Merry Christmas from all of us at DungeonMastering.com & as the title suggests, we’re looking at the famously infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. How bad is it? The original director quit after a few days. George Lucas (aka the man who gave us both Jar Jar & Howard the Duck) once admitted that if he “had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy and smash it.” Carrie Fisher, who not only is in this but sings in it, supposedly “plays it at parties when she wants her guests to leave.” And if you had shown this special to me when I was a kid I would have immediately thrown out all my Star Wars toys, including the Death Star playset. Even as an adult I literally could not watch this all the way through without pausing for mental breaks. Its such a terrible travesty that I truly feel sorry for everyone involved. But every Cloud City has a silver carbonite lining so let’s see what lessons there are for D&D from the absolute worst Star Wars thing ever made.
Dumb names make cool things uncool, uncool things stupid The plot of the SWHS is that Chewbacca is trying to get back to his home planet of Kashyyyk for the Wookie holiday of Life Day. Cue family introductions. His mother’s name is Malla, which is alright. But his father’s name is Itchy & that sounds silly. Worse, Chewbacca’s son is laughably called Lumpy. Even a kick-ass character like the one acted by the late Sir Christopher Lee loses points for being called ‘Dooku.’ Also, when brainstorming aspects for your game world such as festivals & food, please spend whatever time is needed to come up with better ideas than ‘Life Day’ or ‘wookie-ookies.’
If including other languages, include translations The first 15 minutes of the SWHS are completely in Wookie, which isn’t exactly pleasant to listen to. Moreover this is without any subtitles because that would mean writing out what was happening which would mean working out why they were still going through with this crap. Now it’s ok- even dramatic- to try to coax out some Dwarvish/Elvish/Orcish around your table. The languages from the LotR films are excellent references because they are based on actual linguistics instead of the zoo recordings of bears and lions. But make sure you have transcribed what is being said in advance, preferably in ready to hand out formats.
We don’t need to know fantasies in fantasy For a Life Day present, the aforementioned Itchy is given a ‘special pack’ for his ‘Mind Evaporator’ unit (think Virtual Reality). It too quickly becomes apparent this gift is holographic Wookie wank. Even the producer admitted that the clip was deliberately meant for some reason to be “soft-core porno that would pass the censors.” Granted this is the same producer who fortunately turned down Robin Williams to be involved. Admittedly D&D has succubi along with other monsters that have titillating temptations but if there’s ever cause to involve sexual material in your games for the sake of plot, move TMI things forward by simply providing a brief sentence summary. And that’s all I have to say about that.
You can get away with re-using things but only if you re-use things well The parts in the SWHS resembling actual Star Wars are from Episode IV via either outtakes or simply recycled film sequences. Which is ironic since the Falcon vs tie fighter scene in New Hope were copied frame by frame from dog fights in WWII movies. So in SWHS this is a copy of a copy’s copy and you know how well those come out. There is 15 seconds of Vader going down a Death Star corridor and sadly, the SWCS is the first time James Earl Jones is credited as being Vader’s voice. We do get to see more of those cantina aliens, however one is now a large white rat included with a singing Golden Girl actress Bea Arthur. If you’re going to recycle material from your games, try to change them enough that your stuff isn’t obviously borrowed. Plus take the opportunity to update the rehashed bits with improvements, dropping out any crap.
The show must not always go on. Look, I realize there’s a lot of hyperbole regarding how crappy the special is. Sadly its not hyperbole. The whole thing is more tragic than the Battle of Alderaan. Why? The male actors playing a 4-armed female version of Julia Child. An alien that drinks by pouring stuff onto his head. A stormtrooper who dies after tripping over his blaster. A cartoon Boba Fett riding a sea serpent that was so stupid they scrapped plans to make it a toy. Did you forget about that Wookie porn? Lucas bought back all the rights in an attempt to bury SWHS but bootlegs, like Boba Fett, somehow survived. I’m genuinely surprised this thing didn’t mess up Star Wars. And the takeaway for DMs is that we all will probably have our own version of SWHS if we’re not careful. Instead of running a lackluster game, consider canceling any session those nights you’re not feeling well or aren’t prepared. Both your players & your future self will appreciate not making something happen just because you were supposed to. This is the most important lesson of the Star Wars Holiday Special.
Wow, that was a lot to suffer through. Have any of you ever seen this mess? Ever have any games go the way of SWHS? Admit it to us in the comments below.