The Weird Legacy of Star Wars- Meet The Vintage Collection
It’s no exaggeration to say that the release of Star Wars changed the landscape of cinema forever.
While it borrowed from films of yore its innovative effects broadened the scope of blockbusters to come, as a planet exploding was now the highest stakes around.
Careers were thrust into hyperspace, while obscure names such as Obi-Wan Kenobi entered the household vocabulary. But after the first film's original release one question always lingered- what’s next?
Unfortunately for the star-children of this generation, the success of their new favourite film led to one of the most bizarre, presumably drug-based franchise expansions of all time- The Star Wars Holiday Special. This demented variety show and its creation have been well chronicled for decades, with even George Lucas’ own distaste being well known.
However, Disney has decided to commemorate it in its most official capacity to date as the animated segment The Story of the Faithful Wookiee has been added to Disney+.
This segment is almost unanimously hailed as the highlight of the Holiday Special, an actual new mini-slice of galaxy adventuring rather than a creepy off-putting musical with endless Wookiee growling. Ever since the Star Wars franchise has tried a few attempts into the world of animation with both the Ewoks and Droids series debuting in the 1980s. We've also had the micro-series Clone Wars in the mid-’00s which eventually evolved into its 3-D counterpart years later, making it fascinating to see its humble roots.
The psychedelic 70’s animation is a bizarre blend, with characters stylised in an oddly rubbery way. Honourary dustbin R2-D2 jiggles like jelly and the way they choose to capture Harrison Ford’s signature scowl (an expression VERY present in his live-action Holiday Special appearance) is more akin to a MAD Magazine parody than a kids cartoon.
Nelvana, the animation company commissioned to create the segment would return for both Droids and Ewoks, possibly the most fruitful deal to come from this televised misadventure.
Despite how anyone feels about the validity of the cult of Boba Fett or the quality of the Holiday Special overall, there is one truth we must all hold to be self-evident- any character introduced riding a dinosaur is pretty dang cool.
Boba Fett was introduced as such, with his weird magnet-gun and dinosaur lore eventually becoming part of The Mandalorian. With treehouse planet Kashyyyk also making its debut in the Holiday Special it is a treasure trove of oddities highlighting how great it is to see it being preserved even in a limited form.
Jump over to May 25th 1983, the day Return of the Jedi was released, ending what is arguably the most iconic and influential film trilogy in all of pop culture history. The Empire had fallen, Darth Vader redeemed(?) and the Ewoks were throwing a legendary piss-up come barbecue. All was well in the universe and with series creator George Lucas dipping his toes into different franchises it seemed reasonable to assume Star Wars was ready to disappear, leaving only its robes behind in the traditional Jedi manner.
However, the series had made a strange gambit to continue into the ’80s, a plan to double down on perhaps the most controversial aspect of the trilogy- the Ewoks. A primitive teddy-bear like species seen by some as a cynical attempt to push merchandise and to ruin the seriousness of a franchise about flying spaceships and space wizards.
Objectively incorrect of course, as Ewoks are rad, but it’s good to let people vent their frustrations.
Either way, the characters were popular enough with younger audiences to spawn two made-for-television films, The Ewok Adventure (also known as Caravan of Courage) and The Battle for Endor. Given how seldom it is that these films come up in conversation it’s difficult to gauge how fans of the series responded to these pictures.
After viewing them it's perhaps understandable to see why, as countless questions arise.
The Ewok Adventure is a fairly dull affair, more of a prototype Willow as Wicket and his Ewok pals escort two spaceship-wrecked children through Endor on a quest to rescue their parents from the monstrous Gorax. The most interesting aspect of the adventure is how the quasi-science of the Force is rejected in favour of outright magic and mysticism, which carried onto the sequel.
Speaking of which, the sequel justifies the tedium of the original by embracing misanthropy. The parents rescued in the previous film and older brother Mace are brutally murdered by an alien marauder group in the opening act, with the Ewoks then enslaved. Unironically this may be one of the darkest Star Wars instalments out there, with such narrative savagery perhaps being a response to the dullness of the original?
The introduction of late legend Wilford Brimley as a grumpy old man who hates children and Ewoks is the cherry on top as they gang together to fight Carel Struycken’s posse of evil aliens. Oh, and there’s a witch who turns into a bird... Star Wars!
Let’s jump ahead to 2005. The franchise has now had two more feature films, Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, both intended to fill in the backstory to the original trilogy, but both met with less enthusiasm than the classic films.
Between Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, there was over a decade of unseen history as pilot prodigy Anakin grew from chirpy cherub to monk incel, a dramatic and unconvincing development. With the prequels making such big leaps, and the clone wars being the famous war it was thanks to old Ben in A New Hope, a series was the perfect way to fill the time gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
So master animator Genndy Tartakovsky was hired to produce and direct three seasons of micro-films exclusively for Cartoon Network.
The resulting cartoon is easily one of the pinnacles of the entire franchise to date. A beautifully visualised and dynamic action series that presents the Jedi as warriors of legend, reminiscent of the agile wirework of wuxia cinema. In direct contrast to the rudimentary action sequences of the original trilogy and the mindless CG slop of the prequels, these short episodes have laser-precision focus.
The characterisations of various heroes and villains are much strengthened in short bursts. Mace Windu, no longer just a stern, apathetic figure as seen in the films is a quick-witted warrior, ripping robots apart with the force and his bare fists.
Villains like General Grievous and Asaaj Ventress, little more than Masters of the Universe styled bumbling goons in the CG series are presented as incredibly menacing and brutal.
Ventress’ clash with Anakin is such an excellent step in his path towards villainy that it’s tragic it wasn’t somehow in the films. The sensory joy of seeing rain evaporate on a steaming lightsaber is the aesthetic cherry on top. And no child who watched these at the time will forget Grievous crushing skulls and racing with an elevator full of jedi. Truly the T-1000 of Star Wars.
This series was a petri-dish for the 3D Clone Wars which would follow. A series that also fleshed out the war and ran for far longer, yet suffered from extremely stiff animation and ugly Thunderbird inspired designs. Of course, later in the show, it had become far more compelling and slicker in every aspect but it’s hard not to compare it to the excellently concise and impactful Tartakovsky series that preceded it.
The fact Disney have decided to honour these bizarre projects by adding them to their streaming service under the Vintage Star Wars banner is an excellent move for preservation and a vital reminder of how silly and irreverent the series can be. In an age where fanbases can take these properties far too seriously, launching into a hateful rage when they feel a series is being “disrespected”, it’s refreshing to see these bonkers and occasionally brilliant bits of Star Wars lore get the spotlight.
So what’s next for this collection? The Droids animated series is likely to be added, worthy of saving for the theme song if nothing else. Star Wars Detours an unreleased yet completed animated comedy series in the vein of Robot Chicken is another possibility. With 39 completed episodes they could easily eke it out to fill any content droughts.
On that note, perhaps the Robot Chicken and Family Guy Star Wars specials could be added, the latter certainly likely due to the FOX purchase.
Of course, the greatest hope is that the full Holiday Special may be added, finally ending the decades-long feud. It doesn’t seem likely that they could get a new transfer of the elusive Life Day celebration but in a way, it would be more fitting to maintain the bootleg VHS feel of the show to upload it as it is. The prospect of a new generation of children being perplexed and devastated by the low quality of the variety show is exciting enough to be worth it.
With at least eight new Star Wars TV shows on the way, it’s good to look back and see the humble beginnings of this medium. Let the past die? Nah, shove it on streaming. The archive is closer to being completed, that nasty Jedi librarian will be chuffed.
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