by Reality’s Frank
(sigh) the things I do for you people…
You know the saying “two in the pink, one in the stink?” Well this is the one in the stink. Premiering once, and only once, in 1978, this made-for-tv special is the only thing in the Star Wars franchise worse than the new Disney sequels. And yes, that does include Rey.
The movie starts out with Han and Chewbacca fleeing from an imperial star destroyer while trying to get Chewy home for “Life Day,” the Wookie Christmas. That’s all there is to their sub-plot, trying to get Chewbacca home. After the credits, we’re treated to the first juicy slice of hell as we’re introduced to Chewy’s family: his wife, Mala; his son Lumpy; and his father Itchy (I swear I’m not making this up).
The entire scene plays out with wookie grunting serving as the only dialogue. There are no subtitles, no recognizable sign language, no hints at all about what the hell is going on. And it’s like this every time these characters are on screen. The only relief we get from this is when there are human characters interacting with them, but as the human characters are hardly less annoying, it’s small comfort.
What follows is a series of short skits throughout the feature (because I’m not going to dignify this by calling it a movie,) making this a kind of variety show that was rather popular during the 70’s, but the only guest stars apart from the core cast of Star Wars are Art Carney, Bea Arthur, and Harvey Corman. Prepare for horrors…
After a weird, spacey kind of Cirque du Soleil, Mala calls Luke Skywalker and R2-D2, apparently hoping for news about why Chewy is late for Life Day. Mark Hamil, heavily covered with makeup to hide the signs of his recent car accident, bravely tries to carry this conversation alone, and after being worried for a total of 8 seconds, he’ suddenly convinced that everything is fine, although this might have been a ploy to get off the phone so he could finish fixing his X-wing engine. And with that, he’s out until the end.
We’re then blitzed straight into the next skit and the first appearance of Art Carney (but sadly not the last). Art plays a trader named Saun Dan, who seems to be an old friend of Chewy’s family, and he bumbles through a scene with a transparently evil imperial officer. And when I say transparently evil, I mean he speaks with a low, sinister voice, and scoffs and scorns everything in sight. The only thing missing from the picture would be if he came into the shop casually eating a baby and singing Celine Dion. It would seem the empire is recruiting former members of Slytherin House. This goes into a very brief cameo by Darth Vader, and then a commercial break.
The commercials are by far some of the most entertaining parts of the show, because, thankfully, whoever it was that recorded this back in the day neglected to edit them out.
And now, a cooking show. Yes, that’s right, a cooking show. Mala is only NOW starting to prepare the Life Day feast, and so she tunes into a program starring (sigh) Harvey Corman, in drag, and painted silver. This scene sets the tone for all of Harvey’s appearances: long and painful. Just imagine if Rachel Ray was crossed with Julia Child and given two extra arms.
Another bit with Han and Chewie, then right back to the crap. An imperial officer sends out a broadcast announcing that the Wookie planet “Kazook,” (not “Kashyyyk” as it’s always been known) is under martial law while they investigate reports of rebel activity in the system. I wasn’t aware the empire had the man-power to police an entire planet, but oh well…
Following this ominous announcement comes an even more ominous development: Art Carney shows up at the wookie’s house bearing “Life Day presents,” the irony of which was not lost on me as Art once played Santa Claus in “The Night They Saved Christmas.” Lumpy is given a wrapped present and he (thankfully) goes to his room. Unfortunately, this leads into the first, and longest, musical interlude. Art gives Itchy a “proton pack” for a machine called the “mind evaporator,” that, despite its name, is NOT a torture device, but some kind of entertainment system that projects images directly into the brain. This would be pretty cool, except the cartridge is basically soft core porn, as the woman it features is based on his ideal sexual desire (why a wookie has a hard-on for humans, we never find out) and we can only assume that Itchy is sporting a boner in the living room.
After this nightmare, we’re treated (or perhaps subjected) to another cameo from the core cast, this time from Princess Leia and C-3PO. This is almost a replay of the Luke Skywalker scene as Mala is looking for info on Chewbacca. The only slight change is that now Art butts into the conversation, and after the same momentary concern, Leia abruptly becomes convinced that everything is probably fine and signs off.
Suddenly, a ship flies overhead, and the family is sure this is the sound of Chewbacca’s arrival. Lumpy excitedly runs to the door to be met by some storm troopers and another imperial officer, going door-to-door looking for rebels. Once again, the imperials are so transparently evil that it occurred to me that the Nazis in “Schindler’s List” were more subtle.
This goes right into the second musical number featuring the Jefferson Starship (get it? because it’s Star Wars and they ride around in star ships?). It was at this point that I began to wish I was watching “Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer.” Sure it may be goody-goody crap made for little girls in the 80’s, but at least it told a coherent story and maintained a consistent tone.
Art Carney leaves (finally) and we then get what is easily the coolest part of the whole show: the cartoon. I won’t go into it much here, but it’s done as if it’s a common, Saturday morning cartoon in this universe, strangely starring the rebel forces and Chebacca himself. How many kids get to watch cartoons starring their fathers? Then Lumpy is sent upstairs to clean his room, but instead, he starts playing with his present: a mini transmitter that includes an instructional video starring… (sigh) Harvey Corman as a robotic life form that is constantly running down and trying to fix himself. Maybe it looked funnier on paper…
After this, another imperial broadcast announces that everyone has to watch the following reality program, for…reasons…
It seems that Bea Arthur replaced the guy working the bar in the Mos Eisley cantina, and she has to deal with her new stalker, played once again by Harvey Corman. This whole scene is totally pointless and uncomfortable. Somehow, the producers must have thought it would be cool or perhaps funny for Harvey Corman’s character to ingests everything through a hole in the top of his head. The empire imposes a curfew on the entire planet (again, how?) and Bea Arthur has to sing a song to convince all the violent, drunken space bums to leave. This song is, at least, kind of catchy, as it’s set to a slower, jazzy rendition of the cantina tune from the first Star Wars movie, you know the one. Also, you can play a drinking game with every time she says “friend.”
Yes, this was required viewing by the empire.
Back in the “main plot,” the imperial soldiers are called back to base, but they leave one trooper behind to wait for Chewy. The trooper discovers the return orders were made by Lumpy and his transmitter, so he chases him through the house and outside, where Chewbacca and Han appear to dispatch the trooper with a glorious Wilhelm scream. Hugs and kisses all around, then Han leaves to hide the Millenium Falcon before someone finds he’s double-parked and gives him a ticket.
Art Carney comes back for one last scene, because his agent obviously insisted he get a certain amount of screen time. He bullshits the imperial officer who sent out a general summons for the dead trooper, the FINALLY leaves once and for all.
And with this, everything grinds to a halt as Chewy and Mala gaze into each other’s eyes and begin the incomprehensible rites of celebrating Life Day. This could best be described as that moment on Christmas afternoon where everyone is done thanking each other for the presents, dinner has been served, and now it’s quiet and no one really knows what to do next. You’d think the show was finally over, but no. There’s still more pain to endure.
The wookies dim the lights, hold up their glowing glass balls, put on red snuggies, and all line up to walk into a giant glowing special effect in front of the blue screen (no green screens in the 70’s). Now at last comes the grand finale, and it’s stupid. For some reason, all the wookies are now in some kind of cave and inexplicably, R2 and 3PO are there to greet them. How? Why? Huh? Then Luke, Leia, and Han run in to remind the audience that yes, this is indeed a Star Wars story. And then Leia sings. And it sucks. And it goes on WAY too long. And the tune she’s singing to is set over the Star Wars main theme, and they do not match at all.
And that’s it. Except for a montage of random scenes from the REAL movie, there’s a couple more commercials, including one for the first line of Star Wars figures and toys, and then it ends with Chewy and his family sitting around the table. The end.
As you can imagine, this never officially went to video, and the only copies of it you can find are rough, blurry bootlegs made from the original broadcast. You can find it on youtube, or you can maybe download it from a torrent site. I recommend seeing it at least once, especially with the rifftrax, because it IS interesting, it’s certainly unique, and with enough alcohol, it could even be funny. The alternative is “Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer” because it’s…wait a minute…I used that as a positive example earlier…damn…