6 far-out facts about the wacky Star Wars Holiday Special

By: H&I Staff    Posted: November 20, 2019, 2:20PM

Image: The Everett Collection

Celebration, family, togetherness… Wookiees? If a big walking carpet doesn't get you in the holiday spirit, what will? 

That was sort of the idea behind CBS's ill-fated 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. The network brought the idea of a holiday variety special to Star Wars director George Lucas, hoping that a year out from the massive success of the first film, fans would be eager for more from their beloved characters: Luke, Leia, Han, R2-D2, C-3PO and Chewbacca. It was a big opportunity to bring a blockbuster film to the more accessible world of home television, and a way to whet the appetite of audiences before the release of sequel The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Lucas was reportedly not stoked about the idea, but offered up some inspiration and allowed the production to go forward.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Star Wars Holiday Special, which reunited most of the main cast — including Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels — was so poorly received by fans and critics, it remains a punchline today. It ranks No. 1 in the book What Were They Thinking?: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History by David Hofstede, and is practically disowned by Lucas and the cast.

Still, we sort of have a soft spot for the special, which is so unrelentingly cheesy in a way that can only be earnest. Here are some more facts about the Star Wars Holiday Special you might not remember. 


The special introduced us to Boba Fett.

Yes, believe it or not, the one lasting thing the Star Wars Holiday Special gave the world was the character Boba Fett. The Mandalorian bounty hunter technically made his first appearance in the 1978 San Anselmo Country Fair parade, but the special was his screen debut — and it was animated. The live-action character turned up in Empire and became one of the most beloved in Star Wars canon. In a way, the hit Disney+ streaming series The Mandalorian owes its existence to the Holiday Special… but more on that later. 

Image: Lucasfilm


George Lucas created Life Day.

The special has several smaller storylines, but the main plot focuses on Han Solo and Chewbacca visiting Chewbacca's home planet Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day, which is essentially a Wookiee mash-up of Thanksgiving and Christmas. George Lucas had almost nothing to do with the special, and does not receive a credit, but it was his idea to build the narrative around Chewbacca's family and the Life Day holiday. 

Image: 20th Century Fox Television


Bea Arthur, Art Carney and Jefferson Starship made cameos.

We're not sure how CBS convinced stars like Bea Arthur and Art Carney to show up (we assume the popularity of the Star Wars brand helped), but show up they did. Arthur played Ackmena and ran the Mos Eisley Cantina; Carney played a Kashyyyk trader named Saun Danns. Harvey Korman portrayed three characters (including a four-armed alien woman who's also a chef), while Jefferson Starship and Diahann Carroll performed some pretty trippy musical numbers. 

Image: Wookieepedia 


Princess Leia gets a musical number.

It probably made sense to the writers to give actress Carrie Fisher a triumphant musical performance to close out the show. Fisher was, after all, the daughter of crooner Eddie Fisher and Singin' in the Rain actress Debbie Reynolds. No offense to Carrie, who really gave it her all, but the weird transformation of the main Star Wars theme into a touching holiday sing-along proved a bit difficult to pull off. 

Image: 20th Century Fox Television


The cast still makes fun of it.

In a 2006 appearance on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Harrison Ford jokingly told the host that he had no memory of making the Star Wars Holiday Special and that it therefore "doesn't exist." Carrie Fisher said in several appearances that she enjoyed showing the special at parties, "mainly at the end of the night when I want people to leave." Mark Hamill said in a Reddit AMA that he "thought it was a mistake from the beginning" and that it was "unlike anything else in the Star Wars universe." But he keeps a good spirit about it, adding they should make an extra on the DVDs to "show how incredibly fallible we are!" 

Image: The Everett Collection


The Star Wars Holiday Special is back in the canon?

As we have made clear, the Holiday Special has been largely banished and erased from Star Wars lore by all involved. However! There are two significant references to it in the new series The Mandalorian. In an early scene, the titular bounty hunter brings in a blue alien (Horatio Sanz) who talks about celebrating Life Day. That's right! Life Day is back in the canon! To boot, "the Mando" carries around a nifle rifle — the same weapon carried by Boba Fett in the Holiday Special.

Image: Disney+