In 2023, audiences fully expect and, in some cases, want studios to exploit all of the intellectual property they own fully. It is the basis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Comics Universe. Well-known characters have movies that launch less-known characters and their films. And with everyone having a streaming service now, all those IPs can appear in movies and television shows.
Then to further exploit those IPs, you can put those characters on everything from lunch boxes to salad dressing. Disney CEO Bob Iger has even said he wants to see more of Disney’s IP in the Parks to connect the two further. It is the new synergy of movie making: you create a character that audiences love, then you exploit that character, and finally, use that character to launch new characters.
But that wasn’t always the case. Movies were just stand-alone properties that audiences loved and went only back to that one piece of art repeatedly.
Like everything else, Star Wars (1977) changed what filmmakers and studios thought about IPs. Director George Lucas put the Star Wars characters on everything. But there was a jump to television that has long since been forgotten until now.
In 1978, CBS premiered the Stars Wars Holiday Special. It is terrible. The best way to describe it is a combination of various shows and poorly written Star Wars fan fiction. The show starred most of the original cast, including Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford.
Here is how Hamill described his experience with the show:
When I read the script, I said ‘I’m not doing this.’ Lucas had to call me and say ‘please do this.’ You have to remember this was Christmas of ’78, a year and half after A New Hope came out. I said ‘it’s terrible. It’s not Star Wars. It’s a Bob Hope special. He (Lucas) told me ‘we really need to do this for the merchandise and keep the product alive in people’s minds. And, of course, I’d do anything for George.
The special was so disastrous that it completely disappeared. Rumor has it that Lucas destroyed the film, but who knows?
This week, a documentary premiered at South by Southwest, hoping to revive the long, lost Star Wars Holiday Special. A Disturbance in the Force is a new film by Steve Kozak and Jeremy Coon, and it hopes to revive the special but also remind people that this happened, and there are people out there who remember.
The film interviews some of the people involved in the making of the special, including legendary LucasFilm publicist Charles Lippincott and in-house historian J.W. Rinzler. Still, it mainly relies on interviews with Star Wars superfans like filmmaker Kevin Smith and actor Seth Green.
We are also reminded of some of the low points of the Star Wars Holiday Special. There was a special appearance by Bea Arthur (The Golden Girl) and Art Carney. The rock band Jefferson Starship showed up for a song, and then Fischer also broke out in song. It almost seemed producers grabbed whatever celebrity happened to be in the area then and asked, “hey, do you want to be in a Star Wars show?”
The show wasn’t all bad for those deep in the Star Wars universe. It was set between A New Hope, and Empire Strikes Back, introducing the world to bounty hunter Boba Fett. In some ways, it was the precursor to everything that has happened with IPs in the past 20 years.
But A Disturbance in the Force reminds the audience that there was a time when you didn’t see your favorite characters everywhere, and the world was okay like that.
A Disturbance in the Force premiered at SXSW and is now seeking wider distribution. Perhaps Disney might jump in and add both to the Disney+ lineup.