Canon beastiality, Chewie didn't want a damn medal, and other things
This is a companion piece to the review I recently published.
There are a lot of takeaways from A Disturbance in the Force, a documentary delving into the hows and whys of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. I’m pleased to report all my questions were answered.
In the course of dissecting the Holiday Special, A Disturbance in the Force nonchalantly drops some freaking bombs. We’re talking Hiroshima-level payloads.
I’m going to start with the most shocking one because I can’t stop thinking about it.
1. Han Solo was married to a Wookiee
This wasn’t an invention of coked-up writers—it was George Lucas’ idea.
"He said that Han Solo was married to a Wookiee, but we can't say that because people wouldn't accept it." ~ The Holiday Special co-writer Lenny Ripps 1
OFC we wouldn’t accept it—it’s batshit crazy.
Lucas clearly has a kink for taboo stuff—he famously tried to make Marion 12-years-old when she had an affair with Indiana Jones—but this is an entirely different galaxy of wrong. This is like saying Han Solo is married to the neighbor’s dog.
2. The producers were superstars
The executive producers were Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion, of Smith-Hemion Productions. Which probably means nothing to you. I hadn’t heard of them either, even though they combined for 20 Emmys. (It was a long time ago, in another galaxy—60s & 70s variety TV.)
I am familiar with at least one thing they did: The iconic David Bowie / Bing Crosby Christmas special. I’ve never actually seen the entire special, but I love the Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy collaboration. Funnily, that Christmas special aired exactly one year prior to the Star Wars special.
According to the writers of the Star Wars Holiday Special, Smith and Hemion showed up for the initial story meeting with George Lucas and never did anything else. That didn’t stop them from branding the special a Smith-Hemion Production. Jokes on them.
3. The writers expected a huge payday
Many of us grew up watching the same holiday specials year-after-year, even though they were already old by that point—Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966). Frosty the Snowman (1969). It’s a bit weird when you think about it.
So when given the chance to develop a holiday special for Star Wars—which had just set all the box office records—the writers were understandably ecstatic.
“We thought this would be our annuity. This is going to run every year for eternity.” ~ The Holiday Special co-writer Lenny Ripps
Wrong, on both counts.
The Holiday Special aired only once. It lives on in infamy, which doesn’t offer residuals other than ignominy.
4. Chewie didn’t want a medal, actually
People have wondered for years why Chewie didn’t get a medal at the end of A New Hope. It’s a valid question. Chewie did just as much as Luke and Han. But instead of getting a medal, he just sort of stands there and howls at the crowd.
I’ve personally always thought he was just sort of overlooked by the filmmakers. It’s an odd thing to say about a 7-foot tall dude covered in hair. But it wouldn’t be the first time. I still can’t believe Leia didn’t comfort Chewie after Han died in The Force Awakens. Instead, they just pass each other without a word or even a nod of acknowledgment.
It’s a weird look.
Anyway, we find out in A Disturbance in the Force that Chewie didn’t want a medal. That, in fact, he didn’t need no stinking medal. What he really wanted was to go home for Life Day. That was his reward—Han Solo taking him home so he could watch his father enjoy VR porn.
Cool, cool, cool… except Life Day didn’t exist until George Lucas invented it for the Holiday Special.
This wouldn’t be the last time Star Wars clumsily retconned something, but it definitely was the first.
5. Robin Williams could’ve been part of the cast
David Acomba, The Holiday Special’s first director—oh yes, there were two—stumbled upon a brilliant improv actor doing stand-up and thought his brand of zaniness would play perfectly in their campy version of Star Wars.
Acomba brought in a young Robin Williams to meet the producers. They immediately turned him away because they were only looking for name talent. (Which meant the likes of Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Harvey Korman, all of whom were eligible for AARP at the time.)
Shortly after, Mork & Mindy made Williams a hot new talent. I don’t think Williams could’ve saved the Holiday Special, but there’s little doubt he could’ve seriously elevated it.
6. The Wampa scene wasn’t to make Mark Hamill less pretty
There’s a long-enduring rumor that the scene where the Wampa punches Luke in the face was necessary to explain why Mark Hamill’s face looks markedly different between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Hamill was in a serious car accident in 1977, one that required corrective surgery.
"I just woke up and I was in the hospital and I knew that I had hurt myself very, very, very badly... but I wasn't really sure. And then someone held a mirror up to my face and I just felt that my career was over." ~ via Gossip magazine, 1978
The Wampa story has been passed around so long it’s now taken as fact. Googling ‘mark hamill accident star wars’ returns pages of results talking about how Mark’s new face necessitated a change to The Empire Strikes Back, otherwise people wouldn’t understand why Luke looks different. It makes sense.
It’s also totally false.
George Lucas inserted the scene completely for narrative reasons. He felt the movie needed some action in the early going, before the Empire arrives on Hoth. That it also explained Luke’s reconfigured face didn’t even enter into his thinking.
7. The Holiday Special influenced later Star Wars TV shows
The Holiday Special holds the distinction of being the second Star Wars project ever filmed, and the first one intended for televisions. Distracted by the fiery train wreck, we tend to overlook that part.
The Holiday Special’s legacy—or lineage, if you’d rather—continues to this day. Life Day is a thing now—Disney sells Life Day toys—and Boba Fett’s first appearance was in the Holiday Special. Jon Favreau is an avowed fan of the Special; Din Djarin’s forked rifle in The Mandalorian was taken directly from the Holiday Special.
"The Star Wars Holiday Special led to stuff like Andor. All of that failure is part of that process." ~ Patton Oswalt
It’s an uncomfortable comparison to make, but Oswalt is totally right. The Holiday Special was an embarrassing example of what not to do with Star Wars on TV. Do we get an Andor without it? The butterfly effect would say no.
- Lenny Ripps is an old-school Hollywood comedian’s name if I’ve ever seen one. Bit of a misnomer, in the case of the Holiday Special.