Where to watch it? Currently playing at festivals after its debut at SXSW
Directed by: Jeremy Coon, Steve Kozak
Produced by: Jeremy Coon, Steve Kozak, Kyle Newman
Featuring: Seth Green, Weird Al Yankovic, Paul Scheer, Taran Killam, Donny Osmond, Gilbert Gottfried, Bonnie Burton, Bruce Vilanch, Steve Binder
The Star Wars Holiday Special is the thing of legends- at least in nerd circles. Long considered a lost relic, the past couple of decades have increased its reach thanks to bootleg copies on the internet.
For those unfamiliar, the bizarre two-hour variety TV program that aired just once in November 1978 featured a celebration of a holiday in the Star Wars universe known as “Life Day.” Chewbacca and his family are featured prominently, as are Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, and the original cast of Star Wars who were contractually obligated to appear.
Without an official release from Lucasfilm, there exists no supplementary material for the special one might expect if there had been a DVD or Blu-Ray release. For that reason, A Disturbance in the Force acts as the sort of behind-the-scenes documentary we might expect in the parallel universe where the suits at Lucasfilm released this notoriously lampooned TV special from the Disney Vault.
The doc consists primarily of talking heads that were involved in the production as well as comedians willing to roast it. Notably the late Gilbert Gottfried makes one of his final appearances on camera.
Its commentary balances comedic jabs with an underlying reverence for television’s first and last Life Day celebration. The people interviewed for Disturbance clearly love Star Wars even when it’s at its most unhinged.
The doc not only covers the making-of process but helps contextualize its creation as well. The 1970s were the time of the variety special and everybody who was anybody was making them, whether it made sense to or not. Many people remember The Brady Bunch but fewer people remember The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, for example.
Interestingly the Star Wars Holiday Special wasn't the only variety special made with Star Wars characters, and it arguably wasn't even the worst. The film covers the most bizarre appearances that Star Wars characters and actors made on their promotional tours in the late 70s and early 80s, including a Star Wars-themed episode of Donny & Marie.
Donny Osmond is a good sport about it, appearing for interviews in the film and laughing about the absurdity of his galactic song-and-dance numbers.
Once it gets to the meat of the film- that is, the parts which cover the Holiday Special, there are notably some other people that aren't as willing to participate in this documentary. The film brings up George Lucas' public distancing from the Star Wars Holiday Special despite his involvement in its production.
Ultimately the film's criticism of Lucas is light. When one of people that is interviewed for the documentary appears to critique Lucas for not letting his name appear on both the good and bad work Lucas has done, he quickly walks back it.
A Disturbance in the Force is here to poke fun, but it does it with a sense of endearment. This movie is an essential tome for Star Wars fans hoping to learn more about the Holiday Special of legend.
A Disturbance in the Force made its worldwide debut at 2023's SXSW in Austin, TX. For more screenings, go to their website here.