Films and videos don’t always gain a cult following because they’re good. Case in point is the “Star Wars Holiday Special” (1978), the first official spin-off which was only broadcast once and never released on home video. George Lucas was rumored to have been personally involved in keeping it hidden since he considered it such an embarrassment. Because of its rarity and underground status, bootlegs of the original broadcast were long sought after by fans of Star Wars and obscure cinema.
As holiday specials go, it has a fairly standard flimsy narrative that strings together a variety of celebrity cameos, comedic skits and musical numbers. What sets it apart are appearances by all the main characters of the film and the strained attempt to fit them into a 70s holiday variety program. Comedians like Bea Arthur, Art Carny, and Harvey Korman or musicians like Diahann Carroll and Jefferson Starship don’t seem to belong in the same universe of Star Wars much less the same television program. Though much of the comedy and guest appearances fall flat and the production as a whole reeks of crass commercialism and cloying sentimentality, it does have moments of inspired weirdness that might make it worth seeing by hardcore Star Wars fans, paracinephiles, and/or stoners.
This is a 15 minute “fan edit” version of the Star Wars Holiday Special:
In contrast to the Star Wars special, the “Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special” (1988) is an example of how similar holiday tropes can be used more creatively towards an equally bizarre but more satisfying end result. The campy, self-aware and subtly subversive tone of Pee Wee’s Playhouse is better suited for the “pop culture mash-up” aspect of holiday specials than the more self-contained world of Star Wars. It also helps that Pee Wee’s show is written with more humor and wit and features an eclectic mix of guests who all seem to be having fun.
The roster of celebrities include Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Grace Jones, K.D. Lang, Little Richard, Cher, Magic Johnson, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Charo and Laurence Fishburne among others. Like Pee Wee, they’re iconic and have collective appeal that transcends age, race and gender. They’re also perfect guest stars for a throwback to televised holiday events of the past with a postmodern and absurdist sensibility.