Yes, Virginia, there was a Star Wars Holiday Special


The first 50 seconds are silent.

From Vanity Fair:

Wookiees and Bea Arthur? Luke Skywalker and Harvey Korman? Singing and dancing and storm troopers? If George Lucas had his way, no one would remember, but yes, Virginia, there was a Star Wars Holiday Special.

An advertisement for the special that appeared in TV Guide.

n the summer of 1978, Bruce Vilanch had a bad feeling about the Star Wars television special he’d been hired to write. A veteran of the comedy wars who has since written material for 16 Oscar telecasts and starred as the extra-large Edna Turnblad in the Broadway musical adaptation of John Waters’s Hairspray, Vilanch had just finished working on Bette Midler’s 1977 TV special, Ol’ Red Hair Is Back, for producers Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion when they threw him what sounded like a plum assignment: a spot on the writing team that would help George Lucas adapt more of the Star Wars saga for television.

A year had passed since the theatrical release of Lucas’s gee-whiz space epic, and in that time Star Wars had become the highest-grossing movie in history as well as a cultural phenomenon with its very own lexicon and mythology. With a sequel still two years away from theaters, Lucas had been sold on the idea that a Star Wars holiday television special—to be broadcast on CBS the weekend before Thanksgiving, when Nielsen audiences were plentiful—would sustain interest in the franchise, move more toys off the shelves, and maybe even pick up some new fans who hadn’t seen the movie.

Though Lucas would not be involved in the actual shooting of the special—Smith and Hemion would oversee that—he knew the tales he wanted to tell and planned to work with the show’s team of seasoned TV writers to develop his ideas into a viable script. For those who had been summoned, the prospect of collaborating with the father of the Force initially sounded like a sure bet. “We were really excited, because, ‘My God, this is an annuity—Star Wars!’” says Lenny Ripps, another writer who worked on the special. “How could it lose?”

But when Vilanch heard Lucas’s storyline at a development meeting at Smith and Hemion’s L.A. offices, he quickly realized that a “big challenge” lay ahead. Lucas was intent on building The Star Wars Holiday Special, as it would be called, around Wookiees—specifically, the family of Chewbacca, Han Solo’s shaggy sidekick, as they outwitted Imperial forces to come together on Life Day, the Wookiee equivalent of Christmas. Suddenly, Vilanch says, the special was in danger of looking like “one long episode of Lassie.”

“I said: ‘You’ve chosen to build a story around these characters who don’t speak. The only sound they make is like fat people having an orgasm,’” the 250-plus-pound Vilanch recalls. “In fact, I told Lucas he could just leave a tape recorder in my bedroom and I’d be happy to do all the looping and Foley work for him.”

Lucas met these comments with a “glacial” look. “This was his vision, and he could not be moved,” Vilanch says. “And of course Star Wars was so gigantic that he had been validated a hundred times over. So he had what a director needs to have, which is this insane belief in their personal vision, and he was somehow going to make it work.”

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