On its surface, “The Star Wars Holiday Special” is the last thing JJ Abrams should consider as he puts his finishing touches on the first installment of the multi-billion-dollar Star Wars franchise reboot. Reviled by critics and kept alive in bootleg form by the curious and tongue-in-cheek, it aired once 37 years ago this week — and was immediately tossed aside like a pair of tube socks found under the Christmas tree.
But as poet Eli Siegel said: “If a mistake is not a stepping stone, it is a mistake.” And if Abrams looks over George Lucas’ most infamous creation, he will find plenty of lessons to give himself a boost. With that in mind, here are 10 Things “The Force Awakens” can learn from “The Star Wars Holiday Special.”
1. Keep it out of the family
The “Holiday Special” kicks off with a mind-numbingly-long exploration of Chewbacca’s home life. We meet his wife Mallatobuck, son Lumpawarrump and father Attichitcuk — and are treated to well over ten minutes of them grunting at each other. It’s painful, unnecessary backstory related to a character who is cool enough just left alone — and if Lucas had learned this lesson from the failure of “Holiday Special,” perhaps the prequels wouldn’t have tried to bring us too much information on Boba Fett, Darth Vader and so many other characters left well enough alone. Sometimes, the more you leave to the imagination, the better.
2. No parodies
One of the most annoying moments of the “Holiday Special” comes when Chewie’s mother turns on a cooking show and we see Harvey Korman in alien drag doing a bad Julia Child imitation. But again, the lesson wasn’t learned by Lucas, who essentially repeated the mistake with the cloying two-headed podrace announcer in “Phantom Menace.” Making fun of recognizable Earth cliches like the saucy chef or the smooth-talking broadcast team doesn’t make viewers laugh — it just takes them out of the realm of fantasy. When fans watch a Star Wars movie, they want to escape to a different galaxy — so please, leave the parodies to Weird Al.
3. Keep it primitive
When you think back to the charms of the original trilogy, there’s one noise you should hear: The sputtering engine of the Millenium Falcon. Star Wars was a crude, often primitive world with clunky, unreliable technology — and that made it so much more real than the gloss of “Star Trek.” Abrams was smart to announce early that he’d avoid computer-generated characters whenever possible, and it’s wonderful that BB-8 is a practical creation. As bad as “The Holiday Special” may be, it is a welcomed trip back to a time when the “Star Wars” universe would make the best out of what it had — rather than just adding it later in post.
4. Bring back the cantina
Remember the first time you saw “A New Hope”? When the characters walked into that wretched hive of scum and villainy looking for a pilot, your eyeballs almost fell out trying to take in every last bizarre character scattered around the bar. Oddly enough, “Holiday Special” is the only Star Wars live-action depiction of it since. If there’s a scene where “Force Awakens” re-visits the Mos Eisley Cantina, that alone would be worth the price of admission. But please, for the love of Bea Arthur — no singing.
5. Make Harrison Ford smile again
Although he’s only in it for a few minutes, looking back at “Holiday Special” is like glimpsing at a shooting star. From the mid-70s to the mid-80s, Harrison Ford harnessed something that simply can’t be taught: The type of charisma that holds a screen. Paul Newman had it for a good number of years, so did Steve McQueen and Matthew McConaughey. But somewhere around the early ’90s, it seems to have been written into Harrison Ford’s contracts that the sly “I got this” smile of Han Solo and Indiana Jones had to be replaced by a grumpy “I can’t believe I’m doing this” scowl. With the early “Force Awakens” publicity, fans got a glimpse of the “Chewie, we’re home” smile — and the Internet appropriately exploded with joy.
6. Don’t give the original cast the shaft
We’ve all fallen victim to movies that promise lots of a certain actor, then barely show them. Now, fans are beginning to get paranoid about how little they’ve seen of Mark Hamill. Sure, fans are willing to give John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and the rest a fair shake — but make no mistake, they’ll be paying to see Mark Hamill, Ford and Carrie Fisher in their iconic roles again. What they made together was once-in-a-lifetime movie magic, and fans are hoping that maybe it’s actually twice-in-a-lifetime.
7. Embrace the obscure
The smartest things Lucas did with “Holiday Special” was commission a short cartoon that unveiled a character new to the galaxy: The heavily-armed, unmerciful bounty hunter Boba Fett. Some of the best characters in the Star Wars universe are the obscure, the strange, the barely-glimpsed creatures (like Max Rebo, Bossk and 21-B, to name a few) whose toys unlock the imaginations of kids worldwide. Take a chance and you never know — you might just create the next Fett.
8. Bring back the Luke-R2 Dynamic
People always talk about the friendships between Han Solo and Chewbacca, R2 and C-3PO and others, but very rarely do “Star Wars” fans think about the unique dynamic of Luke and R2. The droid was there for every step of the young Jedi’s journey, and accompanied him in his X-wing for his solo adventures. Looking back, Mark Hamill did a wonderful job opposite a non-speaking acting partner, turning the Luke-R2 dynamic into something close to a boy and his dog. In “The Force Awakens,” Luke will be an old man, whose onetime playmate is essentially unchanged. It would be wonderful to see some new scenes involving the duo.
9. Ditto for C-3PO and Leia
In addition to being a translator and protocol droid, Threepio was always something of a hand-maiden for the Princess (and her mother before her). As with the case above, it’s an undersold virtue of the original trilogy that one of the original actors was able to create such a dynamic with a droid. As bad as the “Holiday Special” may be, simply glimpsing some of these pairings reminds you of that magic — and also creates a new hope (sorry) that we’ll see it again in “Force Awakens.”
10. No Jefferson Starship, please.
This one is self-explanatory.