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With a Special Appearance by the Late Bea Arthur

Every holiday season, we must tell the story. We must recount its universal truths and the role they play in our lives. We need to spend time reflecting on the story and what it means to each and every one of us, especially as a new century dawns. And we must pass on the story to younger generations, so that they, too, may be guided by its timeless testament on behalf of unconditional love.

Yes, we must once again tell the story -- the wondrous story of the "Star Wars" Christmas special.

Surely you recall the "Star Wars" Christmas special. Even if you didn't see it -- and if everyone who claims to have watched it actually saw the one and only broadcast, it would have got better ratings than the moon landing -- you've at least heard the story of a director named George, the greedy studio executives looking to cash in on a summer blockbuster and the holiday-themed abortion they joined forces to produce.

No? Well, in brief, then: Han Solo and Chewbacca are trying to get back to Chewie's home planet in time for the big Life Day celebration -- sort of a Christmas for Wookies who don't recognize the birth of Our Savior. Meanwhile, Chewie's family -- his wife, Malla; his son, Lumpy; and his old man, Itchy -- pass the time waiting for him and Han by watching "Star Wars" cartoons and clowning about with special celebrity guests Art Carney and Harvey Korman. And at some point, Bea Arthur comes out and sings a song to all the latex monsters in the canteen at Mos Eisley spaceport -- a career decision that no doubt haunted the former Maude star until the day she died.

Hmmm? Bea Arthur's not dead yet? C'mon, guys -- you sure about that?

Anyway, there's more songs and clowning and "Star Wars" stock footage and appearances by Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, who must not have had very good agents at the time. And then, to cap off the show, Harrison Ford -- the biggest box office draw of the 1990s -- arrives on the scene with Chewbacca and proceeds to give a moving speech about the true meaning of the holidays... to a bunch of people dolled up to look like giant, monstrous Chia pets.

It's really not very good.

So not very good, in fact, that George Lucas has made sure that the "Star Wars" Christmas special will never emerge from its lead-lined holding chamber miles beneath the Earth's surface. Which is pretty impressive. I mean, sure, Lucas is a powerful Hollywood player and all, but even with all his plenipotence, "Howard the Duck" still pops up on cable every now and again.

And that's a damned shame, really. Because they don't make holiday specials like the "Star Wars" Christmas spectacular anymore. No, really, they don't -- I think George Lucas had a law passed.

Indeed, they don't hardly make any holiday specials anymore -- not ones that don't feature Kathie Lee Gifford crooning to her offspring, at any rate. And we, as a nation, are poorer because of it.

The holiday specials of yesteryear were more than just idle programming to file the airwaves between the all-important November sweeps and the January football bowl games. They were glimpses into our national psyche, parables that helped us sort out life's important lessons. "How The Grinch Stole Christmas?" A fiery denunciation of holiday consumerism run amok. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?" A seminal fable about the importance of being true to yourself. And "Rudolph's Shiny New Year" was... well, an unnecessary sequel. But "The Year Without a Santa Claus" gave us Heat Miser. Heat Miser! That's like discovering electricity and inventing the printing press just to pick up the spare.

In contrast, what do the holiday specials of the here and now have to offer? Kathie Lee's dreadful caterwauling. Marketing vehicles for pre-packaged toy franchises. Not a goddamn Heat Miser to be found.

Bea Arthur must be turning over in her grave.

Maybe it's too late. Maybe this really is a cynical age that has turned its back on the simple homilies that can be found in holiday specials. But I'm not willing to give up just yet. Here's a few ideas to revive the moribund holiday special genre. Oh sure, they may not rise to the creative apogee of a "Smurfs Christmas Special" or the sublime richness of "A Very Brady Christmas." But they do have that certain quality that's essential for any festive holiday programming -- the ability to generate revenue on a per-annum basis, allowing producers to easily recoup their initial investment.

Oh, and warmth. They also have warmth.

The Year They Cancelled Halloween. When a shopping mall owner (Fran Drescher) decides to set up Christmas displays and decorations in mid-September, disoriented consumers completely forget to celebrate Halloween, causing a kindly old candy maker (Wilford Brimley) to go out of business and driving angry neighborhood kids (Mary-Kate Olsen, Jonathan Lipnicki, Ralph Macchio) to burn down the mall.

It's Ramadan, Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown can't understand why new classmate Akeem (voice of Spike Lee) refuses to have any food or water during the day until Schroeder explains to him the true meaning of the Muslim calendar.

A Very Regis Christmas. Why should Kathie Lee have all the fun? Regis Philbin (Regis Philbin) and his wife, Joy (Joy Philbin), serve up some holiday cheer with music, fun and laughter with the help of special guests Aaron Neville (Aaron Neville), Loni Anderson (Loni Anderson) and the Backstreet Boys ('N Sync). Also popping by for a cup of egg nog and a hearty carol is Frank Gifford (Frank Gifford): "I just couldn't take another Christmas Special with you-know-who," he tells a beaming Regis. And there won't be a dry eye in the house after Regis' musical tribute to the late, great Bea Arthur.

Really, I think she's dead, fellas. Can we get one of the interns to check this out, maybe?

Three Wise Men. And so it came to pass that three visitors from the east (Vince Vaughn, Cheech Marin, Gallagher) followed a star to Bethlehem where they beheld the newborn Christ... but not before solving the Caper of the Missing Myrrh and busting up a kidnapping ring masterminded by King Herod (John Forsythe).

When Holidays Turn Deadly. Jonathan Frakes ("Alien Autopsy") hosts this Fox special that teaches the holidays' true meaning... of pain and horror, that is! See home video footage of an unsuspecting father getting impaled on his Christmas tree! Watch as a dreidel spins out of control at a Hanukkah celebration and puts someone's eye out! And Kwanzaa festivities turn deadly when we release ravenous wolverines into a crowded room!

Judah Macabee Is Coming to Town. Rankin & Bass -- the Gilbert & Sullivan of stop-motion animation -- make their triumphant return to holiday specials. An animated dreidel (voice of Tony Randall) tells the story of how Judah (voice of Ted McGinley) and his magical menorah Sparkly (voice of Harvey Fierstein) outsmart grumpy King Antiochus (voice of Pat Buchanan) and deliver toys to all the good boys and girls.

It's a Wonderful Network. Distraught over losing his job at a major TV network, programming whiz Warren (Bob Balaban) is about to jump off the George Washington Bridge when an angel (Lea Thompson) appears to show him what the world would be like if he had never been born. Warren sees that Jonathan Silverman (Marc Price) would be a penniless beggar, that Brooke Shields (Kirstie Alley) and Andre Agassi (Judd Nelson) would still be together, and that Homicide would still be on the air. Warren jumps off the bridge.

We Wish You a Merry Smackdown. The Rock learns the true meaning of Christmas when the expensive present he bought Stone Cold Steve Austin fails to impress, but the simple gift of human kindness is what really touches the wrestler's heart. Then, Stone Cold hits the Rock over the head with a chair and runs him over with a forklift.

The Life Day Spectacular. George Lucas returns to the scene of the crime as Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Han Solo (Mark Hamill) learn the true meaning of the made-up Wookie holiday. "Happy Life Day, pal," says Han, his voice choking with emotion. "Gwwaarrrr!" Chewie replies to his openly weeping friend.

Bea Arthur would have wanted it that way.


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