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Review: A Disturbance in the Force (2023)

A Disturbance in the Force (2023)

Directed by: Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak

Premise: A documentary about the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. Using a mix of interviews and archival footage, the documentary examines the making of the special and the place it holds in Star Wars history.

What Works: In between the release of the original Star Wars in 1977 and The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, George Lucas authorized the production of a televised holiday special that aired on CBS in November 1978. The special included the principal actors from the original film and revolved around Chewbacca’s family as they celebrate the “Life Day” holiday. The special also included musical numbers, guest stars Bea Arthur and Art Carney and the band Jefferson Starship as well as an animated segment that introduced the character Boba Fett. The Star Wars Holiday Special was a bizarre disaster that has never been rebroadcast or officially released. Bootleg copies of the program circulated through fan networks and clips of the show (and eventually the whole program) appeared on the internet, fueling fascination with this misbegotten piece of Star Wars history. The documentary A Disturbance in the Force takes a close look at the making of the Holiday Special and explains how this very strange piece of television was produced. There have been many Star Wars documentaries but A Disturbance in the Force proves relatively fresh because the filmmakers find a new and specific angle. Some of the most interesting facets of Star Wars have been its marketing and the franchise’s relationship to its fanbase. Both of those aspects are central to A Disturbance in the Force. As presented in the documentary, the Holiday Special was conceived as a marketing tool to keep Star Wars in the mind of the audience between movies and it coincided with the first holiday shopping season in which tie-in toys were available. The kitschiness of the show and its unavailability turned the Star Wars Holiday Special into an urban legend. A Disturbance in the Force includes an effective mix of contemporary interviews with the talent involved in producing the show as well as archival interview clips with George Lucas, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill. The documentary is very well produced and it approaches the topic thoughtfully but also with a sense of fun that’s appropriate to the subject matter.

What Doesn’t: There is a whole genre of retro documentaries featuring talking heads pontificating on the popular culture of the 1980s. A Disturbance in the Force fits right in with those and it feels a bit redundant. The documentary features a lot of familiar commentators, namely Kevin Smith and Patton Oswalt and Weird Al Yankovic. They’re suited to this documentary since Star Wars has figured into their own work but A Disturbance in the Force might have benefitted from voices that could have inserted a fresh perspective.

Disc extras: Available on various streaming services.

Bottom Line: A Disturbance in the Force will definitely appeal to Star Wars fans as it fills in the background of a curious but under profiled part of the franchise’s history. The documentary ought to appeal to casual viewers as well due to its good humor and the trainwreck nature of the subject matter.

Episode: #978 (December 24, 2023)