The Star Wars Holiday Special is infamous in many ways. The special aired on November 17, 1978, for the first and only time. Thanks to avid fans recording it with their VCRs and protecting those video tapes for years, the special has lived on much to George Lucas and the cast’s chagrin.
Whether fans love it, hate it, or love to hate it, it made a lasting impact on the franchise. The Star Wars Holiday Special has a unique place, so here are 16 facts you may want to know about it.
1. The Gang’s Back Together
Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and James Earl Jones returned to reprise their roles from the Original Trilogy. Using archive footage of Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, David Prowse and Alec Guinness are both in the special but uncredited.
2. A First for a Legend
There were many firsts for Star Wars in the Holiday Special. One was for the iconic voice of Darth Vader. At the time, James Earl Jones was uncredited for his role in A New Hope, so the Holiday Special was the first time the actor received acknowledgment for his work as the villain.
3. The Faithful Wookiee
One part that receives praise amid the craziness of the Holiday Special is the cartoon short “The Faithful Wookiee.” The nine-minute segment ended up being incredibly influential to Star Wars. The most significant impact the cartoon had was it was the first appearance of Boba Fett, and the rifle the bounty hunter used would be the inspiration for Din Djarin’s disruptor sniper rifle in The Mandalorian.
4. Lucasfilm Animation
“The Faithful Wookiee” would be the beginning of Lucasfilm Animation. Canadian studio Nelvana was tasked with creating the short after George Lucas had been impressed with their film A Cosmic Christmas. Nelvana would go on to create Ewoks and Star Wars Droids, the first Star Wars television series and the beginning of Lucasfilm Animation. Ken Stephenson was the uncredited animation director for “The Faithful Wookiee” and would be the only crew member from the Holiday Special to return to Ewoks and Droids.
5. Tartakovsky’s Homage
The lasting impact of “The Faithful Wookiee” came in Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2003 series Star Wars: Clone Wars. The animation legend loved Nelvana’s design of C-3PO in the Holiday Special and Star Wars Droids, and he purposely designed his C-3PO to match their animation, specifically the droid’s expressive eyes. Tartakovsky also named the planet Nalvaan and the Nelvaanian people after Nelvana’s work.
Kashyyyk is the homeworld of the Wookiees, and the Holiday Special is the planet's first appearance. Concept artist Ralph McQuarrie created the designs of the tree houses, and his artwork would be used again with the creation of Kashyyyk in Revenge of the Sith.
7. Musical Numbers
There are four musical numbers in the Holiday Special. Actor Diahann Carroll plays a holographic entertainer who sings “This Minute Now.” The rock band Jefferson Starship performed the song “Light the Sky on Fire,” and it was singer Marty Balin’s last appearance with the band until 1993.
Set to the tune of the Cantina Band, future Golden Girl Bea Arthur gives a wonderfully campy performance of “Good Night, But Not Goodbye.” Finally, the last number of the special is sung by Carrie Fisher, and it’s called “Happy Life Day” to the tune of the Star Wars theme.
8. Chaos On Set
Behind the scenes, chaos led to many unfortunate mishaps while creating the special. Since George Lucas was busy working on The Empire Strikes Back, he only gave six pages of direction before the producers at CBS took over the production. The directors changed midway through production as David Acomba left after filming a few scenes before Steve Binder stepped in. Reports of rampant drug use on set were later reported.
There also needed to be more understanding of how the costumes worked from CBS officials. Some of the full alien suits needed oxygen pumped into them, which they didn’t know. This led to some of the cantina actors passing out on set.
9. What Is Life Day?
The plot of the Holiday Special is Chewbacca and Han Solo trying to get back to Kashyyyk for Life Day to celebrate with the Wookiee’s family. What exactly is the holiday?
It is specifically a Wookiee holiday focused on the celebration of family and the values of their culture. They ate food, had music, hung lights, and celebrated at the Tree of Life. Other species in the galaxy had similar celebrations, but Life Day began to spread outside of Kashyyyk during the reign of the Empire. The planet of Batuu created its version of Life Day alongside its harvest festivals. Life Day was known and celebrated across the galaxy by the era of The Mandalorian and the Sequel Trilogy films.
10. All In the Family
Chewbacca’s family is the main focus of the special. Their costumes were created by special effects makeup artist Stan Winston, whose works include Jurassic Park, Aliens, and Edward Scissorhands. His son is named Lumpawarrump or “Lumpy,” his father is Attichitcuk or “Itchy,” and his wife is named Mallatobuck or “Malla.” They were played by Patty Maloney, Paul Gale, and Mickey Morton, respectively.
11. Liberation of Kashyyyk
Even though the Holiday Special is now part of the Legends continuity, Chewbacca’s family has come into the current canon. They returned to the canon in the novel Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig. In the final days of fighting the Empire, Chewbacca and Han returned to Kashyyyk to battle the Imperial remnants. Once his planet was free, Chewbacca had an emotional reunion with his wife and son.
As for Itchy, he was first mentioned in Solo: A Star Wars Story junior novel when Chewbacca introduced himself to Han as the “Son of Attichitcuk.” His first full appearance was in the novel Life Day Treasury.
12. Famous Faces
The musical acts, the original cast, and a future Golden Girl weren’t the only famous faces in the special. However, Bea Arthur stated that she only accepted the role because her son was obsessed with Star Wars. Some of the other actors who joined the star-studded cast were Jack Rader, The Honeymooner’s star Art Carney, and powerhouse comedian Harvey Korman who played three different characters. One of Korman’s characters, Gormaanda, has also been brought into the current canon with her image being used in cookbooks.
13. Lando, Is That You?
While the Holiday Special had many difficulties, it did help with the development of later material. Art Carney’s character, Saun Dann, was an early concept of what would become Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back.
14. Lucas’s Folly
Reportedly, George Lucas was unhappy with the final results and thought all the copies should be burned. Harrison Ford often pretended in interviews that it didn’t exist. Anthony Daniels jokingly called it a “turd.” Mark Hamill admitted that he didn’t think he actually watched the entire thing.
By far, the best response was from Carrie Fisher. She personally asked Lucas for a copy of the Holiday Special. Why, you might ask? So she could put it on at parties when she wanted people to leave her house.
15. Saved By the Fans
Despite the Holiday Special only airing once, it was the fans that preserved its memory. Bootlegged copies on VHS tapes were recorded and saved to be shared, becoming a cult classic. With the dawning of the internet, fans would transfer it into a digital format to save forever on websites like YouTube. You can still watch the entire special on the platform today.
16. Inspiring Others
While the Holiday Special might have received horrific reviews, that doesn’t mean it didn’t have its fans. The television movie was the base inspiration for The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special. Sharing a similar premise, the LEGO special takes place on the first Life Day after The Rise of Skywalker, with the Sequel Trilogy crew preparing for Life Day with the Chewbacca family. It was released on the anniversary of the original special.
The Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau also genuinely loved the Holiday Special. He’s stated in interviews how he would love to do an updated version. He’s not the only one. Marvel creator James Gunn also shared this love, saying it directly influenced when he made The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.