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May the farce be with you

The idea for a campy 'Star Wars Holiday Special' probably should have stayed in a galaxy far, far away.

November 16, 2008|Donald Liebenson | Donald Liebenson is a freelance writer.

Co-producer Smith brought in Steve Binder to replace director David Acomba. Smith and Binder had first worked together on the 1965 rock music series "Hullabaloo." Binder had since directed some of television's most memorable specials, including Elvis Presley's 1968 "Comeback Special." Smith laughed at his own unintentional pun when he said, "Unlike any of the shows we had done, we were more executioners [on this project]. Once we got the outline from George, it was up to us to find a way to put it on paper."

Binder never met Lucas, but he said he was given a 25-page back story about the wookiee planet and Chewbacca's family. He had only a week to prep before taking control. "You were really dealing with apples and oranges," he said. "One of the problems with the 'Special,' I think, is with the anticipation of George Lucas coming to television with the 'Star Wars' brand -- the expectations were way out of line with what the reality was. 'Star Wars' fans were expecting to see [the grand scale of] the 'Star Wars' movies."

They certainly weren't expecting musical numbers and comedy. But according to Vilanch, the entertainers had fun making "TSWHS." "Harvey was in hog heaven," he said. "Bea too. This was something she wouldn't have gotten to do on 'Maude.' And Diahann was sexy and gorgeous."

Never rebroadcast, "TSWHS" has become something of a Holy Grail for "Star Wars" devotees. The Internet has made it accessible, and for those seeing it for the first time, Yankovic suggests it is probably best to watch it in five- to 10-minute segments. "Your brain melts if you have to watch all two hours," he cautioned.

For those who want to learn more without all the snark and bile, starwarsholidayspecial.com is a labor of love that Scott Kirkwood, 38, launched five years ago. Visitors can view prototype "TSWHS" toys and the official original press kit. There is also a transcript of the script and audio downloads of the musical numbers.

But at the heart of the site is its Feedback section, in which visitors post their memories of watching "TSWHS" when it originally aired. Most are touching tales of adolescent wonder and disappointment. "I still have a soft spot for the damn thing," writes Kevin K. "Unless you were a kid at the time, you have absolutely no idea how momentous this occasion was."

Momentous or not, there are no current plans for a "TSWHS" home video release. "I seriously doubt [it] will see any kind of official release, although I could be proven wrong," Yankovic mused. Lucas "could be working on a special edition right now in which Bea Arthur actually shoots Greedo first in the cantina scene."

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