New Documentary Explores the Strange 1978 ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’

A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE, scene from THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, from left: Darth Vader, Peter Mayhew, 1978, 2023
September Club/Everett Collection

Many beloved movies and television shows get their own holiday specials. Some are praised, while others… let’s just say people hope to forget they exist. In November 1978, the makers of Star Wars were hoping to capitalize on its fame by releasing The Star Wars Holiday Special, the first spin-off film, set between the events of the first film and the then-unreleased sequel. Many forget that this special introduced the character Boba Fett, who now has his own show called The Book of Boba Fett.

Original Star Wars characters including Chewbacca, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Darth Vader all appear in the special. The storyline follows Chewbacca and Han Solo as they attempt to visit Chebacca’s home planet, the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” similar to Christmas. Unfortunately, they are pursued by agents of the Galactic Empire and their travel plans are quickly ruined. The special also introduces Chewbacca’s family including his father Itchy, wife Malla, and son Lumpy.

THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca (rear left), 1978

Lucasfilm, Ltd./Everett Collection

Sounds great, right? Not so much. The special aired on CBS on Friday, November 17, 1978. It did so poorly and received such bad reviews that it has never been aired again, nor is it available to purchase or stream. Some bootleg copies have circulated over the years and now a new documentary hopes to explore the special and figure out exactly what happened. A Disturbance in the Force is a comical behind-the-scenes documentary focusing on the holiday special.

THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, Mark Hamill, R2D2 (robot), 1978

Lucasfilm, Ltd./Everett Collection

Directors Jeremy Coons and Steve Kozak wanted to figure out how the special got made and why they went in that direction for the plot, considering it has been ultimately filed under pop culture fails. The documentary film premiered at this year’s SXSW Film Festival and will be released on digital and Blu-ray on December 5, 2023. It is also playing in select theaters now. Watch the trailer below, and then tell us, did you watch the Star Wars Holiday Special? What did you think about it?

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