New documentary unravels origins of bizarre Star Wars holiday special

The documentary features interviews and insights from celebrity fans, including musician Weird Al Yankovic, director Kevin Smith and actor Seth Green.
Posted at 4:47 PM, Nov 23, 2023

A long time ago, on TV sets far, far away, Star Wars got weird.

Described as "completely mental" and "the definition of cringe-worthy", the infamous two-hour Star Wars Holiday Special aired on CBS in 1978. It was an odd mashup: part Star Wars, part 1970's variety show.

Think "Golden Girls" actor Bea Arthur in the Star Wars cantina, singing to a giant alien rat. Long sections of the special have no dialogue, just the grunts and growls of Wookiees. Star Wars stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford reprise their movie roles, looking absolutely miserable.

Now, a new documentary called "A Disturbance in the Force" explores how the bizarre special came to be, featuring interviews with celebrity fans and the people who brought it to life.

"We got really excited," says holiday special writer Lenny Rips in the documentary. "We thought this was going to be our annuity, that this holiday show would run every year for an eternity."

While it did feature the first-ever animated appearance of bounty hunter Boba Fett, the special was considered so bad that it was permanently shelved and never seen on TV again.

"A Disturbance in the Force" is directed and produced by Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak. Producer Kyle Newman says the team wanted to explore the origins of the holiday special in a way that didn't entirely ridicule it.

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"There's no judgment in it. No one's trying to say, 'This person ruined someone's life because the holiday special existed.' It's just, this happened. People spent money. CBS put it out. They were trying to make a perennial holiday special. It didn't work," Newman says. "It's really a look at an undocumented time, Lucasfilm's history and Star Wars' history. When it was the Wild West."

The documentary features interviews and insights from celebrity fans, including musician Weird Al Yankovic, director Kevin Smith, and actor Seth Green.

Star Wars creator George Lucas, it turns out, okayed the holiday special along with appearances on other variety shows like Donnie and Marie.

"I'm thinking, how in the world is George Lucas allowing this to happen?" said host Donnie Osmond.

George Lucas wanted, the documentary argues, to keep Star Wars' fans happy and engaged for two more years until the next movie hit theaters, 1980's "The Empire Strikes Back."

Lucas once said he wanted to destroy every copy of the holiday special. Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford have disowned it too.

"They've really promised George they won't talk about it," Newman says. "They'll talk about how they can't talk about it, but they don't talk about it."

Newman also hopes the documentary will help open the door to an official re-release of the special. After all, Lucasfilm and Disney have embraced the special's fictional holiday called Life Day. Hasbro sells a Chewbacca action figure wearing the traditional red Life Day robe.

"Stranger things have happened," said Newman.

"A Disturbance in the Force" is in theaters now and on DVD and digital December 5.

As for the original 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, that can only be found somewhere in the distant YouTube galaxy.