Happy Life Day—For the 36th Time; Now Go Out and Collect Something!

By Pete Vilmur

Yep! We’re giving a shout-out to the sadly misguided Star Wars Holiday Special. Why? Because as fans of all things Star Wars, we think every aspect of that faraway galaxy is worthy of some love, even if that means tough love. And with the Holiday Special turning 36 today, we thought it deserved a bit of charitable coverage, seeing as how it’s responsible for one more holiday on the Star Wars calendar: Life Day, a sort of saga analog to a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

For those who have never seen the Star Wars Holiday Special, it was a two-hour variety show that many feel suffered from over-extended scenes, kitschy dialog, and cheesy special effects. Airing just once on the night of November 17, 1978, it definitely had a few wince-worthy moments: Wookiee grandpa “Itchy” fawning over the seductive crooning of singer Diahann Carol; a sappy Han Solo getting all mushy over Chewbacca’s wife and kid; and the chef-d’oeuvre, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia singing “The Life Day Song” to the strains of the Star Wars theme.

But there’s something to love about the Star Wars Holiday Special too. First, there’s the nostalgia factor for Star Wars old-schoolers, we 40-somethings who grew up on a steady diet of ’70s TV can’t help but get a little sentimental for this low-calorie version of Star Wars made at a time when television programming was much more conservative than it is today. It was also the only dose of new Star Wars we’d had in over a year, ever since The Making of Star Wars documentary had aired the previous September. There was a really nifty cartoon segment in the middle of the show, too, which reunited the original movie cast as voice actors and introduced Boba Fett for the first time to the masses. To most, this short segment remains the show’s only redeeming virtue.

But even the Holiday Special produced some collectible items that have found their way to Rancho Obi-Wan. Here are a dozen of our favorites.

Custom Wookiee Family Plush in Life Day Robes
Ace customizer Amy Sjoberg of Seattle made this Wookiee Family in a Basket for a silent auction a couple of years ago. Who could resist Chewie, his father Itchy, wife Malla and son Lumpy so beautifully decked out in their Life Day finest? Not Steve!

The Press Kit
Since press kits were traditionally reserved for members of the media, they can be tougher to find than collectibles offered to the public at large. The Holiday Special press kit is a particularly difficult find as Star Wars press kits go, packed with production info, black and white stills, and a nifty mini poster printed on shiny Mylar stock.

The Actual Script
Steve doesn’t even remember where and when he got this copy of one of the original scripts with different color pages (indicating changes and additions), but here’s the cover (4th and final draft) and the beginning of Carrie Fisher’s song.

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Starlog Magazine
Starlog‘s February 1979 issue featured the first—and only—cover story on the Holiday Special. Bea Arthur as cantina bartender Ackmena poses among a motley crew of aliens old and new reunited for the special. The handful of color photos within are pretty rare (many of them couldn’t even be found in the Lucasfilm Archives), but not nearly as rare as the positive review published alongside them.

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Jefferson Starship
The Jefferson Starship song performed during the special, Light the Sky on Fire, was released as a single in 1978, with a tout about the Holiday Special printed on the sleeve. The single’s B-side song, Hyperdrive, wasn’t performed, but almost certainly borrowed its title from the Star Wars galaxy.

Wookiee Storybook
The Wookiee Storybook, published in 1979, utilizes the characters and setting of the Holiday Special, and introduces a new plot. Lumpy descends into Kashyyyk’s “Nother World” on the forest floor, ultimately requiring a rescue by papa Chewie. Noteworthy are the illustrations of the Wookiee household, which are clearly informed by the special’s unique set design, some of it by Ralph McQuarrie.

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Snaggletooth
Here’s one we bet you didn’t know about: a Star Wars Holiday Special action figure?! Well, from a certain point of view. Snaggletooth (who was renamed Zutton) was in A New Hope, but his mug shot depicted on the original 1979 cardback was actually shot on the set of Ackmena’s cantina from the Holiday Special. Even a 2001 release of Zutton featured a cardback photo from the Holiday Special, with figure detailing clearly derived from his appearance on the show.

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Fett Action Figure
The first formal Star Wars Holiday Special action figure was a Hasbro “Animated Debut Boba Fett” in 2007, which included Fett’s signature color scheme from the show as well as a variation on his Amban Phase-Pulse Blaster.

Character Key
Fett’s first major public reveal, which occurred in the short animated segment of the Holiday Special was immortalized in an Acme Archives Character Key showcasing the bounty hunter as he first appeared.

Bobble Fett
Funko gave the Holiday Special Fettster his own bobble, decked out in the colors from the show’s animated segment.

Fett Pin
This cool Holiday Special Fett pin was a charity offering limited to 1,000. The Washington Monument doubling as Fett’s backpack calls out the DC Metro Area Star Wars Collecting Club, which organized the benefit.

Topps Cards
The late, lamented StarWarsShop offered an exclusive set of 11 exclusive Holiday Special trading cards, one of which was inserted with each order. It may have been free, but it wasn’t easy putting together a full set!

A version of this blog appeared a long time ago in a…. No, actually it appeared on the official website, starwars.com.


Pete Vilmur, a director of Rancho Obi-Wan, is a writer in Lucasfilm’s publicity department. Before that he worked for nine years for Lucas Digital Media, where as senior editor he created content for Lucasfilm’s websites, blogs and social networks. Pete co-authored two books with Steve Sansweet – The Star Wars Poster Book and The Star Wars Vault – and a third with Ryder Windham, The Complete Vader. He has long collected Star Wars posters and ephemera. Pete lives in Petaluma with his wife Teri and their two children.

The Strange 1982 GE Star Wars Competition Down Under

By Pete Vilmur

Poster for GE/Kenner Australia contest
Poster for GE/Kenner Australia contest

While 1982 was an off-year for Star Wars movie releases, worldwide promotions were touting the airing of the original Star Wars on television as well as the upcoming Revenge of the Jedi (before its famous name change).

One 1982 promotion that’s come to be known more for its poster than the contest it was part of was a General Electric Star Wars competition in Australia. The poster is notorious for being somewhat misleading; it’s undated and appears to be promoting Star Wars “The Movie” but shows a photo from The Empire Strikes Back. To add to the confusion, the original Kenner logo with the classic Hildebrandt Bros. Luke and Leia art appears in the lower left, suggesting some kind of Kenner tie-in; that detail has long piqued the interest of Star Wars toy collectors.

Until I came across a paperwork lot in a recent auction, I was pretty much in the dark about the details of this promotion. I knew it was a contest promoting the first Australian televised release of Star Wars, but didn’t realize how, well, bizarre some of the contest specifics were.

How many what?
How many what?

Take the rules, for example. Entries required answers to a set of questions starting with Star Wars ones like: “Which planet is Princess Leia from?”

No sweat. Alderaan.

Next: “Name the droid who speaks English in the Star Wars movie.”

C-3PO. All too easy.

But then: “How many times a week does Continental Airlines fly from Sydney to the USA?”

Wait. Huh?

And: “How many refrigerators are there in the General Electric No Frost range?”

Seriously?

“What is the largest capacity refrigerator in the General Electric range?”

Google please? Sorry, 1982.

Granted, the contest form was likely planted on a showroom floor full of GE appliances, but still!

Then there are the prizes: The Grand Prize was an all-expense paid trip for four to the premiere of Return of the Jedi in the U.S., followed by second prizes of Kenner toys and playsets (hence the logo and art from Kenner, which partnered with the GE brand licensee on the promotion). That sounds about right for a Star Wars competition.

Thanks but we’d rather have the trip or the toys!
Thanks but we’d rather have the trip or the toys!

But then there are the “consolation” prizes: dishwashers, clothes washers, blenders, heaters, refrigerators, TVs, toasters, clock radios, shavers, and vacuum cleaners. That brings me to the gem in my recent paperwork purchase, a letter from GE announcing the great success of its Star Wars competition and the awarding of one VX20 Sadie Vacuum Cleaner (or perhaps the less-plucky VB66 – it’s not clear) to provide “continued enjoyment in years to come.” Indeed!

Sure, there were those 1,000 Star Wars poster prizes to commemorate the contest, but frankly I’d prefer framing the vacuum cleaner letter. How often can one proudly display a Star Wars contest prize that literally… sucked?

This GE Sadie vacuum cleaner resembles a certain astromech, don’t you think?
This GE Sadie vacuum cleaner resembles a certain astromech, don’t you think?

Pete Vilmur, a director of Rancho Obi-Wan, is Director of Public Relations for Fine Art—Sculpture at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where he reports to department director Lawrence Noble, sculptor of Lucasfilm’s iconic Yoda statue. Star Wars fans know him for his nine years working for Lucas Digital Media, where as senior editor he created content for Lucasfilm’s websites, blogs and social networks. Pete co-authored two books with Steve Sansweet – The Star Wars Poster Book and The Star Wars Vault – and a third with Ryder Windham, The Complete Vader. He has long collected Star Wars posters and ephemera. Pete lives in Petaluma with his wife Teri and their two children.

Rancho Card Box Mystery: Solved!

By Pete Vilmur

Mystery card box

Because I live just across town from Rancho Obi-Wan, I’ve had lots of opportunities to examine the collection over the years, taking mental notes of many pieces I’d love to own. One section that’s always commanded my attention is the “cast and crew” display case, which holds rare paperweights, pens, belt buckles and other gifts given to Lucasfilm employees and crewmembers since 1976. But one piece that has always mystified me—and Steve—is a beige-colored velveteen box with an embossed logo from The Empire Strikes Back.

The fashion model cards

I finally asked Steve to take it out of the case so I could have a closer look. The box, about the size of a deck of playing cards, has several press photos from Empire and…1980s fashion models? Steve said it came directly from producer Gary Kurtz, but had no other details. Why would models be mixed in with scenes from Empire?

However, there was one card image that seemed vaguely familiar, a clumsy illustration of George Lucas sketched above his name in “space-crawl” script. I’d seen that someplace before, but where? Heading home to my own collection, I rifled through my magazine collection looking for the Lucas illustration. Finding nothing in the U.S. magazines, I pulled out my international Empire-era magazines until…PAYDIRT! An obscure (and bizarre) Canadian magazine/newspaper called United Star featured the image of Lucas and…fashion models!

The magazine and the cards

I remembered picking up the issue because of the impressive number of lengthy cast and crew interviews from an Empire press junket in 1980, quite a feat for the little-known (and short-lived) Canadian quarterly. Taking the magazine back to Rancho, Steve and I were able to match up every one of the models on the cards; they appeared in ads in the magazine. Why someone felt the need to include them in what was apparently a gift to insiders remains a mystery.

The set found on eBay

To my amazement, I found one of the card sets on eBay a couple months later, with some added pieces that further clarified what the set was for. This one had a silver label on the front, identifying it as a gift commemorating the premiere issue of United Star. Inside were two more inserts featuring the United Star logo, but sadly… no fashion models. We surmised that Steve’s was a sample sent to Kurtz for approval, who likely asked that the ad cards be removed. Still, the box, photos, and inserts make for a gem of a set, even if a flush of fashionistas wasn’t in the cards.



Pete Vilmur, a director of Rancho Obi-Wan, is Director of Public Relations for Fine Art—Sculpture at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where he reports to department director Lawrence Noble, sculptor of Lucasfilm’s iconic Yoda statue. Star Wars fans know him for his nine years working for Lucas Digital Media, where as senior editor he created content for Lucasfilm’s websites, blogs and social networks. Pete co-authored two books with Steve Sansweet – The Star Wars Poster Book and The Star Wars Vault – and a third with Ryder Windham, The Complete Vader. He has long collected Star Wars posters and ephemera. Pete lives in Petaluma with his wife Teri and their two children.