I have many memories from the line-up for "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace."

Sitting damp under a trash bag on Ohio Street during a torrential downpour and chatting with my friend who got to see the movie early (***). Missing Roger Ebert and his interview team by that much. Dragging a massive tarp down the block to a pack of fans desperately in need of protection from the elements. Making new best friends every ten minutes.

But perhaps my strangest memory is waking up in a hotel room after a brief bit of sleep to find my copy of the "Star Wars Holiday Special" playing on the hotel room TV. In a state of absolute exhaustion and adrenaline-fueled mania, it was like visiting someone else's brain to watch an acid trip. Even now, watching it on a full evening of sleep and minus any influencing narcotics, it's an unspeakably odd spectacle.

What is the "Star Wars Holiday Special," you ask? In a sense, the classic edict holds true: For those who've seen it, no explanation is necessary. For those who haven't, no explanation will suffice. The short version is that in November of 1978, CBS aired the two-hour "Star Wars Holiday Special," featuring the ENTIRE cast of the original "Star Wars" feature film, save Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. Everyone from Harrison Ford to James Earl Jones and the midget inside R2D2 were in this thing. Also appearing were such seventies TV icons as Bea Arthur, Art Carney and Harvey Korman. Musical entertainment was provided by Diahann Carroll and Jefferson Starship. Oh, and Carrie Fisher sang too. Poorly.

The long answer is that the "Star Wars Holiday Special" is one of the most abysmal and unintentionally hilarious slices of televised dreck that has ever been produced. Legend has it that George Lucas himself collaborated on the story for the special before moving on to production of "The Empire Strikes Back." Suffice it to say that his efforts on the "Holiday Special" make the prequels look like "Citizen Kane."

The "story" has Chewbacca and Han Solo racing to Chewie's home planet of Kashyyyk (nope, I can't pronounce it either) so that the Wookiee can celebrate Life Day with his family. Meanwhile, back on Kashyyyk (still can't pronounce it!), the Chewie family is being hunted by the Empire since their daddy/husband/son is now a wanted member of the Rebel Alliance. Luckily, the Chewie family has Art Carney to help them hide. (Trust me, you'd have a hard time finding them too if when you tracked them down, a sad old man gamely tried to resurrect old classic "Honeymooners" bits for you.) Of course, they do end up escaping the bad guys and Chewie makes it home, along with Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker, for a rousing musical number loosely based on the "Star Wars" main theme.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Holiday Special, although if you've ever seen it, you probably feel like the special itself seems about 25 years long. At it begins, it seems like a fun enough way to spend two hours, especially when Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford both pop up on screen. It's like discovering a long-lost "Star Wars" film. Unfortunately, this long-lost film should have stayed lost.

Things first take a turn for the worse when we find ourselves spending interminable minutes in Chewie's home hanging out with his family. We meet his wife Mala, his son Lumpy, and his father Itchy. (Nope, no typos there. Mala, Lumpy and Itchy. Who woulda thought a guy named Chewbacca would be the one who got lucky when monickers were handed out?) These sequences with the Wookiees feature absolutely NO dialogue save the occasional moan or grunt from the Wookiees in question. They could be fighting, they could be swearing, they could be discussing their daddy's spice-selling side business for all we know.

Once we've spent a good long solid time being lulled into a coma by the mind-numbing spectacle of Wookiees at home (which comes off surprisingly like an episode of "The Osbournes," unintelligible grunts and all), we pop around for the rest of the special between the Wookiees and our classic "Star Wars" heroes, with the occasional strange vignette appearing for the sake of variety.

Harvey Korman appears as a chef on a Wookiee cooking show with something like fifteen thousand arms. Much comedy ensues when his various appendages do various funny appendageish things. In the special's most surreal moment (and THAT is a tough competition to win), Bea Arthur has a wistful musical number as the bartender of a cantina in Mos Eisley who must kick out her patrons after the Empire closes her club early. Harvey Korman again appears in that "sketch" as a drunkard who can pour booze into the top of his head and has a crush on Bea.

But in terms of sheer strangeness, bald queasy weird badness, the most AWFUL of the TRULY AWFUL moments, it doesn't get any better than Diahann Carroll's guest spot. You see, even Wookiees have sexual needs, even aging grey perverse Wookiees who've fathered heroes of the Rebel Alliance. When Itchy gets, uh, ITCHY, he straps on this virtual reality contraption that allows him to view Diahann Carroll seductively singing a torch song. Before she sings, she coos into the camera, "I am your fantasy. I am your experience. So experience me. I am your pleasure. Enjoy me."

How many therapists have put braces on their kids' teeth just from the sad Star Wars geeks who had their brains twisted forever by viewing the above atrocity and needed extensive counseling to ever experience sex correctly again? If the word "Itchy" inspires impotence in you, or even for some unspeakable reason arousal, you may be a victim. Seek help now.

The "Star Wars Holiday Special" can't really be put into words. Well, it can, but they're just a few short words, like "suckage" and "despicable" and "so very bad it's very good." And yet, it endures in the hearts of geeks everywhere. For fans who were kids when it was released, it's a memory of an unforgettable moment when the characters they loved so much in theaters (before the days of endless replay via home video) actually made an appearance on their TV screens. For fans who were lucky enough to avoid the special when it was first broadcast, it's an unassailable sliver of kitsch, ripe for all kinds of mockery and the occasional jaw-drop of astonishment.

True Star Wars geeks will also note the special for its introduction of a little character who looms large in the hearts of nerds around the globe, Mr. Boba Fett. Nelvana produced a short cartoon featurette starring the bounty hunter, which appears in the midst of the strangeness as a cartoon that lil' Lumpy is watching and comprises perhaps the only portion of the special that decent folks with decent taste can actually stomach. Is the whole thing worth watching just for the cartoon? Only if you wear Han Solo Underoos to bed.

Of course, now you want to see the special for yourself. Sadly, Lucas has made it clear that the show should never be broadcast again or released on video. Luckily, intrepid video bootleggers have built a cottage industry out of selling dubbed tapes of the special. The best I can recommend is to check out Ebay early and often. A search just now for "Star Wars Holiday Special" dug up ten to fifteen auctions, and you should be able to pick up your own tape for around twenty bucks, tops. You will also have luck visiting the various bootlegger tables at your favorite sci-fi convention.

Above all this holiday season, I'm thankful for the "Star Wars Holiday Special." Not just that it exists and that I can make fun of it for a thousand words on a high-falutin' website, but because it's around for Christmastime. Any other time of year, this hunk of crap would be virtually unwatchable. But mix together a tape of the special, some good friends, a heaping helping of yule cheer and a keg or two of leaded eggnog, and you've got yourself a party.

Happy Life Day, everyone!