“A Disturbance in the Force” Review: “Star Wars Holiday Special” Doc

SXSW: And being a little less famous was generally a good thing for the franchise.

“Star Wars” might come off its high horse a bit. Besides the recent “Andor,” which actually broke new ground, the franchise has become incredibly obsessed with itself, regurgitating arcane lore, planting callbacks and cameos everywhere, and generally living in the past.

One of the mysteries of “Star Wars” which appears particularly? The “Star Wars Holiday Special,” the 1978 CBS disaster that’s the ultimate example of the franchise’s intellectual property being exploited into oblivion. The definitive “so bad it’s good” fetish, the two-hour special introduced Boba Fett as a character in the saga and continues to influence stories to this day – the claw-like rifle sometimes used by Mando on “The Mandalorian” came from the special – even though George Lucas and Lucasfilm cut it. Lucasfilm even produced its own “LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special” in 2020.

The most shocking thing about Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak’s documentary on the holiday special, “A Disturbance in the Force,” is that it took 45 years to make one. Built around new interviews with the architects of the special (including Bruce Vilanch, of course, and Steve Binder of Elvis ’68 Comeback Special fame), as well as die-hard fans such as Seth Green, Kevin Smith and Kyle Newman, and jaw-dropping clips, the doc shows how fan obsession can turn even the most cobbled-together money-mining into something to be revered.

But it’s also a charming reminder of when franchise trash could be genuinely, idiosyncratically terrible — not just the seamless, boardroom-driven mediocrity of that moment. No one will make an 80-minute documentary in 45 years on “The Book of Boba Fett” or “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”

Coon and Kozak deliver true cultural anthropology here, situating the “Star Wars Holiday Special” in the context of the television landscape of the 1970s. They show that the “Holiday Special” may not have even been the worst connection to a variety show. There was also a “Star Wars” themed episode of “Donny & Marie”, in which the Osmond siblings played Luke and Leia, and four of their brothers donned stormtrooper armor for a song and dance number. dance. (Donny Osmond is a recurring talking head in the documentary.) Mark Hamill joined Bob Hope (in proto “Spaceballs” attire) and Olivia Newton-John for another. The “Holiday Special”, however, was far from the best. It was probably Richard Pryor’s riff on the Mos Eisley Cantina.

Even though “A Disturbance in the Force” isn’t a remarkable film, it has real value because of the extraordinary number of variety show clips from the era. This is where Kozak particularly shines: he’s been one of the top producers of TV clips for the past two decades, first for “The Tonight Show” and now for “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and he knows how to get permission for images that others might not be able to get.

It is also valuable for setting the record straight. In his final years before his 2020 death, pioneering Lucasfilm publicist Charles Lippincott lamented on Facebook that he felt forgotten, even written off, about how people remembered how “Star Wars “came like a thunderbolt and changed the landscape of pop culture in 1977. He had appeared at San Diego Comic-Con more than nine months before its release to create buzz, tell people a little history and making sure they would be a ready audience.

He even encouraged the release of a novelization of the original film months before the film was released (who cared about spoilers back then?). “Pre-consciousness” is such an important part of how film and television executives make decisions today. Lippincott pioneered “pre-awareness” for a title that was then entirely new. The fact that he then left Lucasfilm in 1978 meant he could sometimes be a forgotten part of its history.

Reminding us Lippincott, along with some of Lucasfilm’s other early employees (such as Miki Herman, who consulted on the “Holiday Special”) is an essential service provided by “A Disturbance in the Force.” It’s also moving to see not only the late Gilbert Gottfried sharing his comments about this era on TV, but also former Lucasfilm in-house historian JW Rinzler, who passed away in 2021 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He had written books about the making of all six “Star Wars” movies released before the Disney acquisition, then was shown the door after the Mouse takeover. (Extensive warts and all of the production histories of the newer “Star Wars” films are really not something the current regime wants, and cease and desist letters have appeared when it shared information most recent.)

The thing that stands out so strongly in “A Disturbance in the Force,” even as it wears down its welcome after a while with its Wiki-like dump of information, is how bad the “Holiday Special” is. was impossible to replicate. It was the result of distinct personalities playing with this universe as if it were a toy chest full of action figures. Where a child’s sense of play meets the sensibilities of old TV moguls who may have never even seen Star Wars: Take nine minutes of unsubtitled Wookiee roars, an appearance by Art Carney and Bea Arthur, then Chewbacca’s father experiencing a VR performance of a come-here Diahann Carroll, then Harvey Korman in Julia Child’s far, far away version, then a Jefferson Starship performance, then Carrie Fisher on vocals. And although it was never officially released by Lucasfilm, this thing that people haven’t been able to see for decades except for the weird bootleg VHS tape is now just a click away on YouTube. .

It’s pretty remarkable nonsense for a tie-in to a movie that won seven Oscars and was nominated for Best Picture earlier that same year. Thing is, it was pretty common in the ’70s, when variety movies and TV existed in very different worlds. It was also pretty standard for ‘Star Wars’, which for all its fame and popularity still exploited the weird and unsavory, like so much mid-century sci-fi, for a very long time: see the young Emperor Palpatine baring his ass in the “Dark Empire” comics, or the three-eyed villain named Trioculus who claimed to be the Emperor’s son. Also, just a word for you real fans: Waru.

Today, it seems like all bad new IP cashes look the same. “A Disturbance in the Force” reminds us that at one time they could indeed be quite singular.

Category B-

“A Disturbance in the Force” premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

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