Star Wars and Christmas have had a rocky relationship. In 1978, Lucasfilm’s first attempt at delivering the holidays to that far, far away galaxy resulted in the Star Wars Holiday Special, a fever dream variety show featuring guest spots from Bea Arthur, Diahann Carroll, and Jefferson Starship. It looked like a Star Wars movie that had been made at Studio 54.
Despite this monumental disaster, Lucasfilm made another grab at the Christmas brass ring: a Star Wars-themed Christmas album. They assembled a team that included producer Meco Menardo (whose disco version of the Star Wars score, hit number one in 1977), Broadway songwriter Maury Yeston and C-3PO himself, Anthony Daniels, as narrator. Two months later, Christmas in the Stars was released.
Christmas in the Stars was a holiday staple for much of my childhood before it slowly began to get filed further and further back in my collection. It wasn’t until my wife and I moved into our house that it resurfaced. By then, our two young sons were becoming burgeoning Star Wars fans, and I wanted to do whatever I could to keep the momentum going. So I pulled out the record and fired it up again for the first time in more than 20 years. I expected to have the kind of reaction you have when looking at high school pictures, to shake my head at the “so-bad-it’s-good” quality of everything. But, in its own sweet way, the album held up. I might even argue that it had gotten better. Part of that feeling came from how much my kids loved it as well. They got it right away. This wasn’t something you pointed and laughed at. It was something you soaked up and enjoyed, like a warm mug of blue milk by the hearth.
Now, let’s slide the rose-colored glasses down a bit. Christmas in the Stars has moments of camp that tread dangerously close to the event horizon of the Holiday Special black hole. Even the overarching story of the album is a little silly, featuring C-3PO and R2-D2 hard at work alongside a series of nameless, vocoder-voiced droids in the shop of one “S. Claus.” Throughout the album, Artoo and Threepio ruminate on various elements of the holiday in songs that, while occasionally goofy, are still oddly charming. After the bombastic title track, Threepio pauses to explain to Artoo what bells are, through such lyrics as “Bells, bells, bells! The thing they do is ring!” He then, in classic Threepio style, calculates the odds against Christmas actually happening at all (365 to 1, in case you were wondering). Later, a group of kids sing “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” a song that’s notable because it features Jon Bon Jovi, in his first recorded appearance, on lead vocals. Turns out Tony Bongiovi was a co-producer of the album and gave his 17-year-old cousin the gig.
The centerpiece of Christmas in the Stars is “What Can You Get a Wookie For Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb)?” which became the album’s single. It is as ridiculous as it sounds, not only for the central theme but also for the fact that you get to hear what some of the other Star Wars heroes are getting for Christmas (“A scarf for Skywalker. Perfume for the Princess…”).
The album winds down with a Star Wars-esque retelling of “The Night Before Christmas” from Threepio before S. Claus himself shows up. Only it’s not the real Santa, it’s his son, who is shouldering the burden of gift-gifting in the Star Wars galaxy while his dad holds things down in the Milky Way. Apparently, this was originally slated to be Yoda, but Frank Oz couldn’t make the recording session. The mind reels at what could have been.
Yes, it’s undeniably goofy. But, unlike the Holiday Special, which feels like its primary creative engines were cash and cocaine, Christmas in the Stars shines with earnest Christmas spirit. You can tell that everyone involved genuinely wanted to make a holiday album with heart. And, like bulls-eyeing a two-meter Womp Rat, they somehow hit the mark. By the time we get to the thunderous finale, as chimes clang out, Chewie roars and Threepio cries, “Merry Christmas, everyone! And May the Force be with you always!”, even the scruffiest of nerf herders can’t help but be won over.
Forty years after its release, Christmas in the Stars is a bit of a challenge to come by. I still have the vinyl LP from 40 years ago, but wanted to upgrade to a CD copy for car travel and bedtime listening for my kids. This proved tricky. After the first pressing of 150,000 copies, RSO Records shut down, meaning that, if you didn’t snag an LP in 1980, you were out of luck. It was 14 years later before it surfaced on CD in a hideous release that removed all Star Wars references from the artwork in favor of gaudy Christmas-style packaging. Two years later, Rhino Records put it out in a proper release, with the original cover art by Ralph McQuarrie art restored. This was the one I picked up on eBay in the mid-2000s, although these days that copy will run you about $75 bucks on eBay. A better option is to grab the 2017 release, with the packaging that replicates the vinyl release, right down to a miniature sleeve. You can find that CD on Amazon for around $40 or on eBay for under $15 if you act fast.
The vinyl edition is much harder to score, but it can be found for around $100 on Amazon. eBay is also a good bet, where the LP starts at $80. And the fact that you can get William Hung’s Hung for the Holidays on Spotify and Apple Music but not Christmas in the Stars is proof the Dark Side exists.
So, is Christmas in the Stars worth the effort to track down? After all, it would be easy to dismiss the album as a cheesy holiday novelty at best and a cynical cash grab at worst. But, as Obi-Wan observed, it all depends on your point of view. Even at the time, I’m sure the idea of a Star Wars Christmas album produced more than a few “Humbugs” from the Scrooges of the world. But the team behind the record put their hearts into it and, against the odds, it shows. A group of underdogs trying to bring a little happiness to a disenchanted galaxy. That’s not just the spirit of Christmas. That’s the spirit of Star Wars.