All of The Star Wars Holiday Special Is Canon, You CowardsPhoto Courtesy of CBS TV Features Star Wars
In 1978, there was no Star Wars. Well, there had been exactly one Star War, but it existed in complete isolation. Was the idea of “canon” even a consideration then? The shackles of continuity, the macro-narrative that defined the parameters of what could and couldn’t happen, would have been a foreign concept to those original audiences. There must have been so many questions about what belonged and didn’t belong in Star Wars, but whatever the right answers were, the first live-action continuation of the nascent brand appeared to get every one of them wrong.
While George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, and Gary Kurtz were planning the careful expansion of Star Wars galaxy, a bunch of CBS suits and variety show producers opted to take wild shots in the dark. The Star Wars Holiday Special is notorious for its unwatchability; a cheap, flaccid misunderstanding of what made the first film so appealing. It’s easy, even sensible, to discount everything that happened over those 97 nauseating minutes as non-canon. None of its original characters make second appearances in film or television (excluding the animated debut of one Boba Fett), and the whole thing feels so clearly out of sync with future adventures.
Star Wars’ official keeper of the canon (before it itself was dissolved) denoted the special as “S-tier canon,” meaning it was secondary to any more reputable stories that wished to contradict it. All subsequent “confirmations” of the Holiday Special’s canonical validity feel more playful than sincere: JJ Abrams confirmed it on a pre-Force Awakens red carpet; both Jon Favreau Disney+ shows have made reference to elements of its story. But now, where continuity ascribes how much progress and change any one story and series can have, it’s unlikely Star Wars producers or fans would count the Holiday Special as genuine lore, especially since it remains too embarrassing to totally release in any official capacity.
But to discredit the entirety of the Holiday Special from canon, or even to cherry-pick elements from it, is a solution reserved only for cowards. Too often, canon is used as a sledgehammer for those who want to leverage the authority of their favorite properties to preserve only the stories they find personally gratifying, and the argument of striking episodes and films from canon is a method for not engaging with black sheep or unique stories. I am here to argue, to insist, that The Star Wars Holiday Special is entirely canon: every second, every line. All the excruciating musical numbers, all the original characters—as Han Solo himself said, “All of it. It’s all true.”
Chewbacca and Han Solo are trying to return to Chewie’s home planet of Kashyyyk so he can celebrate the holiday Life Day with his family: his wife Malla, his father Itchy, and his son Lumpy. But this isn’t a story of watching the Millennium Falcon evade close shaves with the evil Empire; we spend the majority of the special with his family waiting for Chewie to return home. His father is a cantankerous old codger, prone to bouts of anger—understandable for someone who saw Separatist forces invading his world 20 years prior, only for his allies to immediately occupy his planet.
Lumpy is a very agitated child who clearly idolizes the Rebellion, playing with model X-Wings and watching a Rebel cartoon featuring the voice talent of Luke Skywalker, et al. It’s propaganda that must be broadcasted on underground, pirate channels to evade the Empire’s watch, although Lumpy shows no qualms about tuning in while Imperial officers are performing a search on his home. Malla keeps house well enough in her husband’s absence, although her disastrous attempts to follow a cooking video (instructed by a multi-armed cyborg—a successor to General Grievous?) illustrates that she may not be the best cook. This explains why Chewbacca was so eager to grab the meat the Ewoks lay as bait in Jedi. No wonder he’s “always thinking with his stomach.”
It’s so difficult to express the effect of fifteen uninterrupted minutes of unsubtitled Wookiee noises at the start of a dauntingly long special. Thankfully, we meet the intelligible human presence on the planet that the Empire must have settled since their occupation, in-keeping with their fascistic anti-alien policies. Their plans weren’t entirely successful, as Art Carney is a secret Imperial dissident who aids the ‘Bacca clan with a network of Rebellion ties—a blueprint for subsequent hiding-in-plain-sight rebels like Andor’s Luthen Rael.
There’s a vast array of observations of life in the galaxy that the Holiday Special makes canon. Imperial officers are also very partial to American-styled rock music; one of the intruding officials in Chewie’s home is distracted by watching a Jefferson Starship number in its entirety, and he looks pretty chuffed throughout. This is canon. The fact that the Falcon cockpit looks like dogshit is because it was undergoing renovations that were still going on in the Hoth base in Empire, making it canon. Wookiees also have no social codes prohibiting watching softcore pornography in the front room, shown by Itchy getting visibly excited by a VR singer that A) was originally cast as Cher and B) makes actor Diahann Carroll the first on-screen Black actor in Star Wars. Itchy’s penchant for glittery, sultry holograms is also canon.
Our quest to canonize the Holiday Special is aided by the fact that everything shown in it is militantly diegetic. Yes, there are song and dance numbers, the likes of which we’ve rarely seen elsewhere in the saga, but they all have a clear in-universe explanation for existing. Holographic circustry, VR ballads, and cutaway bits are all recordings or comm channels with an active, present viewer, not reality-breaking intrusions of suspension-of-disbelief-demanding frivolities.
Even a cantina song feels more like a cabaret number than a spontaneous musical scene. It appears the Empire shares slice-of-life broadcasts of outer rim planets in order to make those within its dominion grateful of their Imperial benevolence. With a bunch of Stormtroopers and officers gathered around the Wookiee’s TV (these broadcasts are mandatory viewing), we see a cantina run by Bea Arthur react to an Imperial announcement of a curfew on Tatooine. Our landlady gets the iconic Modal Nodes band (who must gig at a variety of establishments other than Mos Eisley) to perform one last drinking song. It’s a decent ditty, made better by seeing the cool-looking aliens bopping along to it… but it’s insane to think that every resident in the Empire has to watch in its entirety. Public television was not the Empire’s strong suit.
The most glaring hole in insisting the Holiday Special’s canonical status is that we never see or hear of Chewie’s family again (although Solo: A Star Wars Story came frustratingly close). Thanks to book expansions, their existence has been fleshed out, but seeing as the Holiday Special came out before the rest of the Original Trilogy was made, the lack of Malla, Lumpy, or Itchy makes it difficult to think of them as ever existing. But maybe Chewie and Malla had a messy divorce, maybe Itchy passed away when his son was lying low on the other side of the galaxy. Maybe Chewbacca’s time with the diminutive Ewoks reminded him so much of his darling Lumpy, and he went straight home to reunite with his family. It could all be true.
In the early days, there were approximately 6 hours worth of Star Wars on our planet, but unlimited adventures in the minds of kids across the world. There’s been a shifting in the last 10 years of people deciding which iterations of Star Wars are more truthful, more meaningful, more legitimate. The platform these fans serve makes the concept of canon more unsettling; a monopolistic corporation has discredited decades of work from novelists, game developers, and artists to insist that—-despite their only goal being brand potency—they are the arbiters of what should be regarded creatively pure. Funnily enough, it’s exclusively the stuff they hold sole control over. To Disney, other perspectives of what Star Wars could look like are vermin, and “canon” is their rat killer.
But you cannot neuter a story’s emotional power by branding it non-canon. Star Wars is not an encyclopedia, it’s a story, and you cannot easily scrub away the experiences felt through what’s been stamped LEGENDS on Wookieepedia. To not judge something on its immediate value as a narrative, but rather the most reductive intersections it has with others, is anti-storytelling. Canon is what makes a universe feel small, a galaxy feel limited; what may be seen as contradictions and impossibilities can actually reveal a multiplicity of character that is tenfold more fascinating than one singular, approved version of events.
But to embrace the best parts of a non-canon universe, you must also take its worst. It has to be totalic, all the good and the bad must be accepted as they come. This is why the Holiday Special must be canon, because as unloveable as it is, it belongs to part of the very long, very stupid tapestry that is Star Wars. To be selective over what we accept is to be punitive over its expansive possibilities. I will take it all, everything recorded a long time ago, everything that happened far, far away.
Rory Doherty is a screenwriter, playwright and culture writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. You can follow his thoughts about all things stories @roryhasopinions.
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