Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christmas 2015: December 2

When “The Phantom Menace” came out, a lot of “Star Wars” fans got a rude awakening. They probably thought anything associated with the “Star Wars” name would be great, until faced with the horrors of Jar Jar Binks and adolescent Darth Vader. Long time fans of the series made this discovery – that the “Star Wars” label is not necessarily a sign of quality – decades earlier. “The Star Wars Holiday Special” was the second sanctioned bit of “Star Wars” media, premiering only a year after the original movie’s release. The special was such an unmitigated disaster that, despite being associated with a hugely successful and popular brand, it aired only once. An official home video release has never been approved. George Lucas has expressed a desire to smash every copy with a hammer. Harrison Ford disavows any memory of it. Bootleg VHS copies, recorded from the original broadcast, where passed around convention tables for years before the internet made it available to everyone. Eventually, the special’s notorious awfulness made it an in-joke among sci-fi nerds. And now the time has come for me to experience “The Star Wars Holiday Special.”

In the middle of the Star Wars, the traditional Wookie holiday of Life Day occurs. On his home world, Chewbacca’s family – composed of his wife Malla, his son Lumpy, and his father Itchy – wait patiently for his return. Life Day is so important to Chewie that Han Solo drops everything to help his pal travel across the galaxy and reunite him with his loved ones. The Empire is seemingly aware of this and put a blockade around the planet, hoping to catch the two rebels. Meanwhile, while Chewie’s family waits for his return, they watch various intergalactic programs on their space television.

I watched “The Star Wars Holiday Special” with a spiked glass of eggnog gripped in my hand because there was no way I was watching this shit sober. Even with some liquid reinforcements in me, it was difficult to complete all ninety minutes. About a third of the special is in unsubtitled Wookie. Long scenes are devoted to Lumpy, Malla, and Itchy lumbering around their home. It doesn’t help that the wookie suits, created by a young Stan Winston, are unintentionally horrifying. Lumpy and Malla’s human-like eyes, starring beyond weirdly still masks, quickly become unnerving. The TV movie has no conception of pacing. Lumpy activates a hologram device. Footage of dancers, jugglers, and musicians in bizarre costumes appear on his table, tumbling and playing instruments. Grandpa Itchy straps himself into a dream-generating machine. Diahann Carroll appears to him, in a silver dress, dancing and singing against a psychedelic backdrop. Her erotic pleas arouse the wookie. Tortured, bemused shouts of “Why?” or “What the fuck?” are the only rational responses. There’s no need to assume that “The Star Wars Holiday Special” was made by people indulging deeply of cocaine. Its content assures us of that.

As baffling as the wookie antics and halting musical numbers are, they are not the most painful parts of “The Star Wars Holiday Special.” The special was produced by variety TV specialists. Thus, the story (as it is) frequently cuts away to unrelated bits of dumbness. Harvey Korman appears in various bits, usually seen playing on the wookies’ televisions. In one, he plays a grotesque alien equivalent to Julia Childs, stumbling through a painfully unfunny recipe. Later, Korman appears as a malfunctioning android, sputtering and shaking through a disturbing broadcast. The lengthiest digression takes place in the cantina in Tatooine. Bea Arthur appears as the bar owner. She mingles with the aliens there, many of them familiar to “Star Wars” fans. (Korman appears again, as a creature who drinks through a hole in his head and hits aggressively on Bea.) She cracks the lamest jokes imaginable before the Empire shuts the place down, resulting in an incredibly languid musical number. Arthur and Korman, to their credit, are never embarrassed by this stupid shit. The long stretches of musical weirdness are just confounding. The attempts are comedy actively hurt.

Truthfully, I was hoping “The Star Wars Holiday Special” would have more moments of unintentional hilarity. Oh, there are laughs of the unintended variety. Harrison Ford simultaneously keeps a straight face while making his complete contempt for the material known at all times. The way he chokes out lines about wookies and Life Day made me roar with laughter. Carrie Fisher’s wide-eye musical number makes the actress’ preference for snow – and not of the Hoth variety – all too apparent. The Jefferson Starship rock song is groovy in the kind of way that amuses. The Life Day celebration is weirdly somber, the wookies raising candles over their heads while wearing red robes. It contrast badly (nicely?) with the insane bullshit happening around it.

The cartoon interlude is frequently singled out as the only appealing part of the special. True, it’s the only segment that actually has a moving plot. Han and Chewie crash the Millennium Falcon on a jello-like planet. While looking to retrieve them, Luke meets up with Boba Fett. He’s unaware that Fett is an agent of the empire. Also, there’s something about a virus that causes sleep… The animation is weirdly fluid, characters stretching in odd ways. The character designs exaggerate the real life actors in very odd ways. At least Boba Fett does something in this short, as opposed to the entirety of “The Empire Strikes Back.” Lucas has made his approval of this cartoon sequence known by sneaking it onto the trilogy’s Blu-Ray release. And, yeah, I guess it’s pretty good, especially compared to everything around it.

The best part about “The Star Wars Holiday Special?” Due to the arcane rules that determine such things, it’s technically canon! The special is as much of an endurance test as I have heard. It is nineties minutes composed of complete tedium, utter madness, and the worst kind of pseudo-humor. Yet it has to be seen to be believed. Where else are you going to see ten minutes of wookie sitcom shenanigans? Follow-up question: Where else would you want to see it? But that’s besides the point. “The Star Wars Holiday Special” is awful. It’s a complete train wreck. Like a train wreck, it’s also fascinating. Watching it shake apart, totally collapsing in spectacular fashion, is captivating in its awfulness. Truthfully, the only thing else I can really say about it is… Happy Life Day! [3/10]

No comments: