The recent death of Art Carney found obituaries citing the beloved actor’s triumphant work in films (his Oscar-winning “Harry and Tonto”), theater (as Felix Unger in the original Broadway production of “The Odd Couple”) and, of course, television (as the immortal Ed Norton on “The Honeymooners”). Strangely, most obituaries failed to mention his performance as Saundan, the wily merchant who secretly assists Han Solo and Chewbacca in their struggle against Darth Vader’s forces.
What, you don’t recall Art Carney in “Star Wars”? No, he wasn’t in the original landmark film. Instead, Carney turned up in the 1978 TV extravaganza “The Star Wars Holiday Special”–along with such unlikely “Star Wars” co-stars as Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman, Diahann Carroll and the Jefferson Starship. Clearly this galaxy wasn’t far, far away enough!
A year-and-a-half after the premiere of “Star Wars,” the mania for the film had yet to abate and there was a strong desire to see the film’s characters back in action. But “The Empire Strikes Back” was still in the planning stages, so a quickie production was called for to satisfy the fans’ needs. For no clear reason, George Lucas decided to allow CBS-TV to create a variety program timed to the year-end holiday season which would incorporate his characters. Lucas stayed out of the planning of the program, which was probably the second lethal error–giving it green light, obviously, was the first.
The main challenge was deciding which holiday to celebrate. The characters in “Star Wars” made no mention of Jesus Christ, let alone Judah Maccabee, so having them celebrate the traditional December festivities from Earth was problematic. A new holiday was created, called Life Day, and its celebrants were the Wookies. The force behind this special was to get Chewbacca home in time to observe Life Day with his beloved family, despite the best efforts of Darth Vader’s troops to capture Chewbacca and his comrade Han Solo.
While this was an admittedly silly idea, in concept there was something to work with. But from concept to production, we suddenly experience a major short circuit and “The Star Wars Holiday Special” plays like a burlesque of the Lucas classic rather than a logical extension. I won’t give away too much detail, because those who’ve never seen this production have no idea what they are missing.
Get the rest of the story in part two of THE BOOTLEG FILES: “THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL”>>>