The Star Wars Holiday Special was only shown once in the US. The two-hour show aired just before Thanksgiving in 1978, and told the story of A New Hope's Chewbacca and his family on "life day," an invented celebration of friendship and general niceness. The Holiday Special was designed to keep Star Wars in the minds of the toy-buying populace as audiences waited for The Empire Strikes Back. It was so excruciating that George Lucas once said if he had time, he'd like to smash every copy left in the world with a sledgehammer.
Thirty-five years later, and of all the baffling things that came together to make the Star Wars Holiday Special so infamous, the inclusion of four-armed chef Gormaanda feels perhaps the most egregious. She appears on screen someway into the special, instructing Chewbacca's wife Mallatobuck in the best way to "whip and stir" her "bantha surprise," the Wookiee's chosen dish for the celebration of life day. The show's official production notes called Gormaanda "The Julia Child of the Milky Way." This reference to the now-deceased TV chef is confusing on two counts: firstly, the first shot of the first scene of the first Star Wars movie establishes the story is set in a galaxy — you may remember — far far away; and secondly, Julia Child, living as she did on Earth, already was the Julia Child of the Milky Way.
George Lucas wanted to smash every copy of the 'Star Wars Holiday Special' with a hammer
But Gormaanda isn't even the worst thing about the holiday special. There's an uncomfortably sexual interlude in which Chewbacca's aging father Itchy — likely more than 350 years old, given an average Wookiee's lifespan — is serenaded by an apparently naked Diahann Carroll from inside a kaleidoscope. "Oh yes. We are excited, aren't we?" she whispers to the 7-foot tall, silver-haired alien as he smacks his lips in a chair.
There's Carrie Fisher, singing a song about love and friendship to the tune of John Williams' iconic Star Wars theme, her voice making the words as her eyes glaze over. There's Harrison Ford, hugging his fluffy co-stars like someone who's only ever had a hug explained to him in passing. There's entire minutes of wordless grunting as the special's Wookiee co-stars try their best to communicate their family-friendly points with body language and animalistic noises while clad in stifling fur suits.
George Lucas blames the production team for the special's problems, saying in 2005 that the show "really didn't have much to do" with him or the team responsible for the Star Wars movies. Lucas does, however, admit that he dreamt up the special's Wookiee-centric storyline, perhaps explaining the existence of a few moments of narrative clarity. Chewbacca kept his family, his dad Itchy and his son Lumpawarrump — later changed to Lumpawaroo — through a library of expanded universe novels and comics. But as quickly as these sensible sections appear in the show, they're whisked away and replaced with more inanity. The holiday special marks the first canonical appearance of Boba Fett, the bounty hunter who would relentless chase Han Solo across the galaxy before encasing him in carbonite and installing him on a wall. In the animated skit that introduces the character, Fett rides a giant orange dinosaur and is quick to offer help to his "friend" Luke Skywalker.
We have the internet to thank for the proliferation of the Star Wars Holiday Special. The show only made it to air once before being disavowed, forcing curious fans and masochists of the '80s and '90s to hunt for VHS bootlegs. Even now, the versions available are unofficial recordings, captured by small TV stations across the US at the time of broadcast. One commonly found copy was recorded in Des Moines, Iowa, another in Baltimore.
As much as George Lucas might want to smash every copy, the holiday special is now part of internet folklore, readily available to watch in its entirety. At two hours long, it's a grueling experience — but worth it if only to correct the mistaken belief that Jar Jar Binks marked the franchise's lowest point.