Hello there! You tuned in to The Escapist on Christmas Day just to read my column? Probably the only thing going up today? Well, aww shucks! We’ve got a warm fire and plenty of tomes of lore to keep us occupied. In fact, today we’re talking about something very special for the final lore column of 2021: the Star Wars Holiday Special!
CBS’s infamous Star Wars Holiday Special holds a unique place in the realm of pop culture. Everyone knows about it, but very few people will actually go through the effort to watch it. But I did. There were witnesses. There may have been tears. A Wookiee may have actually watched a live striptease in his family’s living room. And yes, gosh does everyone have an absurd amount of eyeliner on.
Now, I could just rip this cinematic abomination from end to end, but that’s been done. No, it’s Christmas, so we’re gonna be charitable. We’re gonna talk about how it actually had an impact on both the Legends and Disney Star Wars timelines. Because yes, Disney will literally re-canonize characters from this absolute train wreck of a production before even considering bringing back Mara Jade.
Obviously the biggest Star Wars Holiday Special contribution is the introduction of Boba Fett in the brief animated segment. The animated portion is the one part you can actually view in HD on Disney+, and it has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the holiday special.
However, this least-reviled animated segment did establish a few things. We actually see the rear seat of a Y-Wing being used, and the future disintegration blaster of Dhin Djarin is inspired by a far less lethal equivalent. Plus, Luke actually refers to using a commlink, which is about as precise as the segment gets. I say that because for some reason a Captain Kirk knock-off also makes a “space log” at the beginning and end.
If you think randomly mimicking Star Trek is where the weird meta-connections stop, you’d be wrong. The majority of the “plot” of the Star Wars Holiday Special is conveyed exclusively by Chewbacca’s family, Malla, Lumpy, and Itchy. Instead of leaving these domestic characters to be forgotten, each plays a role in the greater Star Wars fiction.
Young Lumpawaroo would play a role in the Black Fleet Crisis as a coming-of-age hero, serving as an apt heir to Chewbacca despite always being a bit on the small side. Mallatobuck, meanwhile, was steadfast in aiding the Solo family in a handful of stories over the years, even engaging in operations alongside her husband before his death. Yet “Itchy,” Chewbacca’s father, receives easily the biggest glow-up.
Attichitcuk settled an entire damn planet in the Outer Rim in Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds and kicked the Trade Federation off-world when they threatened to take it over. What’s more, Attichitcuk and Chewbacca fought alongside Qui-Gon Jinn in this campaign for control of the Alaris Prime colonial sector. Then decades later, the old Wookiee went on to help Han and Chewbacca liberate Kashyyyk from the Empire.
I can’t overstate just how much of a favor the Expanded Universe does for ol’ “Itchy.” He went from being a pervy grandpa who watches a VR striptease in the dining room to the sort of guy who says lines like, “I’ve known pain. I’m a Wookiee.” Attichitcuk would also, coincidentally, befriend Princess Leia and prove a valuable ally in a battle over an ancient Jedi artifact.
This was generally how the original Expanded Universe handled odd incidents like the Star Wars Holiday Special. You took something broken and either found a logical explanation for it in a greater fiction or salvaged the nuggets of potential. Here it was far more often the latter than the former, but not always. For instance, Life Day became an official holiday in the setting and remains as such. In the MMO Star Wars Galaxies, someone went through the effort of bringing back Saun Dann as a seasonal NPC.
Even more peculiar is a handful of retcons that actually put other Expanded Universe characters in the setting. Most notably the Dark Jedi Sariss technically appears in the background under her disguise as the “Prophetess.” Fortunately, you don’t need to see the Holiday Special to understand why she wants to rule the galaxy in Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II – but admittedly, I’d probably have gone mad for vengeance too if I’d endured such a thing.
Ironically, one of the few characters who does not actually reappear is Ponda Baba, the Aqualish fellow that Obi-Wan Kenobi literally disarms in A New Hope. Due to recycling many of the old costumes from the film, Ponda’s head appears in the Holiday Special but is reused for a new fellow, Teak, who has two very healthy, intact arms.
Speaking of switcheroos, allegedly Cher was supposed to be the starring singer in the Mermeia softcore porn musical number sequence, but she had to decline due to surgery at the time. That’s definitely a blaster bolt dodged, considering audio from the sequence would also later be used in Star Wars Galaxies many years later.
Yet the most inexplicable piece of lore that continued from the Star Wars Holiday Special isn’t in the original timeline but instead in the Disney timeline. Bea Arthur’s Ackmena, a bartender for Chalmun’s Cantina in Mos Eisley, was re-canonized as early as 2017, only three years into the canon reset. In fact, her role in Mos Eisley society is expanded.
On the upside, her reintroduction is by writers Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction, so they make something out of her, giving Ackmena a wife and some underlings who answer to her. On the downside, bringing back Ackmena is up there with Disney bringing Jaxxon back in lieu of characters that most fans actually like. She received an official visual depiction and everything. That’s a lot of effort for a character only nerds like me even know exists.
Above all else though, the most profound thing about the Star Wars Holiday Special isn’t how it’s painfully dull, or how clearly everyone is reading their lines off a prompter towards the end, or how bloody awful a song they make Carrie Fisher sing at the end. What’s truly amazing is, for something basically slapped together in a hurried rush, it does try its damnedest to capture the aesthetic of Star Wars. It’s a terrible variety show that almost never lands despite hiring many talented performers, but gosh, it’s trying so hard.
This was back before most people would’ve fact-checked if you called Luke’s little space phone a “commlink” or not. For the first wave of Star Wars fans, this was their first glimpse of Kashyyyk, an art direction that would extend all the way to Revenge of the Sith far later into the franchise. In no way should anyone watch this while sober, but despite being such a mess, it’s not only inspired memes but genuine story content in the setting. That anyone made something out of this is remarkable.
Plus, hey, at least it’s not as infuriatingly painful as The Rise of Skywalker.