So if this is the first post you’ve found on this blog, please go back and read the introduction post that explains what this blog is (hopefully) going to be all about.
The task for this post is to discuss the very first cartoon ever made by Lucasfilm in the Star Wars universe.
The Star wars holiday special
We can’t discuss the cartoon embedded in The Star Wars Holiday Special without a brief introduction to the holiday special itself. I don’t want to talk too much about the holiday special because I may want to post about it specifically in the future. But I will talk about it here briefly since I assume many of you have never seen the holiday special. In all honesty, I’ve never seen the thing all the way through in one sitting before undertaking this project. Lucas himself said, “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.” I guess we all have things in our lives that we aren’t proud of. Much like the movie Howard the Duck, I assume drugs were consumed during the writing, filming and production of this special. Nevertheless, it is almost universally agreed upon that the cartoon short stuck in the middle is the single bright spot of this blight.
The holiday special was only aired once, on CBS on Friday, November 17th, 1978, at 8 p.m. After seeing the final result on television and hearing the fan reaction, Lucasfilm (George Lucas himself) forbade future broadcasts of The Star Wars Holiday Special and never allowed an official VHS or DVD release. When cast members are asked about it, they frequently deny it exists (as Harrison Ford did on a Conan appearance in 2005). Unfortunately for Lucas, he might have been the first victim of the permanent memory of mass culture and with the invention of the internet … you can get almost anything ever made. It is digital, it is forever.
So the Holiday Special has a plot, of sorts. It is a 1970s style variety show with a series of novelty acts (comedians, acrobats…and so on) with a wrap around plot of an Imperial occupation of Kashyyyk focused on Chewie’s family … apparently Chewie has a family. The members of the family are Chewie’s father Attichitcuk (Itchy), Chewie’s wife Mallatobuck (Malla), and Chewie’s son Lumpawarrump (Lumpy). The format is basically the Wookiee family watching TV and other entertainment shows while the Imperial officers hang out waiting for Chewbacca and Han Solo to show up for Life Day celebrations. So this special isn’t “canon” in the Disney sense of the word “canon.” Like most Star Wars materials produced before the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm, this is in the trash heap of “LEGENDS” materials. Still worth a look though.
So you can calibrate yourself to my level of Star Wars nerdiness, I also celebrate “Life Day.” I decided this year to make life day cloaks for my kids’ Wookiee action figures. So … this is a thing I do now.
As Chewie’s family and the imperial officers stand around waiting for the heroes to walk into the trap, Lumpy (the son) watches a cartoon program starring his father and Han Solo on a mission for the rebellion. It is not clear from the “in universe” context of the show whether or not there is a TV show starring these characters or if Lumpy is watching something that actually happened in their universe on the television. I guess I’ll leave the interpretation up to you. Perhaps something we can discuss if there is ever a post about the Holiday Special alone in the future.
the cartoon short inside the holiday special
As I described above, the cartoon short is one of the shows Lumpy watches while the Imperials are occupying his house waiting for his dad (Chewbacca) and Han Solo to show up to celebrate Life Day. The cartoon is approximately 10 minutes long and has a commercial break in the middle where we briefly cut back to Lumpy looking nervous for the characters in the show (also changing the channel and pretending like he’s not watching the TV so the Imperials don’t know what he’s doing — for an unknown unexplained reason).
So there is a plot to this short, and the 5 word summary is “the introduction of Boba Fett.” This cartoon is the first time almost anyone saw Boba Fett (more on that below). The cartoon starts with a voice-over from Captain Kasan (sp? this character isn’t in the version of the script I consulted, version 4) giving a background on the mission. Basically, Han Solo and Chewbacca were on a mission to retrieve a talisman that the empire wants. C-3PO describes the talisman and being able to make things invisible, then throws a meaningless insult at R2-D2 about how that would be an improvement. For some reason, that is never explained, the rebel base cannot make contact with the Millennium Falcon when it drops out of hyperspace. They can get a visual and see that Chewbacca is flying but Han is tied up in back upside down hanging from the ceiling of the ship. There is some tension when the base reports that the Falcon will impact the base and that everyone is in trouble … but then the Falcon just flies by and keeps going.
Luke, C-3PO and R2-D2 pursue the Falcon in a Y-wing fighter (pretty cool) and the Millennium Falcon fires on them, missing. Luke figures it’s a warning shot since Chewie is a better shot than that. Both the Falcon and the Y-wing crash on a moon in the Panna (or Pana, both spellings present in the script) system. It is not clear why the Falcon crashes on the moon. The moon appears to be made of mostly water, purple water. The ships inflate bladders to buoy up the ships.
Luke and C-3PO puzzle about their situation when some sort of dinosaur shows up to eat their Y-wing. Luke detaches a portion of it (didn’t know they could do that) and Boba Fett shoots the dinosaur with some oddly shaped form / energy weapon. Luke and Boba Fett run down the plot of the episode up until this point and Luke feeds something to the dinosaur. Boba Fett tells him, “You are foolish to waste your kindness on this dumb creature, no lower life-form is worth going hungry for.” Then they discuss hating the empire and decide to follow him to the crash site of the Falcon.
Luke rushes onto the Falcon where Chewie is holding the talisman and looking … dazed? Luke immediately falls over after seeing the talisman and Chewie throws it into the ship’s reactor. Boba Fett captures Chewbacca in a rope and C-3PO tries to reason with them. Turns out the talisman is contaminated with some kind of sleeping virus that causes humans to fall asleep and maybe makes Wookiees groggy? Once asleep the humans have to hang upside down to push the blood into their heads.
Boba Fett reveals that the sleeping virus is actually a biological weapon used by the empire and that a cure can be readily purchased in the town. So Boba Fett and Chewbacca head into town to purchase the cure. While in town, Boba Fett contacts Darth Vader on a videophone after telling Chewbacca to hold back and hide in an alley. Boba Fett informs Vader everything is going according to plan. (This is where the commercial break is in the Holiday Special).
When we return from commercial, C-3PO and R2-D2 somehow see the conversation between Boba Fett and Darth Vader on the videophone. I guess it wasn’t a secure connection. The plan is to get the rebels to take Boba Fett to the secret base. Darth Vader says, “I see why they call you the best bounty hunter in the galaxy.”
Boba Fett and Chewbacca leave the city to go back to the ship. They are pursued by some Stormtroopers. Boba Fett fires above their heads but Chewie takes the gun and destroys the pursuers. They make it back to the ship and Luke and Han awake after getting the serum. Han then refers to the virus as the talisman virus. Luke invites Boba Fett to come with them (presumably to the Rebel base) but R2-D2 and C-3PO explain that they intercepted a message between Boba Fett and Darth Vader. And C-3PO describes Boba Fett as Darth Vader’s “right hand man.”
Boba Fett rockets off and Han says, “Trust a droid to get to the bottom of things.” Luke immediately recovers from his humiliation. C-3PO points out that it was Chewbacca that never trusted Boba Fett. When asked what set him off, Chewbacca replies (as translated by C-3PO), “He just didn’t smell right …” Everyone laughs as the Falcon flies off into the sunset.
does it look like star wars? Does it feel like star wars?
This cartoon has two HUGE things going for it in my opinion, well two and a half. First, it is 100% the original cast doing the voice-overs. It may look weird, it may not have much of a plot, the pacing is incredibly frustrating and the animation looks dated (like Wizards era animation) but it SOUNDS like Star Wars. The other huge thing, the soundtrack is just adapted John Williams music from Episode IV. That music is so iconic to me, it really played well in this piece.
The whole thing with the talisman also feels like Star Wars, a magical item that they have to get before the bad guys do. It’s a shame it never pays off in the end but at least the plot device seems reasonable. And once they are in the city, they are surrounded by a yellow submarine-esque pile of unique looking aliens that could best be expressed in animated form rather than a rubber mask form.
So for as clunky as it seems, I definitely get “Star Wars” vibes from this. It’s the story of this short that ultimately lets us down. It is probably the thing that they spent the least amount of time on.
how does this affect the greater universe?
It’s Boba Fett. This is the first appearance of Boba Fett! OK nerds, I know that Boba Fett first appeared in the San Anselmo Country Fair parade on September 24th, 1978 … so a couple of weeks before this debuted. Duwayne Dunham wore the armor for that event, so not Jeremy Bulloch quite yet. But this is the first IN UNIVERSE appearance of Boba Fett, unless the parade is canon at the time; I suppose it could be. This cartoon isn’t canon anymore than that parade is, at least according to the “new canon” Disney has established through Pablo’s story group. It is a state of humanity where we can argue levels of continuity to a completely fictional universe, but we do. And it matters.
So even though this isn’t canon, we can still ask, “Is this the same Boba Fett that we all saw in Empire?” Seems pretty close. He’s a henchman for Vader, he’s a bounty hunter and has the cold pragmatism he displays in Empire as well. His design is pretty well fleshed out at this point. The color scheme is much more like Jango Fett than Boba Fett at this point but that’s easy enough to change. There are a few moments in this that are pretty telling from a character point-of-view.
The early appearance of this character in promotional materials while Star Wars was still in theaters makes me think that this character was more thought out for Empire than just about anything else, or they had a mask and a costume they could send out for promotional events they could easily cast. Probably both.
So in the new continuity, Boba Fett’s first appearance is in Episode IV thanks to the special editions … or I guess if you watch them in order of number, it is as a child in Episode II.
This is the section where I’m going to discuss if the media “held up” to today’s standards of content and production. One of the amazing things about Star Wars (Episode 4: A New Hope or whatever you want to call it) is that the movie doesn’t feel dated the way a lot of films end up being. The story is so classical, so fundamental, it’s Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey told in space.
So does this cartoon hold up or is it completely dated? It definitely looks dated from a production stand point. The animation, as discussed above, is in a style that just isn’t used now. It ignores basic story continuity and the editing is … rough.
Last thought, I do love the toys. Having kids has re-ignited my love for the action figures and surprisingly (or maybe not) this cartoon is supported by a toy, a single toy as far as I can tell. The Boba Fett with the fork weapon he uses in the short (pictured below). So if you want to get 100% of the figures from this 10 minute cartoon, you only have to buy one figure, pictured below.
What’s next? Next is the short-lived Saturday morning cartoon, Droids starring C-3PO and R2-D2. There are 14 episodes total and it ran in 1985 and 1986. The character designs for C-3PO and R2-D2 were used from this short, so CONTINUITY! (at least for design). I personally can’t wait. After going through these cartoons, there is a lot of interesting stuff. I also may revisit The Star Wars Holiday Special in a future post where I talk about it specifically since it has some cartoon-related context.
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