendary Harvey Korman. I’d almost argue there’s a ‘Phantom Edit’ equivalent to be made of this, but the fact is, the center story isn’t really worth trying to pare down anyway.
Especially given the main players of this center story don’t really speak so much as they growl and wail at one another. So there’s weird stretches of this movie that aren’t so much dialogue as weird people in suits jabbering at each other. If it weren’t for the prologue clip with Han and Chewie, this would be a very weird experiment in arthouse that danced between the unsettling realms of Eraserhead and Trash Humpers.
…God, I just compared this special to Trash Humpers. See what this does to people?
The other big problem with this: just watching it, you can tell no one really seemed to feel this was worth doing. It’s a very half-hearted production and it shows on almost EVERY level. The cast, outside of the above three mentioned, are completely checked out, the set design is cut-corners as Hell (several scenes are cheap matte paintings), and half the effects in this movie are just recycled shots from the original movie, putting this on the production level of Space Mutiny, minus the explanation that the director was absent for good reason there.
One other thing I took from this rewatch that I had forgotten going in, however – there’s a lot of unintentionally creepy elements to this special. I won’t go too much into the ‘Chewie’s father watches porn’ thing, since that’s been joked about to death. Plus, that’s really only the tip of the iceberg.
Along the same lines, we have Carney’s character expecting a kiss from Chewbacca’s wife (it’s on the cheek, but still, she’s a Wookiee and she’s married – what the Hell, dude?) and just the entirety of the Empire’s involvement in this.
This special in general has a hard time feeling like it’s actually set in the Star Wars universe, and the Empire is no exception to this rule. This was made the year after the first movie came out. At this point, people knew the Empire for murdering Jawas, killing Owen and Beru and leaving their skeletons to burn, and blowing up the peaceful planet of Alderaan. None of these targets really knew they were on the Imperial hit lists, but it happened.
By comparison, Chewie’s family is given a LOT of slack for the amount of defiance they show. I mean, maybe I’m just a cynical monster, but watching this pan out, I found myself wondering just why the Empire didn’t decide to at least kill Chewie’s father to make an example of.
Then we have the ending. Again, I know it’s the Empire and they’re evil. At the same time, how many holiday specials can you think of that end in covering up a murder? Cause I’m coming up pretty light here.
I realize this is kind of a rambling review, but to be fair, it’s a rambling special. Which is weird since I remembered this being boring. Parts of it still are, but there’s also a lot of parts of this that just come across as really either awkward, uncomfortable, or downright creepy to look at later.
To be perfectly honest, I won’t agree with the people who say to avoid this at all cost. If any of this has you curious enough, feel free to track it down; it’s public domain anyway. Really, this isn’t one you can just trust to second hand accounts. It’s that special sort of wreck that has to be seen for itself.
Wow. That was longer than I planned.
Sorry about that. This really is just a lot to unravel.
In the meantime, a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukkah, a Happy Kwanzaa, or Hell just an Orgytastic Saturnine to all you fine readers out there. I promise, the next piece reviewed here will be of better quality than this.
…okay, fine. Happy Life Day too. There. Happy?
-The animated segment, while still largely a miss, at least feels more like Star Wars than a lot of this mess
-Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Mark Hamill make a decent effort here. It doesn’t always land, but they’re trying. In fact, they’re prettymuch all that’s keeping this from a 0.5.
-30 minutes of story stretched over 90 makes for an agonizing march
-Large quantities of plot devoted to people in Wookiee costumes just grunting at each other
-The amount of cut budget corners has me wondering how much this cost and how much of that money was subsequently pocketed