In 1978, the wretched Star Wars Holiday Special introduced us to the Wookiee celebration of Life Day. 31 years later, I recreated the magic, armed with $100 worth of hooch and a willingness to expose my friends to psychological torture.
Episode I: The True Meaning of Life Day
Last month, some friends and I agreed to hold a traveling holiday party in our picturesque burg of Jersey City, with each person hosting a different type of holiday celebration in his/her home. It'd be like a wholesome 1950s progressive dinner but with less green bean casserole and more Night Train.
All the good winter fetes went quickly. My pals immediately called dibs on Saturnalia, druidic Solstice, and Festivus, and I was left with few palatable options. Hanukkah? Christmas? No way. I was moments away from signing up for Taiwanese Constitution Day, when an idea struck me like a bolt from the blue.
"Guys, I'm going to host a surprise Life Day party."
"Life Day? What the hell are you talking about?"
"It's from The Star Wars Holiday Special. Life Day is, uh, like Chewbacca's Christmas. All the Wookiees put on red bathrobes and, um, watch a stoned Princess Leia sing a song or something."
"Well, that's a wanting explanation."
Yes, for all my years of jaded fanboy aspersions cast towards the Holiday Special, I didn't actually know the true meaning of Life Day. Maybe I'd lost sight of an emotionally rich yuletide parable interwoven between scenes of Bea Arthur waltzing with Mos Eisley's scum and villainy and Harrison Ford delivering most his lines with a constipated grimace. It was time to give the Holiday Special another go.
Fortunately, the entire special is available on Google Video. Unfortunately, it took only 5 minutes of viewing to feel as if I was being skull-diddled with a lightsaber.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is guilty of the worst sin kitsch can commit – it's hella boring. Case in point: the opening 15 minutes are mainly devoted to Chewbacca's family yowling in their Wookiee tongue. Hell, most Z-grade scifi flicks are worth the slog for a fugitive glimpse of nudity. The most titillation the SWHS gives us is an interlude in which Chewie's father Itchy ogles VR porno starring Diahann Carroll. Ooh la la.
It wasn't until the 99 minute mark that my Life Day epiphany dawned on me. At this point in the special, Han Solo – who has eluded Imperial forces long enough to drop Chewbacca off on the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk – turns to Chewie's clan and (without a whiff of that trademark Solo rakishness) gushes, "You're like family to me."
Normally this kind of Lucasian sincerity would've made me lose my shit, but I empathized with Han. The Empire had been chasing him all day; our favorite rogue was so hopped up on adrenaline and fatigue that it made perfect sense that he'd start doddering like a Hallmark Card. Likewise, I was so gonzo from 1.5 hours of Holiday Special that I became nostalgic for such banality as tile grout, riboflavin, and The Phantom Menace.
It was then that my Life Day miracle hit me – The Star Wars Holiday Special was such a train wreck of existential horror that it made my boring-ass life seem like a cornucopia of wonders, and Life Day was simply the gnarled track, the tetanus-soaked philosophical underpinning that caused this prime-time disaster to run off the rails.
Now I knew the true meaning of Life Day. It isn't a day for family, friends, or fellowship. It's a day to dive into that oubliette you call your soul and almost asphyxiate yourself on the darkness. The Star Wars Holiday Special had taught me this, and after my Life Day party, my pals would never take the other 364 days of the year for granted ever again.
Episode II: No Blue Milk At This Party
Of course, if you're going to put your mates through psychological duress, you need a suitable sop so that, y'know, they talk to you again someday. My sop was free booze.
According to Star Wars lore, the traditional Life Day foodstuffs are Hoth Chocolate and Wookie-ookies. Sadly, the official recipes I found online were ho-hum, so I deviated from canon and dubbed this potent NY Times cocktail "Hoth Chocolate" (Absolut Peppar is a suitable proxy for Tauntaun blood). My roommate Jenny was dear enough to donate "Wookiee Coconut Rhombi."
I also added two new bromides to the Expanded Universe. To commemorate Boba Fett's debut in the Holiday Special, I made him a microbrew by relabeling some mediocre beer "Mandalorian Panther Piss." I always pictured Boba as a light-beer-swilling douche, so I added Twi'lek babes and Boba bleating drunken frat boy threats to the bottle art.
The second cocktail I invented was "Salacious B. Crumb's Rancor Gamete Extract," which was a 3:1 ratio of Hawaiian Punch to chilled Spirytus Rektyfikowany (i.e., 192 proof Polish rectified spirit). It tastes like the Death Star exploding in your mouth.
Episode III: Like Eyes Wide Shut, But Hairier
If I was going to make my pals truly miserable, my decorations and party favors would have to tease out the creepy sexual dynamics of the Holiday Special, such as Grandpa Itchy's erotic interlude, the hirsute androgyny of Wookiee society, and, according to Wookieepedia, the wholesale celebration of procreation.
In order to fissure the bedrock of my guests' sexual identities, I first printed out 20+ genderless Wookiee masks. Hopefully these disguises would force my friends to question not only their sexuality, but their very humanity.
Next, I labeled my bathroom "Grandpa Itchy's VR Experience" and hung a blacklit mural of his leering mug on my shower curtain. It would've made sense to play Diahann Carroll's "This Minute" (her song from the SWHS), but I instead opted to play Aphex Twin's "Come to Daddy" on infinite loop. The shrieking techno and soulless gaze of Grandpa Itchy will scar my guests psychosexually and invoke pee shyness.
Similarly, I put on an annoying loop of unsexy Star Wars themed disco. My guests' primordial id would command them to dance, but their super-ego would stop them – after all, it's impossible to look sexually attractive if you're bebopping to a remix of the Ewok chant. Their libidos will be confused, and they will despair.
Here was my playlist:
1.) The Max Rebo Band – Lapti Nek (Club Mix)
2.) Bea Arthur – Good Night, But Not Good-Bye
3.) Meco – Ewok Celebration (the rapping C-3PO kills me every time)
4.) Koto – Jabdah
5.) Meco – The Empire Strikes Back
6.) The Cantina Theme. Six times in a row.
I blasted this exact same playlist – but five seconds off – in an abutting room 10 feet away. I did this for no other ulterior motive other than to confuse folks.
Episode IV: The Day of the Party
After weeks of anticipation, Life Day finally arrived! There was a blizzard outside, but that didn't stop me from donning my Life Day bathrobe and Wookiee beard. At 9:30 PM EST, the traveling partiers showed, and I was raring to stare into the abyss with them.
Here's a log from my party. As you can see, things didn't exactly go as planned.
9:30 PM – My first guests arrive. I hand them their Wookiee mask. The seeds of sorrow have been planted.
9:49 – The revelers have donned the Darth Vader masks I left out. Good. These should exacerbate any preexisting father complexes.
10:17 – A guest complains that the Rancor Gamete Extract burnt his esophagus. Taste the void!
10:33 – My apartment is jam-packed with 50+ people. Tensions should be running high. This place will be a Hobbesian state of nature in minutes.
10:52 – Someone unironically compliments me on "a great party." What is this shit?
11:10 – As a last ditch attempt to unleash the horrors of Life Day, I rally my guests to sing "Happy Life Day" in the key of Carrie Fisher, who was rumored to be bombed out of her brainpan when she filmed the SWHS. I pray that the cacophony will rouse the neighbors and we all get arrested.
11:15 – No dice. The guests shuffle off to the next party. All the Hoth Chocolate, Wookiee Coconut Rhombi, and Mandalorian Panther Piss have been consumed. Oddly enough, I am left with a full bottle of Rancor Gamete Extract.
Episode V: So What Went Wrong?
As I cleaned up the following morning, I ruminated on my total failure as a Life Day host. None of the guests appeared to be in the agony I was in when I watched the Holiday Special – in fact, most of the gang was convivial and laughing. Were they laughing to hide an inner sadness? I doubt it.
For next year's Life Day party, I plan on doing a few things differently. First, I'll definitely screen the Holiday Special – this will force my guests to wallow in the anguish of Life Day firsthand. Also, I'll only serve Rancor Gamete Extract – this beverage tastes the way Life Day should feel. Finally, I'll require all my guests communicate solely in Wookiee absolutely for no reason whatsoever.
In conclusion, Happy Life Day from io9. To you and yours, AUGHGHRUHGGHGGH.
Additional photography by Dave Digioia, Ian MacAllen, Laura Parry, and Lauren Rath.