Friday, 11 March 2011

106: A is for Arthur

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

Do you remember when Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls worked at the Mos Eisley Cantina out of Star Wars?

No, of course you don't, it was only shown once.
You see, during the Clone Wars it was being staffed by a Yarkora and a Weequay, and shortly before the Battle of Yavin, it was being run by Chalmun and day-staffed by a chap named Wuher. Under both management schemes, it was a pretty seedy place, full of dark corners and nefarious dealings.

The Mos Eisley Cantina, circa 20BBY and 0BBY. Click for bigger.

Working the night-shift around 0-bby was a bartender named Ackmena who had a very different approach. Rather than throw the hoodlums out on the street at closing-time, she'd sing them a playful song, and send them cheerily on their drunken way.

Ackmena in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Click for bigger.

* sigh *

I'm talking, of course, about the Star Wars Holiday Special. Commissioned by CBS after the success of Star Wars in 1977, for the Thanksgiving/Christmas period of 1978. The story outline was written by George Lucas, and it starred the principal cast of the first movie (Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2-D2, C-3PO, and unused scenes of Darth Vader, ported over from Star Wars). George Lucas wasn't present for the production of The Holiday Special, as he was busy with the pre-production work for The Empire Strikes Back. It's amazing to think that these were being produced at the same time, but I'm jumping ahead there. The story is centered around Chewbacca's family, preparing for Life Day (a sort of Christmas/Thanksgiving/Day-of-Peace combination set), while Han and Chewie struggle to return to Kashyyyk because of the Imperial presence. Being a 'holiday special', this is interspersed with singing, dancing and light-comedy routines.
Yes, you read that right.

The Holiday Special aired on November 17th 1978 (in the USA only), to reasonable viewing figures. It wasn't repeated, though. It was awful, see? Didn't you read that bit just now about singing and dancing? George Lucas was, understandably, devastated by what had been done to his creation. It was turned from the brash new cinematic kid on the block, into a placid variety-show. While Lucasfilm acknowledges the existence of tHS, it's never seen a re-broadcast or domestic-release. As luck would have it, a few brave souls recorded it on early home-video machines, and actually kept the tapes. It's not difficult to find on the internet these days, although the quality's largely crap. Seriously.

This is just before Princess Leia starts singing. Yes, you read that right.  Click for bigger.

George Lucas, for many years, disowned the thing. Reportedly saying to Steve Sansweet (former Lucasfilm Head-of-Fan-Relations and SW-Ambassador) that if he had the time, he would 'hunt down every copy of it, and smash it with a hammer'. With the advent of the internet, nothing stays hidden for long, of course. It used to be a VHS tape traded at Sci-Fi conventions, but now you can find it very easily online. You don't want to, mind. Did I mention it's awful? No, even I, the guy with two Star Wars tattoos, can't bear to watch it in one sitting. The actual bottom-line is, all the Christmassy variety shows produced around this time were crap. It's just that the rest of them didn't end up as part of a sprawling cinematic empire (no pun intended).

The only redeeming feature of tHS was the animated segment. A 10 minute cartoon by a company called Nelvana, which saw the heroes on a quest to overcome a sleeping-virus, which also brought us Boba Fett for the first time. Yes, ahead of tESB, viewers in North America saw Fett introduced as an un-trustworthy bounty hunter, cruel to animals and sparing with information.

The first appearance of Boba Fett. Click for bigger.

The cartoon was a forerunner of the Droids and Ewoks series from 1985, also produced by Nelvana, but I'll blog about those in the future, probably.

The really strange thing about tHS and all it contains, however, is that the Star Wars fan community actually recognises its canonicity. It says a lot about the fandom that, generally, not only are we prepared to accept things like tHS, we find a way to justify them, and even defend them when they're bashed from the outside. Seriously, Jar-Jar Binks is nothing; nothing; compared to the atrocity that is tHS.

Throughout the novels, comics and video-games based around and through the Star Wars movies, there's a concerted effort by Lucasfilm to make sure one section of the storyline doesn't step on the toes of another. If glitches do occur, they can usually be retconned (retroactive-continuity) to explain both sides of the story. This approved continuity is what Star Wars fans refer to as the canon. Occasionally, there'll be a comic series with an 'Infinities' badge on it, a sign that it takes place outside continuity, like the old 'What If?' series from Marvel. But generally speaking, if it's got a Star Wars logo on it, Lucasfilm have stated that this actually happened in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. There are squabbles and disagreements among the fans, of course, particularly when it comes down to a matter of taste (eg: 'I didn't like that story, so I'm not going to see it as canon'), but there are some things that can't be escaped.

Bea Arthur and Harvey Korman, chilling between takes. Click for bigger.

The Holiday Special was written by George Lucas and stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels and David Prowse. If that doesn't make it canon, nothing will. Even George Lucas' wishing-it-didn't-exist doesn't count. Because it does exist, we've seen it. We saw Art Carney as a kindly shopkeeper/ Rebellion-sympathiser. We saw Harvey Korman as a four-armed chef (long before the appearance of Dex's Diner in Episode II). We saw Jefferson Starship play a song with a sort of crap-lightsaber as a microphone. We saw a Wookiee family converse in grunts and growls, in un-interrupted 10 minute segments, with no subtitles. We saw Diahann Carroll starring in some kind of Wookiee-porn holovid, enjoyed by Chewbacca's sinister, mangy-looking father, Itchy (and you can't un-see that).

So with that in mind, Ackmena ran the Mos Eisley Cantina shortly after the Battle of Yavin.
What do you want, proof?

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• Photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by me. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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