Christmas is not a good time of year for the Star Wars franchise. In fact, two of Star Wars‘s biggest debacles have happened over the holidays. Most people already know about 1978’s The Star Wars Holiday Special, the 90-minute made-for-television “extravaganza” that gave us Boba Fett (good), Wookiee Life Day (bad), and lyrics to John Williams’s Star Wars title theme (blecch).
But Star Wars has another great Christmas misstep you might never have heard of. Called Christmas in the Stars, it was a Star Wars-themed Christmas album released in 1980. It has a fantastic origin story, as shown by this amazing oral history by the CBC.
Christmas in the Stars was the brainchild of Tony Bongiovi, the record-producing second cousin of Jon Bon Jovi (whose first professional credit is actually on the album, in the form of the track, “R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas”), and Maury Yeston, a Yale professor in his mid-30s who went on to become a Tony Award-winning Broadway composer. The album was the follow-up to Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, the infamous Star Wars disco album that Bongiovi says he produced on a lark, thinking it would sell maybe 50,000 copies or so. Two and a half million copies later, Bongiovi was able to build his own record studio–New York’s Power Station–off of the profits.
So in a real way, Christmas in the Stars was an attempt to strike gold in the same place twice. But how do you do a holiday album about Star Wars without evoking the dreaded Wookiee Life Day — the Wookie’s secular, wishy-washy, non-Christian version of Christmas, first introduced in the dreaded Holiday Special? You make up a story about R2-D2 and C-3PO helping Santa Claus’s alien cousin “S. Claus” create toys for children, and fill it with classic novelty songs like, “What Do You Buy A Wookiee For Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb?)”
According to Yeston and Bongiovi, the entire album took a little under a month to write, record, and produce, with C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels even flying in from London for a day to warble his way through a few songs. After the album was done, Christmas in the Stars was almost killed because Star Wars creator George Lucas–still doubtlessly a little sensitive after the Holiday Special debacle–objected to some lyrics, in which Yoda seemingly referenced the birth of Christ. Here’s Yeston describing the song in question:
It’s very pretty music and the lyric was, and it was very like Yoda, ‘I will tell you about many, many years ago/ on a planet far from here/ there appeared a new star shining for a single year/ men were far more different then/ much they did not understand.’ It was real! It was one of those real songs, and the message was love each other, be kind to each other, be good to each other. And people were like crying hearing this song. But George did not want to intermingle the message of the Force with Christianity. And that was it, the album was over, case closed.
At the end of the day, Yeston and Bongiovi were able to convince Lucas to let them just rewrite the lyrics, as opposed to scrapping the album. But Lucas managed to bury it in other ways, and unlike Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, Christmas in the Stars failed miserably. Dumped onto store shelves without any promotion, it didn’t even get a Star Wars logo for the cover. In fact, the only success the album saw was “What Can You Get A Wookiee For Christmas” reaching number 69 on the Billboard top 100 for a week.
Nevertheless, Yeston, Bongiovi, and Daniels all seem to remember the experience of making it fondly. “Can you imagine now if I had [never met George Lucas]?” Daniels asks himself at one point. “I think it was my destiny. Just as it was Anakin’s destiny to go to the dark side, it was my destiny to be C-3P0 and to be on this funny LP.” Daniels even thinks it’s due for a re-release. “It’s not over yet,” he says in the CBC interview. “Episode VII will come out this time next year and we can do a re-record of Christmas in the Stars and find those other tracks.”
Read the whole oral history here.