Credit: Fantasia International Film Festival
by Matt Lynch Featured Film Horizon Line

A Disturbance in the Force — Jeremy Coon & Steve Kozak [Fantasia Fest ’23 Review]

November 14, 2023

We all know Star Wars came out in May of 1977 and was an immediate sensation, well on its way to becoming a cultural touchstone. But even so, it was not quite yet the lumbering, multi-billion-dollar franchise we know today. Actually, the idea of something like that hadn’t really even occurred to anyone. Nevertheless, hot irons need striking, as the saying goes, and so to keep people interested and hopefully make some money in the process, it was decided that to tide people over until the release of the sequel, a television installment would be necessary. And so it was that in December of 1978, the Star Wars Holiday Special came to CBS. 

Flash forward to 2023, 45 years later, and the endless ubiquity of Star Wars only partially explains why, of all things, there is a feature-length documentary about the production of that Holiday Special (only about 10 minutes shorter than the actual thing). The other reason is that the Holiday Special is remembered mostly for being a massively terrible boondoggle about which absolutely nobody has nice things to say. In fact, it was allegedly so mortifyingly bad that George Lucas himself had it pulled from circulation entirely, never to be inflicted on human or alien eyes in any galaxy ever again, in perpetuity. Well, until YouTube anyway, where you can go right on ahead and watch the dreaded thing for yourself.

And so, long story short, we’ve now got A Disturbance in the Force. Directors Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak have assembled most of the surviving members of the production for their reminiscences, as well as a lineup of geek celebrities to share some memories or add some colorful commentary. Listen to Kevin Smith wonder aloud just why the hell anyone thought it would be cool to add Bea Arthur to the Star Wars universe — Arthur herself, in an old interview, doesn’t seem to know either. There’s Weird Al talking about how Boba Fett was actually introduced in a pretty cool animated segment (maybe the only part of the whole thing that anyone even remotely liked). But most enticing are the various writers and producers sharing conflicting accounts, not only of who worked on what parts, but of who deserves the most blame.

A Disturbance in the Force shares one notable thing in common with its subject: both are largely unnecessary, but also fairly amusing. There aren’t any surprises in store structurally or stylistically, and for hardcore fans, this likely maxes out as a remedial but amiable time-killer. Anyone who’s never heard of the Holiday Special will probably get a little bit more of a kick out of it, and the documentary does boast plenty of clips of the woebegone special itself. Ultimately, the best compliment one can pay A Disturbance in the Force is that what’s included is so tantalizingly stupid that plenty of viewers are likely to go seek out its inspiration as soon as the credits roll.

DIRECTOR: Jeremy Coon & Steve Kozak;  DISTRIBUTOR: Giant Pictures;  IN THEATERS: November 17;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 26 min.

Originally published as part of Fantasia Fest 2023 — Dispatch 4.