'The Star Wars Holiday Special' was a disaster. This new film examines why

The Star Wars Holiday Special
The Star Wars Holiday Special (Image credit: Lucasfilm/CBS)

In 1978, there was a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of "Star Wars" fans suddenly cried out in terror and changed the channel.

In the annals of network broadcast television few programs have withstood the teasing, ridicule and criticism of "The Star Wars Holiday Special," that infamous 1978 show that featured several "Star Wars" stars showcased in a silly program set on the Wookie homeworld meant to keep George Lucas's smash space fantasy on people's minds until "The Empire Strikes Back" arrived two years later.

But aside from the goofy family dynamics of Chewbacca and his Kashyyyk clan as they joyfully prepared for Life Day amid a handful of aging TV stars like Bea Arthur, Harvey Norman and Art Carney tossed into the mix, it's also remembered as the first appearance of the fan-favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett, seen here in animated form helping Han and Chewie on a dangerous mission.

Related: Star Wars movies in order: Chronological and release

A Disturbance in the Force: How and Why the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened

A Disturbance in the Force: How and Why the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened: $24.95 from Amazon

This hardback book is full of humorous anecdotes about the making of the worst Star Wars spinoff in the galaxy, featuring extensive new interviews with people involved in the Star Wars Holiday Special's production.

Cover for "A Disturbance in the Force" (Image credit: Applause)

To help document the disaster that was "The Star Wars Holiday Special," author Steve Kozak's 288-page tell-all book, "A Disturbance In The Force: The How and Why the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened," was just published on Nov. 15. It examines the making of the two-hour fiasco and arrives alongside a new behind-the-scenes documentary coming to Blu-ray on Dec. 5. Directed by Jeremy Coons and Steve Kozak, the humorous film debuted this past spring at Austin's SXSW Film Festival.

This entertaining title peels back the layers of the disco-era production to return readers to that weird decade when variety shows like "The Donny and Marie Show" and "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" abounded. Its chapters are packed with fun anecdotes and interviews with key persons associated with this ill-fated offering.

Here's the official synopsis:

"Bea Arthur as owner of Mos Eisley Cantina. Long scenes entirely of Wookies bleating at each other, without subtitles. Harvey Korman, in drag, as a four-armed Space Julia Child. Six minutes of Jefferson Starship performing for Art Carney and a bored Imperial Guard. Mark Hamill, fresh from his near-fatal motorcycle accident, slathered in pancake makeup. A salacious holographic burlesque from Diahann Carroll.

"Even by the standards of the 1970s, even compared to Jar-Jar Binks, the legendary 1978 'Star Wars Holiday Special' is a peerlessly cringeworthy pop-culture artifact. George Lucas, who completely disowned the production, reportedly has said, 'If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.' Just how on earth did this thing ever see the light of day?

"Kozak explains how the Special was one piece of a PR blitz undertaken by Lucas and his colleagues as they sought to protect the emerging franchise from hostile studio executives. He shows how, despite the involvement of some of the most talented people in the business, creative differences between movie and television writers led to a wildly uneven product. He gives entertaining accounts of the problems that plagued production, which included a ruinously expensive cantina set; the acrimonious departure of the director and Lucas himself; and a furious Grace Slick, just out of rehab, demanding to be included in the production."

Documentary poster for "A Disturbance in the Force." (Image credit: Giant Pictures)

Since that first ignoble airing on CBS on Nov. 17, 1978, "The Star Wars Holiday Special" has been rightfully anointed with certified "so bad it’s good" status by forgiving fans who've been far kinder to the show in the digital age where it can be seen most anywhere online for free.

"A Disturbance in the Force: How and Why the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened" is available now from Applause, while the Blu-ray documentary lands on digital and in stores on Dec. 5, 2023.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.