There is a lot of Star Wars…and there are a lot of Star Wars documentaries, but there aren’t any quite like A Disturbance in the Force, which premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. Directed by Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak, A Disturbance in the Force uses the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special to push audiences down a rabbit hole that explores marketing, virality, and the events that led to the Holiday Special ever being made.
The documentary starts in 1977, explaining how Star Wars became a cultural phenomenon that single-handedly revitalized a stagnant film industry. But instead of looking at what made the first film or the trilogy successful, A Disturbance in the Force unpacks how Star Wars forever changed how films were sold, made, and marketed, and how ultimately, the 1978 CBS two-hour “Star Wars Holiday Special” was the weirdest attempt at maintaining the hype between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. I mean, how does something as unhinged as a two-hour special that is mostly in Wookie and has Bea Arthur serving drinks come to be?
While the “Holiday Special” never re-aired and is considered one of the worst shows ever aired on TV, A Disturbance in the Force surpassed my expectation by digging into something more than just the special. When I read the description, I assumed that this would be making a mountain of a molehill. But instead, the interviews chose to include develop a layered history of not just the Special but rather everything that crashed together to make George Lucas think it was a good idea. The documentary recounts nearly the entire two-hour special through a mixture of interviews and clips, which will get you up to speed if you’ve never seen the infamous “Holiday Special.”
One of the intriguing angles the documentary takes is talking with those who were extras in the “Holiday Special,” costume designers, and just those generally involved. The interesting thing about this is that it isn’t just fans who want to talk about their experiences but instead pull back the curtain on all of the awkward choices and how much vision definitely didn’t come across on the screen.
The only issue with A Disturbance in the Force is that it really isn’t made for anyone who isn’t deeply into Star Wars. It’s not that the film is inaccessible if you have no Star Wars knowledge but rather the film doesn’t do a good job making the “Holiday Special” interesting to anyone who didn’t already know about the two-hour special.
From exploring life day to deconstructing the cantina scene and the singing, if you haven’t seen it, A Disturbance in the Force will get you up to speed. That said, the documentary is at its best when it looks at the impact the Special had on audiences, culture, and marketing more than general. The weirdness of executing this mishap of television and the response is what really makes everything intriguing, more so because I’m wondering when Star Wars will hit this bizarre road again, especially with how much content Disney is putting out at record pace. While I don’t agree with the documentary that the “Holiday Special” is unknown amongst the general public, I do enjoy the stance that this is the most unhinged two hours of television ever in the US.
The documentary isn’t groundbreaking, but it is a film that Star Wars fans will enjoy if only for little bits of trivia they can now add to their pub quiz repertoire. Made for the fans of the franchise, A Disturbance in the Force is a time capsule that exists so that the fandom won’t ever let Lucasfilm forget about the “Holiday Special.”
A Disturbance in the Force was screened as a part of the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival.
A Disturbance in the Force
A Disturbance in the Force isn’t groundbreaking, but it is a film that Star Wars fans will enjoy if only for little bits of trivia they can now add to their pub quiz repertoire. Made for the fans of the franchise, A Disturbance in the Force is a time capsule that the fandom won’t ever let LucasFilm forget about the “Holiday Special,” and I’m happy about it.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.