28 May 2002 | theoldcrow
The End of Innocence
I was 14 when this thing originally aired. It galls me to this day, and here is why:
A little more than a year earlier, an awesome film with spectacular cinematic production values was released. It was called Star Wars. Not "A New Hope", not "Episode IV"...just..."Star Wars". And it blew everything else away. You can tell when certain films create a defining moment: the science-fiction film genre is neatly divided into 'before Star Wars' and 'after Star Wars'. This was something that even "2001: A Space Odyssey" couldn't do, even if it was (and still is) the pinnacle of writing and directing science-fiction for the big screen. The reason was simple: Star Wars connected profoundly with *every* kid's 'wanna be an astronaut/fireman/policeman when I grow up' youthful fancy, even if the 'kids' were thirty-somethings (or older!). Star Wars, in its pre-episodic release, was a wonderfully simple story, not the muddled-with-forward-and-backward-references, vastly more complex story the saga was to become. It is this simplicity I sometimes miss, perhaps because it reminds me of a time when my own life was less complicated.
When rumors of the 'Holiday Special' began, I recall it actually being looked upon as eagerly anticipated, at least among the people I knew at the time. This was mid-1978, probably when the actual holiday special footage was being recorded. Already the first indications of a new Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, were public knowledge, so this holiday special just *had* to be built along the same production values as the films. Or so I (and a lot of others) thought. I should have known better, the special being for television and not cinema. When the Holiday Special aired, I was ready to be transported to that galaxy far, far away and be dazzled all over again...
The opening was promising, what with Han and Chewie being chased down by Imperial Star Destroyers and so on, yet even this opening teaser had an omen of doom attached, that being when Han said something like "That's the spirit, you'll be celebrating Life Day before you know it!" Han wasn't the only one beginning to get a bad feeling about this. The opening credits are when I actually started to fear the worst. These were NOT film-optical titles! They were video-overlays. The problem is, I just saw a scene obviously shot on film. And why are all these sitcom/variety show actors in the billing? Then it began to hit me: stock footage was going to represent actual Star Wars content, and the rest is going to be a nightmare version of the Carol Burnett Show. This wasn't going to be on the same planet of production values as Star Wars, let alone the same room. And I was exactly right! For the next 2 hours I watched, hoping in vain for some sort of payoff that justified the unfolding tragedy. Today, I remember only two distinct moments in the Holiday Special that got a reaction out of me: 1) I was p***ed off when the Imperial Stormtrooper broke the kid's crystal radio 2) I reasonably liked the animated bit.
After it was all over, I remember being angry. Not because I'd just been subjected to a crappy variety show with the Star Wars nameplate attached, but that this was broadcast nationwide and that a LOT of people (kids my age in particular) weren't going to be able to deal with that ineffable 'spark of magic' that made Star Wars such a delight being doused in a bucket of water. The almost-naive innocence that Luke Skywalker brought forth in all of us was gone forever, because we had just seen the magic turned into crap.
It would be another two years before Empire's release. Only then did most of the harm get undone. But not entirely. ESB is by far the best written of the five theatrical films that exist as of this writing, but with ESB began the complex story telling. And while the story in ESB was well-told, it comes with a price: Luke's actual loss-of-innocence visibly marks the point when Star Wars ceased to be a childhood delight and transcended into epic storytelling. If the Holiday Special had aired after ESB, I wouldn't have been so angry. At least our innocence would have been plausibly lost as we settled into watching a mature story, instead of rudely torn from our souls by a bunch of hack TV writers.