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

Applause. Nov. 2023. 270p. ISBN 9781493075270. pap. $26.95. TV
Star Wars opened in 1977 and was a blockbuster film and phenomenon, but it wasn’t yet an epic franchise. Lucasfilm had legitimate concerns about funding a more ambitious sequel, and a merchandising deal meant that holiday toy sales needed to be big. Richard Pryor’s TV show featured a sketch with the cantina aliens, and Stormtroopers danced on Donny and Marie, so a Star Wars–themed variety show made sense. Though the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special is now infamous, industry insider Kozak contextualizes it in this book, pointing out that variety shows were so popular at the time that even the odd holiday pairing of Bing Crosby and David Bowie was well received. But George Lucas thought the special should center on Wookiees, a species who communicate in grunts. Between scenes of Chewbacca’s grunting home life, Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Harvey Korman added the “variety,” and Jefferson Starship (minus Grace Slick) performed a musical number. Behind the scenes, alien-costumed extras passed out from heat exhaustion, Lucas’s hand-picked director quit via telegram, and lyrics were added to the Star Wars theme for Carrie Fisher’s solo.
VERDICT Kozak presents a riveting look at an oft-maligned piece of Star Wars history, showing that some of it is just misunderstood.
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