A Disturbance in the Force

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Allied Vaughn/Giant;
Documentary;
$22.49 DVD, $24.95 BD-R;
Not rated.
Features Seth Green, Paul Scheer, Kevin Smith, Bruce Vilanch, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Donny Osmond, Mick Garris, Taran Killam, Gilbert Gottfried, Kyle Newman.

As Star Wars exploded into a cultural phenomenon in the summer of 1977, there was great anticipation for the burgeoning franchise the film would spawn. But how the story would continue was anybody’s guess.

While George Lucas had begun to work on the sequel that would become The Empire Strikes Back, it was still years away, and the Hollywood marketing machine wouldn’t be satiated without something to maintain audience interest until then.

Amid an uptick in merchandise, and toys on the horizon, Lucas agreed to allow CBS to make a holiday special to air in the fall of 1978. The result is one of the most infamous misfires in television history — a disastrous, cheap-looking “Star Wars”-themed variety show that would have been a forgotten footnote of the franchise were it not immortalized on bootleg video after its single airing.

A Disturbance in the Force is a great documentary that explores the making of and legacy of the Star Wars Holiday Special, which was embraced by fans as the campy but fun underbelly of the franchise at one point before prequels and other spinoffs diluted some of the property’s credibility.

Directed by Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak, and produced by that duo alongside Fanboys director Kyle Newman, A Disturbance in the Force meticulously places the Star Wars Holiday Special in the context of its age through a fantastic selection of vintage clips. Television at the time was seen as disposable entertainment, dominated by variety shows that would maybe air once without much thought if they’d ever be seen again. The “Donny & Marie” show in September 1977 staged its own “Star Wars” episode that is now widely viewed as a notorious precursor to the Holiday Special, and is so wacky it has to be seen to be believed (it’s easy enough to track down on YouTube).

The Star Wars Holiday Special was originally intended as a one-hour one-off about Chewbacca’s family celebrating “Life Day,” an important event in the “Star Wars” galaxy. Lucas himself even wrote a treatment for the story, which he handed off to the production team before setting his sights on Empire.

Meanwhile, not wanting to let the popularity of “Star Wars” go to waste, CBS expanded the special to two hours, and applied a variety show format to round out the time, seemingly with Lucas’ blessing. The core “Star Wars” cast even signed up to appear (though Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill later lamenting their appearances is one of the highlights of the documentary).

But in an age where the gap between television and film was much greater than it is now, producing “Star Wars” on a TV budget proved to be a difficult proposition. The special’s original director quit, and the new director, a veteran of TV production, admits he never met Lucas while making the show. The guest cast, consisting primarily of Art Carney, Harvey Korman and Bea Arthur, while appealing to the older CBS audience, were a strange fit for the younger and hipper “Star Wars” crowd (all of Carney’s scenes reportedly had to be filmed in the morning, as he had a penchant for cocktails at lunch). And post-production was left up to a pair of variety show producers who had no experience in editing. The result is a textbook lesson in the importance of maintaining creative control of an IP.

The documentary employs a series of talking heads to discuss the special. A number of them worked on it and provide valuable insights into how the show went off the rails. Others are celebrities and “Star Wars” fans such as Kevin Smith, Seth Green, Paul Scheer and Patton Oswalt who reflect on the bizarreness of the segments, which ranged from 10 minutes of Wookiees going about their day without any dialogue, to Bea Arthur singing to the patrons of the cantina.

The special’s most outrageous bit is probably Chewbacca’s father watching what amounts to space porn in the family living room — in the form of a virtual reality chanteuse designed to stimulate his pleasure centers with a song and some proto-ASMR. The part of Grandpa’s lust object was intended to be played by Cher, but when she dropped out the production settled for Diahann Carroll instead.

For his part, Lucas reportedly once claimed to want to destroy all copies of the Holiday Special (which now also is readily available on YouTube), which is why it has never made its way to an official home video release.

Any bits of praise for the special are reserved for an animated segment that was commissioned by Lucas to introduce the character of Boba Fett. Called “The Story of the Faithful Wookiee,” this cartoon is the only part of the special to receive an official Lucasfilm release, appearing as an extra on some Blu-ray boxed sets of the films, and available on Disney+.

There’s also some discussions about how other aspects of the special eventually made their way into “Star Wars” canon, and how fans now celebrate Nov. 17, the day of the special’s airing, as “Life Day,” an unofficial holiday with elaborate ceremonies at the “Star Wars” lands at Disney theme parks.

With most of the attention focused on the making of and legacy of the special, the documentary glosses over the particulars of how it ended up being disseminated on bootleg video. Kevin Smith notes this was the era before widespread adoption of VCRs, but they did exist. The VHS and DVD copies that eventually found their way to fans through conventions, mail order, online and other underground means seem to be sourced from a number of different copies, and it would have been interesting to delve into where those came from. Some are edited, while others have all the original commercials, and the quality is usually degraded from being copied multiple times. The documentary only briefly touches on this aspect of the Holiday Special phenomenon in a segment that plays during the closing credits. Perhaps there was more to this that was cut from the documentary, but if there was the DVD and manufactured-on-demand Blu-ray don’t provide any answers as they don’t include any bonus materials.

All in all, the documentary is a must-see for “Star Wars” fans, and a fun look back at the early years of the franchise.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Animated;
Not rated.
Voices of Helen Sadler, Omar Benson Miller, Jake Green, Eric Bauza, A.J. LoCascio, Matt Sloan, Trevor Devall, Matt Lanter, Tom Kane, Matthew Wood, Dee Bradley Baker, James Arnold Taylor, Grey Griffin, Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams.

To say the “Star Wars” franchise hasn’t had the best of luck with holiday specials would be an understatement.

In 1978, a year and a half after the release of the first “Star Wars” film, CBS aired the original Star Wars Holiday Special for its one and only time Nov. 17. Seizing on the continued excitement surrounding the first movie and anticipation of a sequel, the special re-united the original cast, and was so notoriously awful, with cheap production values and a dreadful variety show format, that “Star Wars” creator George Lucas once wished for every copy to be burned.

In the ensuing years, it was distributed solely through bootleg VHS and DVD copies, shared from one fan to the next and achieving a certain cult status before the Internet made it more readily viewable for everyone.

The story involved Han, Luke, Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2 helping Chewbacca return to his home planet to be with his family for Life Day, the “Star Wars” equivalent of Christmas, while avoiding Darth Vader’s efforts to capture them. While a series of notable guest stars popped in for jaw-droppingly bad musical numbers, the special’s most significant claim to fame was an animated segment that served as the introduction of Boba Fett before his appearance in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.

While much of the special is no longer considered canonical, many elements from it have been reintroduced into “Star Wars” lore over the years, particularly and most recently through references in “The Mandalorian.”

Fans have certainly embraced the concept of Life Day, celebrated the unofficial “Star Wars” holiday every year on Nov. 17. Fittingly, then, and with a healthy sense of humor, Disney+ presented the franchise’s second holiday special on that very day, and this time the results are much more favorable.

Follow us on Instagram

Instead of repeating the mistake of the first special and presenting it as a sequel to the first movie, the new one uses the animation style and sensibilities of the “Lego Star Wars” world, making it more of an homage to “Star Wars” than a continuation of it. Filtering the special through the “Lego” lens gives “Star Wars” fans a chance to enjoy a lighthearted, yet still heartfelt, poke at their favorite franchise.

Picking up after the events of Rise of Skywalker, the story finds Rey doubting her ability to train a new generation of Jedi. While her friends prepare the Millennium Falcon to celebrate Life Day with Chewie’s family, Rey consults the ancient Jedi texts and learns of a temple that offers a key to the insight she seeks, but is accessible only once a year on the holiday. While the Life Day celebration begins to spin out of control, Rey journeys to the temple and finds the key opens a doorway through space and time, allowing her to visit significant moments in “Star Wars” history, a trip that descends into chaos when the characters of the various eras begin to interact.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special crams a lot of gags into its 44-minute running time, drawing inspiration from the entire 43-year history of the franchise and putting the characters in fun but absurd situations that, because its Lego, doesn’t detract from actual canon.

It has all the “anything goes” feeling of kids playing with their “Star Wars” toys waiting for Christmas dinner, and with letting imagination run wild definitely makes for a winning combination.

Disney+ Presenting ‘The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special’

Disney+ is embracing the holiday traditions of a galaxy far, far away. Tuesday, Nov. 17, the streaming service will debut The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special, a new animated adventure featuring a return to Chewbacca’s homeworld of Kashyyyk for a Wookiee-sized celebration of the galaxy’s most cheerful and magical holiday, Life Day.

The show harkens back to the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, a cheaply made variety show framed by the attempts of Chewbacca to return to his family to celebrate Life Day. It was released a year after the original “Star Wars” movie dominated theaters and is probably best known today for introducing the character of Boba Fett before his appearance in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.

The new special will debut 42 years to the day after the lone official airing of the original Star Wars Holiday Special on CBS.

The holiday celebrated in the special, Life Day, the “Star Wars” galaxy’s equivalent of Christmas and Hanukkah, has been embraced by fans and is marked each year on Nov. 17 with ceremonies involving bringing glowing orbs to the “Tree of Life.”

Follow us on Instagram!

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special

Taking place following the events of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special reunites Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewie, Rose and the droids for a joyous Life Day feast. Rey leaves her friends to prepare for Life Day as she sets off on a new adventure with BB-8 to gain a deeper knowledge of the Force. At a mysterious Jedi Temple, she is hurled into a cross-timeline adventure through beloved moments in Star Wars cinematic history, coming into contact with Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Yoda, Obi-Wan and other iconic heroes and villains from all nine Skywalker saga films.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The latest collaboration between Lucasfilm and Lego, which have produced several “Star Wars” Lego animations before, marks the first “Lego Star Wars” program to debut exclusively on Disney+.

Merchandise tie-ins with the new Holiday Special include a “Lego Star Wars” advent calendar available Sept. 1, designed in tandem with the new show and featuring holiday-themed characters from it. Also available will be a tie-in sticker book from DK.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special