Originally published in The Riverfront Times
Traditionally speaking, the Force has never been strong this time of year.
Case in point: The abysmal 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special is probably the worst thing to be approved by creator George Lucas, next to Jar Jar’s mildly offensive accent. Lucas himself has said that he would like to take a sledgehammer to every copy out there. Comedy website Funny or Die has even gone so far as to recreate their own vision of what a modern day Star Wars Holiday Special might look like, made to look just as bad, but with a little bit more tongue-in-cheek humor. With any luck, J.J. Abrams and company can turn this sleigh around for the official reboot of the franchise when Episode VII: The Force Awakens opens this Friday.
But another holiday foible by Lucas that sticks out like a sore droid isChristmas In the Stars, the Star Wars Christmas album released in 1980. Every year we tune our radios and devices to play endless festive pap, yet we never hear this old gem. What gives, Star Wars fans? Sarlacc got your tongue?
It’s always fun to look back at the franchise at its highest point — when Lucas was still kind of fumbling his way through success, cashing in on a myriad of toys and product placements, spin-offs and kitsch. Those business moves helped turn Lucas from a humble storyteller to a star destroyer of popular culture — and the Christmas album is right up there with some of his worst missteps.
Released just after the premiere of Empire Strikes Back in an effort to profit even further on the mania sweeping the entire world, Christmas In the Starswas produced by RSO Records, a traditionally classical and jazz record label. In a nine-page letter, disco record producer Meco Menardo begged Lucas to allow him to put it together, having experienced success with the release of his Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk album. Interestingly enough, Christmas In the Stars would go on to be a touchstone for some big names in entertainment. Maury Yeston, at the time an unknown Yale music professor, penned many of the songs that made the final cut. He would later become a successful Broadway musician in his own right, writing the music and lyrics for the musical Titanic in 1997.
But probably the biggest surprise of them all is the appearance of seventeen-year-old Jon Bon Jovi. Before his big break, he was sweeping floors in a recording studio owned by his cousin, who also helped co-produce the album. Soon after, he started sweeping Grammys. The rest is history.
RSO pressed 150,000 copies of Christmas In the Stars. Only days after the record hit the shelves, the company went out of business due to an unrelated lawsuit. To this day, rumors abound that there were many more Christmas songs recorded on the master tapes that have never seen the light of day. When RSO closed its doors, those tapes went missing.
Many of the songs are of traditional holiday flair, with the exception of the originally-composed “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?)” and R2-D2 beeping out a rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The album is so sophomoric that it decidedly belongs to that class of yuletide tunes where a certain matriarch gets mowed down by a reindeer, or a little boy tries to coerce a hippopotamus out of Santa.
While many of the critiques are understandably negative, many less-serious minded Star Wars fans find it to be just the right amount of festive silliness combined with one of their favorite movies ever — in the end, it’s all in good fun. One thing is for certain: If you remember this album, it almost certainly left a lasting impression of your mind in Christmas carbonite. So before you head off to see The Force Awakens, gather your Ewoks ‘round this holiday season, and introduce them to what happens when art takes a backseat to Christmas commercialism.