It’s the holiday season and we’ve highlighted a few specials to give you those warm Space Western holiday fuzzies. — ed, N.E. Lilly
Space Western Holiday Specials
by N.E. Lilly ©2007
image by Kenneth Newquist ©2006
It’s nearly impossible for any show, movie, or franchise to go without making a holiday special. There have been holiday specials made for television shows and movies ranging from the most recent Shrek (Shrek the Halls, 2007) to The Boondocks (A Hughie Freeman Christmas, 2005) to Sonic the Hedgehog (The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: Sonic Christmas Blast, 1996).
Given this you’d think that if shows like even The Smurfs can have a holiday special then there would be Space Western holiday specials of your favorite shows as well. You’d be right. Here’s a short list of the holiday specials based on movies and shows from the Space Western genre. I think we are all the better for having seen these enduring holiday classics. I can only imagine what life would be like if these holiday specials had never existed.
A Very Twilight Christmas (1966)
Written by Ray Bradbury, this special episode of The Twilight Zone features a long forgotten performance by Kurt Russell. In the episode, Captain “Bur” Brady (obviously an anagram for Bradbury) tries to return to Earth for Christmas to get back to his son (played by a young Kurt Russell). The plans are disrupted by Captain Brady being trapped by Martians posing as 19th century Americans. In the end, Captain Brady gets out of the trap after Sergeant Carol (and the rest of the crew) sings O Come All Ye Faithful. Because of a lawsuit this show was never included as a part of The Twilight Zone syndication package.
Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
The Star Wars Holiday Special was so good that George Lucas is quoted as saying, “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.” Obviously in order to keep it from overshadowing his other Star Wars works with its greatness.
The general synopsis follows Han Solo and Chewbacca as they try to sneak through Imperial entanglements to get back to Chewie’s home world for Life Day. With cameos by the Star Wars characters that we know and love, it also featured gripping performances by Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Harvey Korman.
The Christmas Story (1979)
Given the success of the Star Wars Holiday Special, the recently cancelled television series Battlestar Galactica tried to emulate that success. After an aggressive fan‑based letter‑writing campaign a Christmas Special was negotiated as a basis to judge interest in a new Battlestar Galactica series.
The special focused on Boxy and his adventures in trying to get the gift that he wanted most for the upcoming holiday: a Red Rider Carbon Action Blaster. Several hilarious moments include Starbuck receiving a gaudy gift of a cylon‑leg table lamp, and Muffit ruining the holiday dinner. My personal favorite scene is when Boxy accidentally says “frack” in front of Andromeda.
Ratings for this show were so good that it is credited, in part, with the subsequent Battlestar Galatica series revival in the form of Galactica 1980. In 1984 Universal brought suit against Warner Bros. for 42 distinct similarities between Battlestar Gallactica: The Christmas Story and the 1983 movie A Christmas Story. Warner Bros. counter‑sued claiming that Battlestar Galactica had stolen ideas from The Outlaw Josie Wales (notably the gun‑fighting sequences) and various Humphrey Bogart movies. The lawsuit was dismissed in 1985.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, Klingon Carols (1994)
With more of a focus being put on Klingon language and culture in StarTrek: The Next Generation, it was decided that a holiday special would run showing Klingons being introduced to holiday traditions from Earth.
In the first few minutes of the episode we learn that Captain Picard has formed a detachment, including Worf and Alexander, to teach Klingons the meaning of the holidays and that initial attempts at integrating the holiday into the Klingon culture have failed, as they discover that there are no words for peace, gift, or carol in the Klingon language. After a heart‑warming rendition of Jingle Bells in Klingon by Worf and Alexander things begin to turn around.
Bitter and hateful, Chancellor Gowron is irritated at the thought of the nearby Enterprise having a happy time celebrating the holidays. Chancellor Gowron forms a plan to steal all the power from the Enterprises engines leaving the crew unable to replicate gifts. In the end Chancellor Gowron realizes that the holiday isn’t about giving gifts. When Geordi reverses the polarity on the multiphase dampening field restoring energy to the Enterprise, Chancellor Gowron’s heart grows by three sizes.
The episode was widely acclaimed by critics and fans to have been the best Star Trek holiday episode ever.
Star Trek: Deep Space 9,
The Three Prophets (1995)
After the success of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Klingon Carols” the producers felt that the other Star Trek property at the time (Star Trek: Deep Space 9) needed it’s own holiday episode.
The episode begins with Quark grumbling to an old business partner, Jae‑Khob Marli, about the human fixation with the holidays. Jae‑Khob admires the way that Quark overworks and underpays his humble brother, Rom, and says that if Quark continues to focus on profit like that then he’ll turn out as even more prosperous than even the Grand Nagus.
That evening Quark is visited by The Prophets (time‑independent entities from the neighboring wormhole) who show him what the future will be like, if he continues his greedy, exploitative ways. The First Prophet shows him the past, and how Quark forced Rom to leave his wife on Ferenginar so that Rom could work in Quark’s bar. The Second Prophet shows Quark the present: how his greedy ways were keeping Rom from visiting his son Nog at Starfleet Academy. The Third Prophet shows Quark the future: the war with the Dominion and the appointment of Rom as Grand Nagus.
The next morning Quark is seen embracing the holiday and selling holiday baubles. Quark mysteriously explains to the others that he had a vision last night of his terrible future, in which he forsees only one means of escape: by making more profit. The episode ends with Quark investing a small fortune in Federation war bonds.
Star Wars Holiday Special
Re‑mastered Edition (1998)
Shortly after the re‑edited/re‑released version of Star Wars, George Lucas re‑released a version of the Star Wars Holiday Christmas Special to bring it inline with his vision of Star Wars.
Several changes from the initial release include the digital replacement of Bea Arthur with Jar Jar Binks, a song‑and‑dance number featuring Jabba the Hutt that had been removed from the initial special, a new musical number performed by ’N Sync, and a complete recreation of the animated portion of the episode that had featured Boba Fett, now in modern high definition 3d animation.
The special was only aired once and again George Lucas attests to its awesomeness by saying, “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.”
Christmas in Oblivion (1998)
Written by Peter David and filmed together with Oblivion 2: Backlash this was a little known gem that formed an impromptu trilogy. Unfortunately it coincided with the release of the Star Wars Holiday Special Re‑mastered Edition, and thus received very little publicity. It’s a shame really, because it includes several notable performances including a duet of All I Want for Christmas by Isaac Hayes and George Takei.
After leaving Oblivion, Buster and Doc Valentine (Isaac Hayes and George Takei) team up to become a top song‑and‑dance act. Doc Valentine plays matchmaker and introduces Buster to a pair of beautiful sisters (Sunshine and Emmy‑Lee) who also have a song‑and‑dance act. When Sunshine and Emmy‑Lee travel to Oblivion to perform a Christmas show, Buster and Doc Valentine return with them. A series of romantic mix‑ups ensue as the four performers try to help Sheriff Stone (played by Richard Joseph Paul). The story ends with the four performers singing the title song “Christmas in Oblivion,” which culminates in a shoot‑out amidst a giant scorpion nest.
What Child Is This? (2000)
Released just prior to the Halloween themed Cowboy Bebop: The Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, and shown only once in Japan (never being broadcast in the United States), this special became an instant Christmas classic with critics and viewers, due in part to its soft and somber jazz track.
Jet starts the special seeking to understand why he always ends up depressed around the holidays. On the advice of Faye Valentine, Jet gets involved in creating a video‑drama about the Nativity. When he loses control of the ship because of the crew members’ refusal to listen to him, he gives Radical Ed and Ein (the data dog) the responsibility of decorating for the holiday.
Looking for a big, shiny, aluminum artificial tree as she was instructed to do by Faye, Ed can only find a pitiful little tree. Meanwhile, Ein has decorated the Bebop with colorful flashing lights and other baubles. Having heard Spike’s explanation of what Christmas is all about, the other crew members realize they have been too hard on Jet. Jet returns to find the rest of the crew singing around the tree in unity (which all falls apart when Spike tells Faye that she’s singing off‑key).
Firefly: The R. Tam Season (2004)
This holiday special was produced following Joss Whedon’s vow to continue the series Firefly in any way, shape, or form. It’s the infamous second screen‑play of Firefly written by Jane Espenson, who continues to deny its existence. The concept behind the episode was a peek inside the mind of River Tam. It features several ballet dance numbers performed by Summer Glau supported by other Firefly cast members.
In the story, River receives a present from an Uncle who magically is able to find her location and send her the gift. In a moment of jealousy and paranoia Jayne accidentally breaks it. That night Serenity is overtaken by crew of Reavers who are eventually fought off by Malcolm Reynolds (while wearing a shiny hat). The remaining portion of the special takes place on what appears to be an early vaudevillian stage, with shadowy figures (alliance officers and scientists) in the audience watching River as she and the crew of the Serenity dance for them. Malcolm eventually duels with the Captain of the Reavers and drives them off. This is followed by a “trippy” animation sequence. At the end of the program River wakes up, leaving us not quite sure how much of what just happened was real or a dream.
This episode is notable for featuring the return of Jubal Early during the “trippy” animation sequence. It also featured Jewel Staite as the Suger Plum Fairy, Nathan Fillion as the Prince, and Michael Fairman as the Captain of the Reavers. The episode was cancelled by FOX before it was aired.