With the passing of midnight, we say goodbye to yet another Christmas, another opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ and commercialism. Goodbye, dear Christmas. See you in twenty-fifteen. Now, this column isn’t about Christmas. My cohort already did a great job of covering that earlier this week. No, this column is about something entirely different. This column is about another famous holiday. No, not Boxing Day. Though, technically, it is Boxing Day.
Happy Boxing Day, everyone.
No, this column is about my other favorite holiday. The truly most wonderful time of the year. I am talking, of course, about Life Day. For those who have seen it, the Star Wars Holiday Special is certainly a treat, a venture into life after A New Hope. Originally broadcast on November 17th, 1978, the Holiday Special centered on Chewbacca’s family preparing for Life Day, a Wookiee holiday similar to Christmas, and Han and Chewie’s attempts to get the loveable furball home to Kashyyyk in time for the celebration.
In addition to including the classic characters from the trilogy, Han, Luke, Leia, C3PO, R2D2, and Darth Vader, the special also introduces Malla, Chewie’s wife; Itchy, Chewie’s father; Lumpy, Chewie’s son; Saun Dann (Art Carney), a human trader on Kashyyyk; Ackmena (Bea Arthur), a cantina owner on Tatooine; and Jefferson Starship (Jefferson Starship). The special itself is a silly little program, mixing an odd story about Life Day with an even odder mish-mash of musical and comedy acts, creating what is potentially the only variety special in history based on a science-fiction franchise.
It’s no secret to anyone who has seen this thing that it’s sort of the black sheep of the Star Wars universe. George Lucas, himself, once famously said that he wanted to track down every copy and smash them with a sledgehammer, and that guy wrote and directed Attack of the Clones. On the whole, it’s not great, but there are some very important things to note.
Firstly, can we all just celebrate the fact that because of this special, comedic greats Art Carney, Bea Arthur, and Harvey Korman are all part of the Star Wars canon? Now, I know that since Disney bought Lucasfilms, the Star Wars canon is kind of messed up, but what they say doesn’t really matter. In the heads of the fans, the extended universe is still roughly canon somewhere, and in that canon, Art Carney, Bea Arthur, and Harvey Korman.
On the flipside, though, if we acknowledge that, we have to acknowledge that Jefferson Starship also exists within Star Wars continuity. I have nothing personal against Jefferson Starship, I guess, but I don’t really dig the tunes they lay down. The song they perform on the special, “Light the Sky on Fire” is about as boring as it gets in late 1970s rock music.
There's also a really, really odd musical sequence starring veteran actress, Diahann Carroll, in which she plays a holographic "fantasy" enjoyed by Itchy, in what can only be described as, uh, well, disturbing. It isn't that I don't want to see an old wookiee get aroused, it's just that I, well, yeah, no, it's totally that I don't want to see that.
The film features an animated sequence, which serves to introduce the character of Boba Fett. It’s an amazing piece of animation, and truly the best part of this special. It’s also the only piece of the special to ever receive a home video release as a special feature on the 2011 Blu-Ray release of the original trilogy.
The empire actually feels menacing in this special. I mean, in Episode IV, they are certainly menacing. They blow up an entire planet, for Lumpy’s sake, but I don’t know. Maybe it’s because so much of what they do is off-screen. We never see them kill Owen and Beru, or torture Leia, or anything else. It’s all alluded to through the aftermath. We do see them blow up Alderaan, but even that is on a viewport, far-removed from any sort of engaging connection. In this special, however, they directly interact on-screen with members of the rebellion, and there’s definitely a troubling dynamic there. When a stormtrooper threatens to beat a Wookiee child, it’s disconcerting to say the least.
Thankfully, this special finally gave some lyrics to some of those classic Star Wars tunes we all know and love. Ackmena sings a lovely tribute to alcoholism called “Goodnight, but Not Goodbye” set to the music of the Mos Eisley cantina band. At the end of the special, Leia closes us out with a musical tribute to Life Day, set to the Star Wars theme. I don’t know about you, but I’ll definitely be singing these lyrics the next time I watch the movie.
In all seriousness, one of the most interesting things about this special is the period of time in which it came out. In 1978, Star Wars fans were still two years from Empire Strikes Back. At this point, there was only one vision of life after Episode IV, and that was the Marvel comic book series, which we’ll talk about a bit next week. For the average fan, this was the first picture of what happened after the movie. And I think that’s important to note, because if nothing else, it foreshadowed not only how big a behemoth Star Wars would become, but also how much the public wanted to see what would happen next.
And it’s certainly not the last glimpse we’ve been given into this time period of the universe. In 2013, Dark Horse comics released Star Wars, a series set in the immediate months after the destruction of the Death Star, following the further adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. The series, written by Brian Wood, deals with a struggling rebellion attempting to recover from the loss of its base on Yavin IV, and an empire struggling to rebuild after the destruction of its massive battle station.
A few weeks ago, the first six issues (the first storyline, In the Shadow of Yavin) were collectively sold for $2.99 on Dark Horse Digital, and I jumped at the opportunity. I had heard good things about the series, and I thought it would be a fun opportunity to check it out. While it’s certainly no Holiday Special, it is a terrific story, and one I’m sad to see go (more on that in a second).
This first storyline follows the rebellion’s attempts to find a new base of operations. After the destruction of Alderaan, even worlds traditionally sympathetic to the rebellion stand in fear of the sheer power of the Empire. As the alliance explores worlds on the outer-rim, they are constantly ambushed by Imperial forces, and it doesn’t take long to realize that these encounters are not coincidences. There’s a mole in the Alliance, and Rebel Leader, Mon Mothma, is dedicated to rooting him or her out. She tasks Leia with hand selecting a secret squad of pilots to work independently to both find a new home and ferret out the leak. While all of this is going on, Han Solo and Chewbacca have been sent to Coruscant, the Imperial capital, where they will purchase new weapons and supplies for the Alliance from an Imperial contact. But nothing is as it seems, and Han and Chewie are forced into the Coruscant underground, with Boba Fett hot on their heels.
Wood captures a lot of subtle nuances within the stories and characters that add quite a bit to the mythos. We see Princess Leia mourning her homeworld in the late night hours, when she’s not overworking herself on keeping a struggling rebellion alive. We see Darth Vader struggle with failure at Yavin IV and the emperor’s disapproval, while also realizing the importance of the name Skywalker, and what that all means. We see Han Solo sticking with a rebellion he doesn’t believe in, because at the moment, it provides protection from other more menacing forces that want to kill him. We see Luke Skywalker, the hero of Yavin, brash and cocky, and ready to take on the empire full-steam. And all of this works so well, helped along by the art of Carlos D’Anda, who captures the characters and settings in such a dynamic fashion.
The comics are fun romps through this portion of the Star Wars timeline, and they’re great examples of what Dark Horse could do, when they used the license correctly. Since they started publishing Star Wars comics in 1993, Dark Horse has had its fair share of ups and downs, with some stories excelling, while others falling far short. Woods’s Star Wars, is definitely an up, and one I recommend whole-heartedly.
It’s actually the first Star Wars comic I’ve read in a few years, which makes its cancellation much sadder. The series ran through issue #20, getting canceled in August of this year. And while I’m not entirely sure of sales figures, and if they had anything to do with it, I think a lot of that decision may rest in the fact that next week, after over 20 years, Dark Horse will stop publishing Star Wars comics. Since Disney owns both Marvel Comics and Lucasfilms now, it makes sense that they would move comic book duties into the mouse’s Empire, but it’s still a little sad.
What’s even worse is that all titles will be pulled from the digital catalog, meaning if you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, you might not get that chance after December 31st. You can always track down the floppies or trades, and some of the stories will be reprinted by Marvel, but it’s a damn shame that some great comics are going to disappear from the digital channels as of January 1st. I guess, if there’s a lesson here, it’s that you should buy up any digital copies of these comics now, before you lose your chance. The comics will still be available to read on your cloud; you just won’t be able to purchase them.
Of course, anyone who knows the history of Star Wars comics knows that this won’t be the first time that the House of M has taken on the Star Wars universe. But, that’s a column for another time. Specifically, next week. Be sure to come back next Friday, when I take a look at both the history and the future of Marvel’s Star Wars comics!