Flashback 1978: “Star Wars” Invades TV

Just because Wookiee Life Day has come and gone, doesn’t mean there isn’t more to learn about its beginnings in the Star Wars Holiday Special. ~ Darran

“Star Wars” Invades TV (Originally printed in StarLog Magazine No. 19: Feb 1979)

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   A behind-the-scenes look at the CBS Star Wars TV special, a star-studded affair that broke all the rules regarding the dos and don’ts of television.

By NATALIE MILLAR

   Last month CBS aired one of the most ambitious television spectaculars ever attempted by an American network, The Star Wars Holiday Special. The original Star Wars scenario, penned by Rod Warren, Bruce Vilanch, Leonard Ripps and Pat Proft, ran for two hours, cost over a million dollars to produce and had a taping schedule of an entire month… rather unheard of in the TV business. Because of its totally unique approach to television, the Star Wars special presented its makers with some equally unique problems as well.

   The plot, for instance, was long in coming. Some sort of format had to be constructed that would allow the re-uniting of Star Wars’ stars Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Mark Hamill (Luke), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Harrison Ford (Han Solo) and Tony Daniels (C-3PO). Finally, a storyline was conceived in which Chewbacca would attempt a visit to his home planet and his family (wife Malla, Grandpa Itchy and son Lumpy) in time for the celebration of Life Day. The plot paired the Star Wars cast with guest stars Beatrice Arthur, Harvey Korman, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, The Jefferson Starship and a horde of new alien characters.

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First Appearance of Boba Fett 1978

   The elements called for in the script presented the show’s creative team with a sometimes sticky situation. The special, geared for a family audience, had to present its alien horde as realistically as possible, and dramatically as well. The show’s first director, David Acomba, left in the middle of production because of “artistic differences.” He was replaced by veteran TV director Steve Binder. Under Binder’s guidance, the aliens paraded before the camera in an orderly fashion… with quite a few surprises. For instance, although Darth Vader didn’t make the show (he appears in voice only), intergalactic bounty hunter, Boba Fett, a villain from the upcoming Star Wars sequel film, did.

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   Binder’s creature complications were manifold. For Bea Arthur’s Cantina sequence, all of the original film’s alien barflies were resurrected under the supervision of makeup whiz Rick Baker, who added two new faces to the crowd: the Lion Man and the Baboon Man. These makeups were fairly complicated, taking two and one half hours to apply (as opposed to the rest of the Cantina cutups who sported slip-on masks).

   The taping of the scene took from six one morning until six the next, with the creature actors suffering from heat and claustrophobia through take after seemingly endless take. Makeup man Baker was astonished to see the Cantina band members squeezing their masks in order to increase their oxygen flow. As a result of their prodding, at least one band member had a dent in his head throughout the finished sequence. Having much more of a difficult time with oxygen intake were the Lion and Baboon actors, who suffered under their heavy appliances for 24 hours.

   Even stalwart R2-D2 presented problems during the show. Artoo (not portrayed by Kenny Baker, but rather by a remote-controlled model, a hollow shell and an unnamed actor) was scheduled to sign autographs at a special photo session following the completion of the Cantina sequence. Unfortunately, his robotics were a bit off that day and the remote-control model failed to respond to controller MickGarris’ frantic machinations. The little robot was saved from public embarrassment, however, when the entire press affair was canceled due to the marathon Cantina caper’s overtime.

   Adding a light note during the lengthy taping was Harvey Korman who, in portraying a multitude of alien roles, succeeded in keeping cast and crew members in stitches. After a solid month of patience and puns, the show was finally wrapped up and delivered to the network. But the Star Wars video invasion isn’t over. Artoo and Chewbacca are slated to appear in cameo roles in this month’s Mickey Mouse Birthday Special and both Artoo and C-3PO are currently hawking Kenner Star Wars toys on a series of TV commercials.

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The Star Wars Holiday Special

   These appearances will have to keep SW (Star Wars) fans happy until the appearance of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 (see starlog #18)… or until Chewbacca decides to take another video vacation .

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The Star Wars Holiday Special

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The Star Wars Holiday Special