​Fantasia 2023: 'A Disturbance in the Force' Redeems the 'Star Wars Holiday Special' (Sort Of)

Directed by Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak

Starring Bruce Vilanch, Kevin Smith, Taran Killam, Seth Green, Donny Osmond, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Paul Scheer, Gilbert Gottfried, Steve Binder

Photo courtesy of the artists

BY Rachel HoPublished Aug 10, 2023

There is a general feeling of forgiveness throughout A Disturbance in the Force. Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak's documentary about the much-maligned Star Wars Holiday Special doesn't necessarily set out to prove that the CBS special was actually good — and after finally watching the show on YouTube, I can confirm that it is objectively not good — just that, with time and a little bit of understanding, maybe we shouldn't be so hard on it anymore. 

Coon and Kozak assemble a roster of some of Hollywood's most ardent Star Wars fans, like Kevin Smith, Taran Killam and Paul Scheer, who speak to their personal opinion of the TV special while also lending a modern perspective to the inner workings of the entertainment industry in an attempt to explain how the Holiday Special came to be. Each of the talking heads provides an honest take on why fans were so confounded by the special back then and continue to be today; however, Coon and Kozak assuredly do not use this film to take cheap potshots at a part of the Star Wars canon that has already received its fair share. (And yes, it is decidedly a part of the Star Wars canon.)

Where A Disturbance in the Force becomes an enlightening piece of documentary filmmaking is in giving people like Steve Binder and Bruce Vilanch (the special's director and co-writer, respectively) an opportunity to explain and defend (or not). Many interesting pieces of information and behind-the-scenes stories are shared by Binder and Vilanch, including George Lucas's involvement and eventual response, which shed a lot of light on the special and make this film a real treasure trove for Star Wars fans and television historians.

Along with its compassion, A Disturbance in the Force embraces the humour and ridiculousness of the Holiday Special with a playful and entertaining tone. Donny Osmond weighs in on his family's tangential role in possibly inspiring the ill-advised show with their Star Wars send-up that opened up the third season of Donny & Marie. While good-naturedly apologizing for the Holiday Special, Osmond does recall how much fun him and his brothers had dressing up as Luke and Stormtroopers. And perhaps that perfectly encapsulates the Holiday Special: sorry it tarnished the space opera, but it was kind of fun.

In the years since its initial airing in 1978, the legend of the Star Wars Holiday Special has grown to heights that I'm sure George Lucas greatly disdains. Like many cult favourites, the Holiday Special was initially met with an overwhelmingly negative response. A Disturbance in the Force contextualizes that response while also finding some beauty in the notorious special's failure. 
(September Club)

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