Monday, July 31, 2023

Fantasia ’23: A Disturbance in the Force

It gave fans our first look at Boba Fett in action and we loved it. The rest of the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special became a joke that George Lucas tried to bury. Nevertheless, its legend lives on. Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak do not exactly rehabilitate the holiday special, but they help fans appreciate the times and circumstances that gave rise to it in the documentary A Disturbance in the Force, which had its international premiere at the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Ever since it aired (for one-time only) in 1978, the holiday special
has become an easy Simpsons-style punch-line: “like The Star Wars Holiday Special, ‘nuff said!” It is easy to see why. There is “comedy relief” from Harvey Korman (in drag), Bea Arthur, and Art Carney. Plus, Diahann Carroll did a Donna Summer-esque disco sex ode. Yet, everyone admits the original cartoon, “The Faithful Wookie,” rendered in a style deliberately reminiscent of Moebius, was pretty cool, especially because it included the very first in-world appearance of Boba Fett. In fact, it is the only part of the special available on Disney+. According to Jon Favreu, it even influenced The Mandalorian.

As a young fan, I definitely remembered that cartoon and the design of Chewie’s Wookie family home. The rest just went in one ear and out the other. Having seen the
Donnie & Marie Star Wars episode (which Donnie Osmond discusses at length in the doc) and the Star Wars Muppet Show episode, I must have intuitively understood this is just how late 1970s network TV treated a blockbuster sf franchise, which is largely the point of Disturbance.

Coon and Kozak talk to a lot people involved in the making of the special, including Steve Binder, who also directed the
Elvis Comeback Special. Since this was the pre-VCR era, Lucas and the studio worried fans might forget the first film, which is why the original cast started appearing on variety shows, before filming the special. Apparently, there was a bit a power struggle between the Lucas camp and the network camp, but as the troubled production dragged on, more and more Lucas people were replaced by network veterans.

It is kind of mind-blowing that Bob Mackie designed gowns for the
Stars Wars universe, but he did and he was willing to talk about it. There is all kinds of weird pop culture trivia like that in Disturbance. However, nobody really defends it beyond it being a nostalgic product of its time, but maybe someone should. After all, it was smart enough to do something the sequel trilogy films never did—it reunited all the surviving heroes of Star Wars (nobody was calling it “A New Hope” then) in its finale.

“The Faithful Wookie” also remains the best TV treatment of Boba Fett, far better than the disappointing
Book of Boba Fett. Frankly, the longer Disney mismanages Luca Films, the better the holiday special will look. Regardless, Coon and Kozak bring back memories of a time when the only way to see Star Wars was in a theater. Recommended as an amusing trip down memory lane, A Disturbance in the Force screened at this year’s Fantasia.