The Promise of the Tree of Life: We celebrate a Day of Peace, a Day of Harmony, a Day of Joy we all can share together JOYOUSLY! A Day that takes us through the Darkness! A Day that leads us into the Light! A Day that makes us want to celebrate the LIGHT!
If like me, you were a kid at any point during the 1970s, you understand how Life can be divided in some ways into two distinct periods- pre- and post-Star Wars. So groundbreaking and revolutionary did this movie seem, I think its super-blockbuster reception (it was the first movie-blockbuster, and in a lot of ways remains the quintessential movie-blockbuster) took even George Lucas by surprise, and I don’t believe that he had a really good idea initially as to how to follow it up: hence, the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.
Kind of infamous on the camp-culture scene both for being kind of all over the place, and for presenting the Star Wars characters in a format strongly suggesting a Saturday morning kids’ show- the ostensible “plot” involves Han Solo’s efforts to deliver Chewbacca to his home-planet in time to celebrate the Wookie-Holiday Life Day. “Relax, Big Guy- have I ever let you miss a Life Day yet?” “ARRHH!”
In conception, it probably seemed reasonable on paper: variety shows were big in the ’70s (I was there; I know), so the script probably seemed like an interesting way to incorporate lots of variety show sketches and musical numbers, utilizing the Star Wars technology that struck everyone at the time as such an impressive leap in cinematic accomplishment. This however, leads to a very, very strange and disjointed holiday special, no episode of which remains in my memory as vividly as that featuring Guest-Star Beatrice Arthur as a sci-fi tavern-keeper whose business the Storm-Troopers shut down. This introduces an oddly Bertolt Brechtian musical number whereby Ms. Arthur serves her customers one last round of drinks with the song “Good night, but not Good-bye!” It’s a little as if suddenly Star Wars turned into an outer-space version of Threepenny Opera, with TV’s Maude as Pirate Jenny.
The whole thing reaches a true climax of surrealism when Carrie Fisher turns up at the end as Princess Leia, to sing “The Life Day Song.” It is a little startling to realize that Ms. Fisher could actually sing- until you stop to reflect that her parents were crooner Eddie Fisher and MGM musical star Debbie Reynolds. Then watching her sell the song, you have the impression of what it might have been like if MGM had made sci-fi musicals, with Star Wars being directed by Vincente Minnelli, say, instead of George Lucas.
It is a very strange pop-culture moment, when Princess Leia sings a paean to Life Day. But then- isn’t “Life Day” actually a good metaphor for the Pagan Solstice, with its promise of the returning of Life along with the Light?
And as well (as Princess Leia says): No matter how different we appear, we are all the same in our struggle against the Powers of Evil and Darkness. So Happy Life Day, Pagans!