A Disturbance in the Force: How the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened (2023)

Directed by Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak

In 1977, "Star Wars" became a cultural phenomenon that single-handedly revitalized a stagnant film industry, and forever changed how films were sold, made, and marketed. Movies would never be the same again. A year later, neither would television. In 1978, CBS aired the two-hour "Star Wars Holiday Special" during the week of Thanksgiving. The broadcast was watched by 13 million people. It never re-aired and is considered one of the worst shows to ever air on TV. While some fans of the franchise are aware of this dark secret, this bizarre television event still remains relatively unknown among the general public. This documentary answers the question: how and why did the "Holiday Special" get made?

Seattle International Film Festival 2023: Film #22

I'm afraid I find it extremely difficult to reason objectively about this documentary. I have no real issue with the film itself, which managed to straightforwardly convey the ever-changing personnel etc. in a genuinely amusing and engaging manner, but I have such a jaundiced view of Star Wars fandom that watching this film that, contrary to those who were in the theatre with me, was not an enjoyable experience.

This is not the place to develop these ideas in great depth, but suffice it to say that I find it distasteful at an almost visceral level that so many voluntarily offer up their enthusiasm and finite energy to a mediocre franchise that is designed to have an artificial fan base right from its outset, a fact that was explicitly reiterated and admitted in this very documentary. This is all then compounded by the fact that this broader cultural obsession is seemingly resistant to the revelation of George Lucas' charlatan nature vis-à-vis the great weaver of tales that the original films made him out to be… all famously revealed at great length in, for instance, the DVD extras of the prequel trilogy. And for all the claims that Star Wars is 'escapist'? That may indeed be so, but it simply begs a different question: escapist from what, exactly? What might a majority white male middle-class audience in the late 1970s be trying to escape from? If someone can truthfully answer that, I might grant the quasi-exculpatory label of 'escapist'.

Anyway, A Disturbance in the Force… is at its best when discussing the broader bizarre norms of 1970s television, but… Oh man, please, no more Star Wars already.