Hollywood Flashback: The 'Star Wars' Holiday Special Got Past George Lucas in 1978

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Bea Arthur (as Ackmena) was surrounded by interplanetary cantina patrons in the infamous 'Star Wars Holiday Special.'

"If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every bootlegged copy of the program and smash it," Lucas has said of the mostly live-action, two-hour program that starred the original 'Star Wars' cast plus Bea Arthur, Art Carney and Harvey Korman.

It's definitely possible to be ostracized from the Star Wars universe.

David Prowse, who played but didn't voice Darth Vader, was accused of spilling some plot points in the 1980s that put him on creator George Lucas' dark side. And Jar Jar Binks, the goofy Gungan from the planet Naboo, got the cold shoulder from fans after his much-maligned debut in 1999's The Phantom Menace.

But neither suffered the complete excommunication bestowed on CBS' 1978 The Star Wars Holiday Special. At an Australian sci-fi convention a few years after it aired, Lucas said, "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every bootlegged copy of the program and smash it." 

The mostly live-action, two-hour show aired the week before Thanksgiving and starred the original Star Wars cast plus TV regulars Bea Arthur, Art Carney and Harvey Korman. Lucas had minimal input into its creation. "Back then, a network variety special was one of the ways you promoted things," says co-writer Bruce Vilanch. "I don't think George was a watcher of network variety shows. If he had been, he would never have done this."

The plot had Han Solo and Chewbacca flying to the Wookiee home planet for Life Day (The Hollywood Reporter described that as "a kind of space age merging of Thanksgiving and Christmas"), but they're attacked by the Empire's star destroyers and go off course.

THR wrote, "The plot smacks of sentiments typical of The Waltons, but the time waiting for Chewbacca is filled with cleverly integrated musical numbers and amusing special effects." (THR was alone in its praise; TV Guide summed up the critical consensus by calling the special "unintentionally hilarious.")

"The show was pretty awful, but awful in a '70s way," says Vilanch. "If you're smoking the right thing, it will make perfect sense."

The latest film in the franchise, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, arrived Dec. 20. 

This story first appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.