December 15, 2023

A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE Revisits George Lucas' Favorite Show

2023 / 91 min
Available at
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😺

For those unaware, “The Star Wars Holiday Special” is a notorious piece of ‘70s pop culture that aired only once on CBS, never to be seen again (legally, anyway). Over the years, it achieved nearly mythic status among Star Wars fans, partially due to its unavailability, but also because of its extreme kitchiness. That George Lucas absolutely hated it simply perpetuated the legend.

Having seen the show on its sole airdate, I can attest that the “Star Wars Holiday Special” was colossally cringeworthy, but indicative of the variety shows we were inundated with in the '70s. For context, this documentary offers several other excerable examples, with jaw-dropping clips from The Lawrence Welk Show, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special and a face-palming Star Wars-themed musical sketch from Donny & Marie (Donny himself shows up to gush about that one). 

Presenting those archaic clips is strong evidence that the Holiday Special was hardly the worst of its ilk, meaning A Disturbance in the Force is not a 90 minute roast of Mr. Lucas’ worst creative decision. As one interviewee states late in the film, taking potshots at the holiday special has long since become a cliche. While the film does includes many amusing archival clips of Holiday Special participants doing that very thing, it’s primary about the show’s inception, troubled production and, of course, its dubious enduring legacy. 

They dance better than they shoot.
Featuring dozens of interviews - including some who were involved in its production - it’s immediately clear that the Holday Special was primarily a financial decision perpetuated by clueless executives to keep the Star Wars brand in the public eye between the first film and The Empire Strikes Back. For the most part, Lucas himself wasn’t actively involved, entrusting the worlds and characters he created to people whose background was in TV variety shows, not movies or science fiction. 

Interspersed throughout are some truly WTF segments from the special itself (such as a sexually-charged sequence featuring Diahann Carroll), though not as many as one might hope for. Also interviewed are numerous celebrities who grew up on Star Wars and have nostalgic reverence for the special, such as Kevin Smith, Weird Al Yankovic, Seth Green and director Mick Garris.

Since the original “Star Wars Holiday Special” isn’t likely to ever see the light of day (again, not legally), A Disturbance in the Force is as close as we’re gonna get. And that’s okay, because movies about trainwrecks are generally a lot more fun than the trainwrecks themselves. This documentary is a fascinating look at one of TV’s most notorious debacles and the only decade it could have sprung from.

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