Star Wars Holiday Special: The best epic fail ever

Star Wars Holiday Special: The best epic fail ever
The best epic fail... ever

There's failure, and then there's epic failure.

Take the failure of 2011's Green Lantern, for example. While the movie managed to lose millions of dollars, no one was mentally scarred watching Ryan Reynolds in a pair of green tights, and a few critics even gave it a wary thumbs up. It's a failure, but not an epic one. In order for a movie to fail epically, it needs to be apparent that the creators gave it their all, and not only did they fall short, but their best efforts are now destined to be fodder for laughter.

Arguably, the greatest epic fail in pop-culture history fell from a greater height. It came crashing down, in fact, with a star-studded cast from a galaxy far, far away. Yes, we're talking about the Star Wars Holiday Special.

The plot of this fully-sanctioned film -- which officially aired only once on November 17, 1978 -- is deceptively simple. Han Solo and Chewbacca race to Chewbacca's home planet for Life Day, a generic Wookiee holiday that feels conveniently like Christmas. After our two heroes explain their mission while evading Storm Troopers in the Millennium Falcon, viewers are transported planet-side and introduced to Chewbacca's never-before-seen family: his wife Malla, his son Lumpy, and his elderly-father, Itchy. For 10 mystifying minutes, this hairy trio tromps through an Astroturf-covered tree house, bellows at each other in Wookiee speak, and mimes a sense of sadness over Chewbacca's absence. Malla wears an apron and, perhaps most disturbingly, lipstick, to show that even aliens can aspire to WASPish ideals.

Just when you're starting to wonder if the entire show will be pantomimed, Art Carney bursts through the door in the form of friendly trader Saun Dann, bringing both the English language and seasonal gifts to the household. This is when things start to normalize.

Just kidding! This is where Grandpa Itchy gleefully straps on a holographic visor, and proceeds to watch a porn given to him by Saun. The erotic vision, which viewers watch along with Itchy, is of Diahann Carroll (an actress who broke ground in 1969 as one of the first African-American women to be nominated for an Emmy for her starring role in Julia). During this segment, you may find yourself wondering why a Wookiee is turned on by a human talking dirty to him, or pondering if the racial climate of the '70s made it more appropriate for a black actress to be ogled by a lecherous other-species geriatric. You might also find yourself worried that young Lumpy might wander upon his moaning grandfather -- which is entirely possible as this all occurs in the middle of the living room. 

Take a drink, because you're only about 15 minutes into an hour and a half show.

Epic failure transcends itself, however, and those who enjoy a good train wreck will be belly laughing at the grossly mishandled story and the highly qualified performers who take part in it. Those who aren't laughing should probably give up before they see Bea Arthur fend off the advances of an amorous alien on Tatooine, and sing the clients of a desert-cantina off into the night. Or before the truly bizarre appearance of Jefferson Starship. Or the inexplicable Boba Fett cartoon interlude.

Those who embrace the madness will see Han Solo and Chewbacca kill a Storm Trooper in the true spirit of the season. Once that's done, they reunite with the Wookiee family and head off to the great Tree of Life, where they meet Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. Carrie Fischer takes up the task of belting out the theme song for the Holiday Special while grasping onto Chewbacca and rubbing her face in his fur. One can only guess why Fischer decided that petting Chewbacca was appropriate, but given her known drug use at the time, you can make some educated guesses as to her state of mind. It's a fitting end to the show.

"If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it," George Lucas once said at an Australian convention. After that first showing in 1978, the special  was never allowed to officially see the light of day again. But Lucas can't smash the internet, and once his greatest regret was set loose on the web, it was immortalized by a growing fan base. In Minneapolis, a cohort gathers at Bryant-Lake Bowl each year to celebrate and laugh at the most epic of epic fails. Put on by Cinematallica and the 501st Legion, you can chortle and wince at this show tonight.


The Star Wars Holiday Special
Bryant-Lake Bowl
7 and 10 p.m.  Wednesday (tonight!)
For admittance, donate an unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots, and may the force be with you.

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Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater

810 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55408


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