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A Disturbance in the Force: How The Star Wars Holiday Special Happened

Dir. Jeremy Coon & Steve Kozak (2023)

A documentary about the legendarily terrible Star Wars Holiday Special.

On November 17, 1978, a show whose impact would reverberate through decades of geekdom aired on television for the first (and only) time. A year after the debut of the greatest American cinematic experience of all time, George Lucas' Star Wars, the studio decided to try to milk the film for everything it was worth, expecting the series to fade into oblivion but hoping that a little extra exposure could tide the audience over until the release of 1980's The Empire Strikes Back. What resulted was one of the worst things ever put on film, the legendarily terrible The Star Wars Holiday Special. Featuring everything from out-of-place animation to Wookie porn (more on that in a few), the single airing of the Special became a cult classic story in its own right.

I'm not going to review the film itself in this review, which will have its own review released today as well. What's Christmas, after all, without a little bit of excess. A Disturbance in the Force: How the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened, rather, is a documentary that examines not only the making of the "film" itself but also the cultural impact of the film series and its impact on geekdom as a whole. Through old interviews with the cast and crew, as well as current takes from an impressive number of notable stars, the documentary tells the story of the special and some of its more egregious crimes against humanity. The doc tells of the studio's mangled handling of the show, the bizarre inclusion of Jefferson Starship based solely on their name, and the insistence on hiring old talent (like motherfucking Bea Arthur) who had not only zero connection with the Star Wars Universe itself but no recognition amongst the target audience for the sci-fi classic either.

The perspectives given in the documentary run the gamut of Lucasfilm employees to some of the biggest celebrities associated with nerd culture. We get interviews with Mick Garris (who was an original Lucas employee), Seth Green, Patton Oswalt, Bobcat Goldthwaite, Kevin Smith, Weird Al Yankovic, Gilbert Godfried, Bruce Villanch (who was one of the writers of the show), and even Bob Mackie, who designed the costumes for the Special. As legendarily terrible as the Special was, the stories told are so batshit insane that the documentary makes you want to watch the film. Thankfully, I already have a bootleg copy, so I didn't have to go looking too deep for it, but the show definitely made its way to the top of my watch pile.

From the stories about actors in their costumes who kept fainting because they were overheating and literally suffocating inside their costumes to the plot point about a helmet worn by the Wookies that let them experience their fantasies (the aforementioned Wookie porn scene), there is no shortage of insanity explored in the documentary. It's perhaps a bit too long, running a full hour and a half, but it's incredibly watchable and really does a great job of explaining how this monstrosity came to be and why it has gained such a crazy reputation with the general public. For the greatest and most valuable franchise in movie history, you're bound to have a couple of terrible properties. At least George Lucas had the resources to make sure that this one never saw the light of day again.

Except my aforementioned bootleg copy and the thousands of others that exist, for which my review will be posted shortly.

Who this movie is for: Movie documentary fans, Star Wars lovers, Trainwreck enthusiasts

Bottom line: Documentaries about a single movie can be super entertaining, especially ones that cover truly bad movies. Because The Star Wars Holiday Special is one of the worst ever made, this one is a great watch for anyone who is a fan of the Star Wars series. It's also a great watch for fans of bad movies, or just people who enjoy watching people relive some of the worst moments of their lives. For a series that has brought so much joy to so many people's lives, exploring the dark and bizarre unspoken history is a worthwhile task, and this doc does a great job of telling the whole story. If you're a SW fan, you definitely need to check it out.

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