Synopsis: In 1978, filmmaker George Lucas is persuaded to turn over Star Wars to the world of the ’70s variety hour, culminating in The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), often cited as one of the worst forms of entertainment of all time.
Review: Released late on in 2023. Only at the time I couldn’t find a copy. A Disturbance In The Force tells the infamous story of how the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened. The intention of the legendary show, which was very much a one-off, was to keep the characters of Star Wars relevant and in the public eye, while also being a means to promote the Star Wars figures, which got released in late 1978 at around the same time as the special. Of course over the years this little gem, which is hated by many, but also loved by many has become the stuff of legends and this documentary film from Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak reunites many of the writers, producers, and directors that made the film to uncover how it ever got made.
The film gets underway with a little information about the Holiday Special with some comments from pop culture aficionados, which include Kevin Smith, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, and Seth Green who share their first memories of seeing or wanting to see the show. After this, we get a fun-filled explainer that talks about the television landscape of the late 1970s and how it was dominated by variety shows. This brief explainer includes a hilarious skit that was done on The Donny and Marie Show in which the two Osmand siblings do a song and dance routine dressed as Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. While talking about this routine Donny Osmond wonders how on earth they managed to get away with it, given that they broke with many established conventions that were set out in the Star Wars movie.
After this intro and explainer, which probably takes up the first 20 minutes of the film. We move on to interviews with the writers, producers, and directors who worked on the Holiday Special. Bruce Vilanch who was one of the writers on the film remembers how George Lucas was only really available during the early stages of the project because he had commitments elsewhere. Vilanch shares a great many stories from behind the scenes and seems to remember the chaos of getting it made with great aplomb. One interesting anecdote from this film is how they went after trying to get the late Robin Williams involved in the production, but could not get it past studio execs who said felt Williams was not a big enough start at the time. Unfortunately for them Mork & Mindy would air in late 78 and catapulted Robin Williams into world superstardom. At that time the television production companies only wanted big established stars in variety shows and in the case of the Star Wars show they went with older stars such as Art Carney, Bea Arthur and Diahann Carroll who filled a role that was originally intended for Cher.
Suffice to say. This film does a great job of illustrating what happens when a Juggernaut movie franchise in its early days runs head-on into the perfect storm of 70s Variety TV. Often derided as the worst TV ever made. This piece of Star Wars History is a must-see if you have a good appreciation of stuff that is so bad that you can’t look away or move because your sides are hurting so badly.
Like a great many Star Wars fans in the UK. I’d never heard nor seen The Star Wars Holiday Special until the early 2000s when it first popped up on YouTube. Ultimately the film was the stuff of legends at various Star Wars conventions and the only way to see it in the pre-internet days was via bootleg VHS copies. And given that I never really did conventions until perhaps the early 2000s. I was never exposed to it.
Overall. This film does a great time of reflecting on the period in which the Holiday Special was made and has some great footage from the film as well as some really good interviews with some members of the writing team that made it. I found the film to be educational, entertaining, and extremely amusing, and highly recommend it to all Star Wars fans. Or at the very least, those Star Wars fans that can view this material from a certain point of view.
You can check out this film at Apple Plus, Amazon Video, and other good streaming services.