Nerd Culture

Dr. Diabolic's A Very Merry Sci-Fi Christmas Screens the Infamous Star Wars Holiday Special to Phoenix Art Museum

Dustin Diehl is extremely well versed in Star Wars trivia and lore. So much so that the Tempe geek has gushed about his obsession with George Lucas' space opera franchise at a couple Ignite Phoenix events and can rattle off factoids concerning that fictional galaxy far, far away as adroitly as Lando Calrissian throws his mack.

Besides his ability to name every single alien in the cantina scene from A New Hope, the 25-year-old is also well acquainted with one of the most notorious curiosities from the saga: The Star Wars Holiday Special. Next weekend, Diehl will put his knowledge to use during the "Very Merry Sci-Fi Christmas Show" at Phoenix Art Museum as excerpts from the much-reviled 1978 made-for-TV special will be screened.

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The holiday event -- which takes place inside PAM's Whiteman Hall on Friday, December 7 -- is being put on by local film gurus Andrea Beesley and Jeremiah Wilkerson as a part of their ongoing Dr. Diabolic cult cinema series and will offer all the trappings of a holiday party mixed with science fiction fun and Star Wars kitsch.

For instance, it will feature a photo booth where attendees can pose for pics with "Darth Santa" or "Bounty Hunter Elves" (a.k.a. yuletide versions of the helmeted Sith Lord or Boba Fett clones).

The centerpiece of the event, however, is the chance to see portions of the infamous Holiday Special on the big screen, which -- given the program's notorious history and dubious place of dishonor in the Star Wars cannon - isn't something that happens very often.

First aired on CBS in November 1978, the 97-minute variety show is a laughably bad bit of Christmastime programming that was an intergalactic trainwreck of celebrity cameos, hammy acting, and cringe-worthy moments that sullied the then-embryonic Star Wars universe.

For those who haven't dared to watch the special, it's plot involves the trio of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia attempting to outwit Darth Vader and his imperial forces in order to get their Wookie companion Chewbacca back to his home planet in time to celebrate "Life Day," the Star Wars analogue for Christmas. Interspersed with their heroic journey are vignettes involving Chewbacca's kin Itchy and Lumpy, cameos by the late Bea Arthur and Art Carney, and even a musical number by Jefferson Starship.

Widely panned by both TV critics and Star Wars fans, the special was reportedly an embarrassment to Lucas, who had little to do with its creation as he was busy in pre-production for both The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark at the time.

There's a somewhat apocryphal quote attributed to Lucas that bounced around online for decades where he allegedly stated, "If I had the time and a hammer, I would smash every copy of the Holiday Special."

Even if the quip didn't leave his lips, Lucas has never been a fan of the project, says Diehl.

"It's definitely something that he seems to be not too proud of," Diehl says. "But I think at this point its kind of lovingly hated in a way. I don't think anyone hates it or debates about it like the prequels, but its become this infamous bit of Star Wars lore and its probably been made more infamous in the fact its never been officially released on DVD or Blu-Ray."

Diehl believes that one of the reason the special is so beloved is because of its forbidden nature and its so-bad-its-good aura.

"The Star Wars movies are lauded as these masterpieces of science fiction that reinvigorated the Hollywood blockbuster. People have writen these treatises about how it created this new mythology for generations," Diehl says. "So it's kind of funny to see it put into this almost Vaudeville or variety show kind of light."

A Very Merry Sci-Fi Christmas takes place at 7 p.m. on Friday, December 7, at Phoenix Art Museum's Whiteman Hall. Admission to the event is $5.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.