There are times in life when you find out a new piece of information that changes your view of the world.
Perhaps it's something slightly embarrassing about a friend or relative that's been kept under wraps for years. Like when you discover your businesslike, uber-chic, big-city cousin has a secret collection of several hundred Beanie Babies stuffed in her dresser drawers. Or when you learn that your sweet, bread-baking, grandmotherly neighbor down the street used to be a stripper in Vegas.
It might be a small thing in the grand scheme of the cosmos, but once you know about it you can't un-know about it, and you never look at that person the same way again.
This type of thing occurred for me last week when I spoke with media scholar Robert Thompson from Syracuse University for a story on the future of the "Star Wars" franchise, now that Lucasfilm has been absorbed by the Disney empire. Thompson casually mentioned how he'd love to see the Disney folks officially release the little-known and much-maligned "Star Wars Holiday Special." I chuckled at this, certain he was kidding.
"No, no, it's real," he said. "It was so awful, it's been stubbornly buried for decades and only exists in old VCR copies posted on the Internet. But it has historical significance. It was probably the weirdest little thing American television ever made."
So I looked it up on YouTube. Oh yeah. Yeah, he wasn't kidding. You know how people say things like how an English bulldog is "so ugly he's cute?" Well this is so horrible it's, well, horrible.
If you're reading this online, please watch the accompanying clip. If you're reading this in print, you have to find a computer right now, get on YouTube and type in "Star Wars Holiday Special." I don't care if you have to go to your stripper/grandma/neighbor's house. Just do it.
It's an actual two-hour variety-show special that aired only once, on CBS in November 1978, with the original "Star Wars" cast plus a wacky array of performers like Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman, Art Carney, Diahann Carroll and even the Jefferson Starship. The "holiday" referenced is a celebration on Chewbacca's home world of Kashyyyk called "Life Day," which conveniently happens to fall during our Christmas season and is all about peace and love and the Wookiees are dressed in festive red robes, covering their usually furry nakedness.
There's some storyline about Chewie and Han Solo trying to get to the planet but they're being chased by storm troopers and Bea Arthur is a bartender in a cantina who sings in her gravel-truck baritone for about 10 minutes and Harvey Korman is a four-armed chef on an intergalactic cooking show, then he's an alien at the bar who drinks from the top of his head, then he's a glitch-prone android who teaches Chewbacca's son, Lumpy, how to assemble a mini-transmitter kit, and there's an 11-minute cartoon with Boba Fett and some acrobatics and juggling and ... oh, my eyes have been soiled!
Joy to Wookiee world
In the big finale at the "Tree of Life" ceremony, Princess Leia, Luke and a really embarrassed-looking Han give Chewie a big hug and, as the Wookiee gargle/growls in what we hope is happiness and not stomach distress, Leia makes a sappy speech about peace and harmony.
"No matter how different we appear, we're all the same in our struggle against the powers of evil and darkness," she says. And then she sings. She sings! More peace and harmony stuff set to the John Williams' theme from the movie.
The show is not a parody. It was a real attempt at a holiday special. A combo of a sentimental Perry Como Christmas show, a lame skit from the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, a train wreck, and those freaky Quiznos commercials from a couple of years back with mutant rats singing about grilled sandwiches in falsetto.
Of course hard-core "Star Wars" fans knew all about this. The show even has its own website at http://starwarsholidayspecial.com. But it was news to me. And to my spouse who, when I made him watch the Leia singing segment, recoiled in horror with a look on his face as if he'd just bitten into a bad shrimp.
"I will never be able to look at 'Star Wars' the same way again," he said.