“Confusion in the Force” Review: “Star Wars Holiday Special” Doc
SXSW: And being a little less reputable has generally been good for the franchise.
“Star Wars” was able to get off its high horse a bit. With the exception of the recent ‘Andor’, which actually broke new ground, the franchise has become amazingly self-obsessed, reclaiming the obscure story, planting callbacks and cameos everywhere, and generally living in the past.
One piece of the “Star Wars” arcana that particularly stands out? “Star Wars Holiday Special,” the 1978 CBS disaster that stands as the ultimate example of franchise intellectual property oblivion. The ultimate so-good-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—it’s where the stake-like rifle the mando sometimes uses in “The Mandalorian” comes from. the special—even if George Lucas and Lucasfilm famously suppressed it. Lucasfilm also produced its own “LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special” in 2020.
What’s most astounding about Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak’s holiday special documentary, “A Disturbance in the Force,” is that it took 45 years to complete. It’s built around new interviews with the architects of the special (Bruce Vilanch and Steve Binder of Elvis ’68 Comeback Special fame, of course) and die-hard fans like Seth Green, Kevin Smith and Kyle Newman. and stunning clips, the doc captures how fan obsession can turn even the finest cash grab into something respectable.
But it’s also a charming reminder of when franchise trash can be authentically, peculiarly awful—not just the homogenous, boardroom-driven mediocrity of the present moment. No one is going to make an 80-minute documentary 45 years from now called “The Book of Boba Fett” or “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”
Coon and Kozak do some real cultural anthropology here, setting the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ in the ’70s TV setting. They show that “Holiday Special” might not have been the worst variety show tie-in. There was also a “Star Wars”-themed “Donny & Marie” episode, in which the Osmond brothers played Luke and Leia, and their four siblings donned Stormtrooper armor for a song and dance number. (Donny Osmond is a recurring talking head in the documentary.) Mark Hamill joined Bob Hope (in a proto “Spaceballs” outfit) and Olivia Newton-John in another. However, the “Holiday Special” was far from the best. That was likely Richard Pryor’s riff on Mos Eisley Cantina.
Despite not being a remarkable film production, “The Force Awakens” has real value due to the extraordinary number of clips from variety shows of the era. This is where Kozak stands out: he’s been one of TV’s top music video producers for the past two decades, first on “The Tonight Show” and now on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and know how to obtain permission for recordings that others may not be able to obtain.
It is also valuable for setting the record. In his final years before his death in 2020, Lucasfilm’s pioneering publicist Charles Lippincott took to Facebook to complain that the way people remember how “Star Wars” arrived in a flash and changed the pop culture landscape in 1977 has been forgotten or even written out. -in. More than nine months before release, he showed up at San Diego Comic-Con to hype it up, tell people about the story, and make sure he had a ready audience.
Even months before the film was released, he encouraged the novelization of the original film (who cared about spoilers back then?). “Prior awareness” is now a very important part of film and TV decision-making. Lippincott pioneered the term “prior knowledge,” a brand new title at the time. The fact that he left Lucasfilm in 1978 meant that he can sometimes be a forgotten part of its history.
Reminiscent of Lippincott, as well as some other early Lucasfilm employees (such as Miki Herman, who consulted on the “Holiday Special”), “Confusion in the Force” is a staple. It’s poignant to see not only the late Gilbert Gottfried share his observations about that era on TV, but also former Lucasfilm in-house historian JW Rinzler, who died of a battle with pancreatic cancer in 2021. He wrote books about the making of the six “Star Wars” movies that were released before Disney bought him, then was shown the door after Mouse took over. (The deep warts and all the production history of the latest “Star Wars” movies is very much not what the current regime wants, and the cease-and-desist letters came when he shared the new information.)
In “A Disturbance in the Force,” it comes across so strongly, even if it wears out its welcome after a while due to the Wiki-like trove of information, just how unrepeatable the badness of “Holiday Special” was. It was the result of odd personalities who played with this universe like a toy box full of action figures. Where a child’s sense of play meets the sensibilities of old-timers who may never have seen Star Wars: nine minutes of uncaptioned Wookiee howling, appearances by Art Carney and Bea Arthur, and then Chewbacca’s father in a VR performance. -here Diahann Carroll, then Harvey Korman as the Julia Child version of the galaxy far, far away, then Jefferson Starship’s performance, then Carrie Fisher singing. And while it was never officially released by Lucasfilm, this thing that people haven’t been able to see for decades, except on the odd bootleg VHS tape, is now just a click away on YouTube.
That’s some pretty remarkable stupidity to be associated with a movie that won seven Academy Awards and was nominated for Best Picture in the same year. Thing is, this was pretty standard in the ’70s, when movies and various TV shows existed in very different worlds. It was also pretty standard for ‘Star Wars’, which for all its acclaim and popularity still mined the weird and disreputable for a very long time like so much mid-century science fiction: witness the young Emperor Palpatine ass in the ‘Dark Empire’ comics , or the three-eyed scoundrel Trioculus, who claimed to be the emperor’s son. Also, just a word for the true fans: Waru.
Today it feels like every bad new IP deposit is the same. “A Disturbance in the Force” reminds us that at one time they might actually have been quite unique.
“A Disturbance in the Force” premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. Currently looking for distribution.
Register: Stay up to date with the latest movie and TV news! Subscribe to our email newsletter here.