Beloved actress Bea Arthur died this weekend, and while most people remember her for her roles in Maude and Golden Girls, I remember her best as Ackmena, the cantina bartender from The Star Wars Holiday Special. The CBS special holds a unique place in the world of Star Wars, because it's quite possibly the most awful piece of Star Wars-related entertainment ever made, and has been condemned by George Lucas himself, who had no involvement with it. Because of this, it has only been aired in its entirety once (in 1978) and has never been officially released on VHS or DVD. So anyone under the age of 30 who can speak with knowledge about Boba Fett's first appearance (in the special's animated segment) or Chewbacca's grandfather's love of holographic pornography has likely seen one of the millions of bootlegs in existence, all copied from the original TV broadcast. And while most of the original Star Wars cast members make brief appearances, Bea Arthur stands out as a symbol of the high caliber of guest stars the producers roped in to appear in this disaster.
While the special's awfulness makes it occasionally entertaining to watch, in an MST3K kind of way, Arthur was one of the few legitimately entertaining things about it, as she tended bar in the same cantina where Obi-Wan Kenobi once cut off Walrus Man's arm. During her too-short (or too-long, depending on how you look at it) segment, she interacts with various masked aliens -- mostly cheaply-made-up versions of the aliens in the film -- and serves drinks to a lovestruck, volcano-headed Harvey Korman, who brings her a flower and pours his beverages straight into his head crater. And when the Empire orders an early curfew for the entire star system due to "increased activity by subversive forces," Ackmena gets all of the aliens to leave by singing the 1978 equivalent of "Closing Time." It's an incredibly surreal moment, although not the special's only musical number -- there were also performances by Diahann Carroll, Jefferson Starship and a totally stoned Carrie Fisher.
Aside from two short-lived 1985 cartoon series -- Droids and Ewoks -- that was the last time Star Wars characters appeared in original TV programming until the Cartoon Network's 2003 Clone Wars series. Now, casting has begun for a long-discussed live-action TV show, which should take place in the years before the original Star Wars movie. Hopefully, Lucas will embrace the fans' love for the special, and we'll meet a young Ackmena somewhere along the way... although we doubt there will be any musical numbers.
What did you think of Bea Arthur and/or the Holiday Special? Sing their praises below.
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