A long time ago, in a decade far, far away - Nov. 17, 1978, to be exact - CBS aired The Star Wars Holiday Special. It was a bizarre cavalcade of guest stars, musical performances, silly acting and Wookiees (lots of 'em), eventually disowned by series creator George Lucas and never seen again except on bootleg copies. And that was mostly it for Star Wars at Christmas time...right?
Well, as Yoda would say, "There is another." While Disney+ just launched a tongue-in-cheek kids' cartoon called The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special - featuring all your favorite characters in toy brick form - 1980 saw the release of a full Star Wars holiday album called Christmas in the Stars. And the story behind its creation is as almost as unbelievable as The Force itself!
The creation of Christmas in the Stars starts with Domenico "Meco" Monardo, a trombone player (he did the solo on Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out") and Star Wars obsessive who cut a 12" of disco arrangements of John Williams' classic themes. It became an unlikely No. 1 hit shortly after the original film was released in 1977 - and by the time the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, was ready in 1980, Meco was more or less on the payroll, recording an officially sanctioned disco medley for that film as well.
Read More: A "Star Wars" is Reborn: Meco in the '80s
Meco and producer/engineer Tony Bongiovi - who built legendary New York studio The Power Station with profits from the "Star Wars" single - were then commissioned to create a Christmas record. But how do you bring holiday spirit to outer space - and do so in just under two weeks of recording sessions? The answer came courtesy of a struggling songwriter and Yale professor named Maury Yeston.
"I met with Meco and I said, 'Look, this may sound ridiculous to you, but if you want to do a Star Wars Christmas album you have to have a story,'" Yeston recounted to the CBC in 2014. "You have to have some spine, even the lightest spine, to hang it on...You need a story, you need a title, you need a concept." With that, Yeston immersed himself in the Star Wars galaxy, crafting a narrative where lovable droids R2-D2 and C-3PO plus wise Jedi master Yoda learn and teach listeners about the season. Like the Holiday Special before it, there was room for fun - like the novelty tune "What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb)." (That track actually made the Billboard Hot 100!)
Though some production issues threatened to take the project out of hyperspace - including Frank Oz unable to reprise his role of Yoda - the team pulled it off successfully, including a star turn from actor Anthony Daniels as the delightfully fussy golden robot C-3PO. "It's quite odd," he later recalled. "I think I did have quite a big orchestral track, and it is kind of interesting hearing a great orchestra through your headset and they are hearing you quite naked, really, coming in and out of the track. But it does give you a great feeling of power working with an orchestra."
With a cover designed by longtime Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie, Christmas in the Stars was neither the holiday perennial George Lucas was looking for, nor a misfire on par with the Holiday Special. But it did launch a few careers in the music business: in 1982, Yeston finally got his first musical, Nine, on Broadway; it won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. And the biggest beneficiary of the album may have been Tony Bongiovi's cousin, who was sweeping the floor of The Power Station when he was called in to sing lead on the track "R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas." It would be the first professional recording by Jon Bongiovi, who later found huge success by the decade's end after changing his name.