Skip to main content

The Legacy of Life Day

 "This holiday is yours, but we all share with you the hope that this day brings us closer to freedom, and to harmony, and to peace. No matter how different we appear, we're all the same in our struggle against the powers of evil and darkness. I hope that this day will always be a day of joy in which we can reconfirm our dedication and our courage. And more than anything else, our love for one another. This is the promise of the Tree of Life." - Princess Leia Organa


Andy: The Star Wars Holiday Special is something of a dark legend in nerd culture. Airing only once, November 17, 1978 on CBS, it was a quick attempt to cash in on the popularity of the original movie, released a year prior. Almost universally, it's agreed that the special is a horrible abomination. Copies of it have been historically difficult to find, as it was never rebroadcast or officially released. However, you might track down a copy on a torrent site or streaming video. Personally, I’ve seen enough bits of it to get a feel for why it is so hated. It isn’t all bad though, and if you can find the Boba Fett cartoon parts strung together, they're worth a watch. Bugsy, what's your experience with the Holiday Special that brought us Life Day?

Bugsy: Aside from the quality of the program itself, the Holiday Special falls squarely into that very strange “post-success” era. As mentioned in my post about the Star Wars radio plays, I’m fascinated with the period between the 1977 film and The Empire Strikes Back, when there was no consensus on what “Star Wars” was, or how anything related to it should look or feel. The era of the original Marvel comics, tie-in novels that later movies render… unfortunate, and some truly bizarre non-licensed works. One thing that stands out about all these is how much they are obvious products of their time, versus the timeless quality of the film itself. And if The Star Wars Holiday Special is anything, it’s a product of its times, from the smeary picture to the "disco music video" effects to the variety show format itself.

The Holiday Special’s current reputation is, I think, based largely on the hyperbolic tendency of internet writing and debate, particularly among folks our age and a little older, who remember a time when there was little interest in Star Wars and new films seemed an utter impossibility. There’s a certain bitter irony in knowing that something official, even featuring the original actors, existed besides those three movies… and that it was terrible, which makes the Holiday Special remembered in a way that, say, the Droids and Ewoks shows are not. While viewing it in preparation for this post, I’ve been trying to think about the mindset of the kids seeing it for the first time, rather than as a fan long familiar with its reputation. What was going through your mind, Andy, assuming that your synapses didn’t freeze up to protect you from the horror? (speaking of hyperbole…)

Andy: Immediately after watching the entire thing for the first time, I attempted to give a summary of what I’d just watched to my wife. I found it exceedingly difficult to do, given the nonsensical nature of the whole production. Also, how dare you make me remember it all again! However, in trying to look at it from a kid’s point of view, as you suggested, I can say that it isn’t all bad. Let me do my best to summarize for those of you not wanting to drive yourselves insane watching this:

It starts off fairly strong with Han and Chewy, but takes a quick dive after the opening credits as we visit Chewy’s family. We spend about the next NINE MINUTES watching the Wookie family mill about in holiday prep and watch an acrobatics performance on the Dejarik (holo-chess) table. Why is this an issue? They’re all speaking shyriiwook with no subtitles! I don’t know about you, but my shyriiwook is pretty rusty. It feels like an eternity. Finally, we get to hear from Luke and R2D2 (as played by R2D2. I guess Kenny Baker wasn’t available?) as the family calls in search of Chewy. By his look, Luke is obviously dealing with his own issues and is of very little help. We next get some attempts at humor as Art Carney shows up as a human trader on Kashyyyk, warning the family of an Imperial presence. This isn’t as bad as you’d expect, but not as good as the production wants it to be. We then hit one of the lowest parts of the production, Chewy’s wife Mala watching a cooking show as she prepares a meal. Time for Harvey Korman to shine.. only he doesn’t in this odd alien parody of Julia Child. It wasn’t serious enough to be solid wookiee programming, nor silly enough to actually be funny. It just... was. Do yourself a favor and skip this part if you're attempting to watch. We’re saved from that mess by a few more seconds with Han and Chewy. It all goes south again though when Art Carney visits the family with gifts. We get several awkward moments as Diahann Carroll sings to Chewy’s dad in his head. Trust me, don’t ask. We get a few more scenes with Leia with C3P0 and Han and Chewy, but our Star Wars favorites are the dimmest of bright points in this special. Imperial troops come to hassle Chewy’s family, and we get a brief musical interlude by Jefferson Starship. (Star Wars...Starship...it works right? Throw it in!) This is followed quickly by the much-loved Boba Fett cartoon. After that, you get another few comedic attempts by Korman, as Chewy’s son Lumpy attempts to build a transmitter. Although the inclusion of Bea Arthur as a singing bartender in the Mos Eisley Cantina makes no sense, it's somehow more entertaining than most of the special. Through some trickery, Art Carney and Chewy’s family kick the Empire out of the treehouse, as Han arrives just in time to dispatch the last trooper. We then get a very strange transition into the Life Day celebration, as Chewy and family, dressed in robes, walk into a giant orb of light. I’m not making this up. Leia then explains what Life Day truly means and sings us off into the stars.

And there you have it. I honestly think this whole special could be salvageable if you cut some of the really awful bits and edited it down for time. What we really should be talking about, though is Life Day itself. The fictitious holiday is slightly different depending upon if you’re talking about what is considered current Star Wars canon or "Legends" material. One thing both agree on is that Life Day is about the celebration of family. However, I think I’m partial to the Legends version that is specifically about honoring friends, and includes consuming treats, lighting fireworks, music, and decorating trees. It sounds a lot like Christmas, but with more fireworks and giant orbs of light. I think my household will delay our Life Day celebrations until we can watch the new LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special coming out. How will you celebrate Star Wars and Life Day this year?

Bugsy: Lacking Disney+, I fear I won't be able to partake of the new special. But I may pull down my old West End Star Wars: the Roleplaying Game books and start planning out how to run it remotely for friends and family new to tabletop gaming. That seems like the most appropriate way to celebrate. Speaking of friends and family, I do think the Holiday Special blew what could have been an excellent opportunity to develop the Star Wars characters. To begin with, focusing on Chewbacca's family brings up unfortunate questions about his absence from their lives, and pulls away from the connection the characters have formed as "found family." Both Luke and Leia have the only families they know murdered by the Empire in the first film - a Life Day story could have been about the connections they've formed with each other. Instead, aside from Han, they're completely separate from the main story, and consider it (at most) a distraction. While it's far beyond what anyone was thinking in regards to the Holiday Special or the Star Wars franchise itself, imagine what a touching story could have been told here.

The Holiday Special, of course, barely has any story at all, and exists mainly as a way of lazily setting up the next variety show bit. Having said that, this was the first time since the 1977 movie that the Star Wars universe was portrayed on screen, and no matter how much it may have been botched, the creators had to think about what life in that universe must be like. And, while the best they could do was "vaguely kooky version of contemporary Earth," simply asking what goes on past the borders of the film reel opens the story up to anyone who wants to contribute. As GMs who have both run Star Wars games, what lessons could you take from this… less successful attempt at broadening that Galaxy Far, Far Away?

Andy: Unfortunately, I think the Holiday Special as a whole translates horribly to a good tabletop roleplaying experience. You are right though, Bugsy, it can teach us a few lessons. I think the main ones span over any genre of RPG and can be summarized in two words: Content and Pacing. Specifically, these two things were very wrong in the Special and we can learn to do the opposite with our games. In regards to content, you see a lot in the Holiday Special that nobody asked for. Were people clamoring to see what Wookies watched on television, in their holo-headsets, or on their Dejarik tables? Okay, maybe on their Dejarik tables, but, otherwise, I think not. At least when you see the round of space chess on the Falcon, it serves a purpose. You learn that while he may be a gentle giant, Chewbacca can easily rip some arms off if things go the wrong way. Why did his family watch acrobats on the Dejarik table at home? No idea. Why did they see a music video from Jefferson Starship? No idea. Why did Chewy’s father Attichitcuk imagine a seductive singer? No. Give your players the content they want to see. Give them some flavor text of what's going on in the room: “there's a female Wookie watching a cooking show starring a strange four armed chef.” After that, move on. If the players want to know more, they’ll ask. Just be prepared to improvise if needed.

 The other lesson I pointed out was pacing. The very beginning of the special sees Han racing Chewy back home to his family for Life Day as they’re assaulted by Star Destroyers. We’re set up for action and a fast paced show...only to spend most of the next ten minutes without any dialogue or really anything happening at all. Can you imagine that during an RPG session? That isn’t to say you won’t have highs and lows in your sessions, but try your best to find a good middle ground and keep your players engaged. You aren’t there to read them the dictionary. As with content, find your high (or your low) and then move on. Speaking of moving on, let me move this back to you for a few final words Bugsy. What lessons do you think we can learn from this failure?

Bugsy: The funny thing is that, knowing that this was considered Star Wars canon for so long, my Gamemaster Sensibilities kicked in, trying to establish plausible in-universe explanations and connections, the way I would in response to players' questions. Why was Luke wearing his flight suit to work on an engine? He must have been forced to make an emergency landing somewhere. Why is Leia apparently leading the Life Day ceremony? As a dignitary, she's learned how to quickly pick up the customs of any culture. (She can probably perform weddings, too!) And, if Vader already knew Boba Fett to be a capable bounty hunter who's already successfully tracked the Falcon once, why does he bring in so many others in The Empire Strikes Back? Because it's a government contract, and they have to consult with a minimum number of vendors.

And maybe that's the best takeaway from the Star Wars Holiday Special. You can keep coming up with new and better answers as long as the questions get asked. May your stories stay open and your audiences inquisitive. Happy Life Day, everyone!



Popular posts from this blog

Devouring "Roll for Sandwich"

Good timezone to Never Say Dice fans, adventures in Aardia, TikTok and beyond. No, I’m not the Roll for Sandwich guy (neither of us is), but if you haven’t heard of him already (or especially if you have), this week I wanted to talk about the TikTok/YouTube show Roll for Sandwich hosted by Jacob Pauwels. The premise is exactly what it sounds like: every episode, the host rolls dice to determine the various items that comprise a sandwich (except when the episode is about s’mores). He assembles the sandwich, then actually eats and critiques his random creation. If it sounds pretty niche to you... it is. You should  probably be both a bit of a foodie and a TTRPG fan in order to truly appreciate both the strange layered creations and the roleplaying references. My eldest son has been so interested in the web series that he decided he wanted to try doing it for himself. So, for the last week of summer this year, we took stock of our cupboards, made our own charts, and proceeded to consume

Be a Grinch! (in a Tabletop RPG)

The Holidays may be almost over (for a while), and we hope you’ve all enjoyed your seasonal music and movies/specials. We here at Never Say Dice have covered the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special and the new LEGO edition a few posts ago. A common thing many of us into tabletop RPGS like to do is incorporate media into our games. After all, many of us have grown up with the blending of media and the holidays as a given. It provides us a framework to build on and a common touchpoint to the people at our tables, virtual or otherwise. One classic character featured in holiday specials and commemorated in his own song is the Grinch, the avocado-green villain with strange cardiac growth problems apparently linked to his personality. The Grinch, villain though he may be, has a slew of characteristics that would make the character an excellent one at the gaming table. Those of you not familiar with Suess-lore may really only know the Grinch from the How the Grinch Stole Christmas animated

An Introduction to Risus

While roaming the internet in the late nineties/early noughties, I came across a TTRPG that was rules-lite and called itself “the anything RPG.” Want to play a high school cheerleader/samurai-in-training part-time goth enthusiast fast food cashier? The hot pink stick figure art glared back at me. Nah, not interested. But I was wrong. The stick figures were actually purple, and Risus is a surprisingly versatile, handy and down right fun TTRPG. I wouldn’t figure that out though till I discovered it again several years later. Even though it was written as a comedy system (and somewhat lighthearted response to GURPS) you really can use it for just about anything: space opera, high fantasy, pulp, vampires,western, any movie setting you could think of...seriously anything. You can read a far more detailed and interesting history in a number of other places should it strike your fancy. It is time for your Risus indoctrination introduction. Risus really is versatile and fairly easy to learn

Willy Wonka - Cartoonish Supervillian or Time Lord?

Every spring, in at least some of the religions practiced in the States, brings yet another holiday full of varied confections: Easter. For some reason, perhaps it’s the candy content or the garish colors associated with the holiday here, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory seems to be the movie that most often comes to my mind. While there are other pieces of media that are more “classically Easter” entries, Willy Wonka just seems to belong here. Perhaps there’s something to those giant eggs, as well. Whatever the reason, it’s in our common consciousness around this time of year, and that has had me thinking about a couple of common internet theories. One common thought is that the titular character Willy Wonka is an incarnation of Doctor Who ’s (only semi-titular) protagonist, the Doctor. The other would have you believe that Willy Wonka is a cartoonish supervillian originating in the DC universe, most likely one of Batman’s adversaries. For this post, let’s go over the arg