65 Facts About the Star Wars Universe

Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

In the years since Star Wars first entered into the pop culture landscape, there have been a dozen feature films released (with plenty more on the way), plus dozens of television series, novelizations, comic books, trading cards, video games, and theme park attractions—not to mention hundreds of toys and licensed merchandise sold (oh, the merchandise!) and one awesomely terrible holiday special. There have also been millions (if not billions) of words written about the films, from reviews to fan theories and beyond. Here are 60 fascinating facts about the Star Wars universe, any of which makes a perfect response the next time someone says “May the force be with you.”

1. The original Star Wars concept was inspired by Joseph Campbell.

Though equally inspired by fairy tales, westerns, and 1930s sci-fi serials, George Lucas based the framework of the story for the original Star Wars (1977) around the theories of Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The book tracked common mythological motifs and argued that myths from around the world that have been passed down through generations—like Beowulf or King Arthur—share a basic structure. According to Campbell, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Lucas simply grafted these ideas onto his story, with Luke as the main hero.

2. Akira Kurosawa was another inspiration.

Lucas struggled with just how to tell this massive sci-fi space opera on a personal and relatable scale, and he found the answer in director Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress. Telling the story of a roguish general protecting a beautiful princess from an evil clan behind enemy lines, “the one thing I was really intrigued by was the fact that the story was told from the two lowest characters,” Lucas explained in an interview for The Criterion Collection’s release of the Kurosawa classic. “I decided that would be a nice way to tell the Star Wars story. Take the two lowliest characters, as Kurosawa did, and tell the story from their point of view. Which, in the Star Wars case is the two droids, and that was the strongest influence. The fact that there was a princess trying to get through enemy lines was more of a coincidence than anything else."

Perhaps not coincidentally, the word Jedi is reported derived from the Japanese word Jidaigeki meaning “period dramas,” or the types of films Japanese directors like Kurosawa would typically make (the kind of movies that clearly influenced Lucas).

3. George Lucas’s first draft of the script was more than 200 pages long.

In 1973, Lucas submitted a 13-page treatment of his story, originally titled “The Star Wars,” to Universal Studios and United Artists following the success of his movie American Graffiti (which was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and a Best Director nod for Lucas) the same year. Both studios passed, saying the far-flung sci-fi extravaganza was too confusing.

The treatment was eventually picked up by 20th Century Fox head Alan Ladd Jr., who gave Lucas a preliminary deal in 1974 to eventually make the movie. But the “final” screenplay Lucas turned in was more than 200 pages long (the average length of a screenplay is between 95 and 125 pages), so Lucas excised the final two acts and presented the first act of the screenplay as the finished story. The script was made into Star Wars, and the final two acts of the initial giant screenplay were eventually expanded and fleshed out into what would become The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

4. Obi-Wan Kenobi was originally supposed to survive.

In 2016, Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew—who passed away on April 30, 2019—tweeted out some fascinating details about the Star Wars movies, including one shocking change: that in the original shooting script, Obi-Wan Kenobi actually survived his lightsaber battle with Darth Vader.

5. Visual aids helped to sell 20th Century Fox on the movie.

To get 20th Century Fox to approve the then-massive budget of almost $10 million (though the final budget eventually came in at around $11 million), Lucas pitched Star Wars with a series of 21 drawings he commissioned from illustrator Ralph McQuarrie. These included scenes of C-3PO and R2-D2 crash-landing on Tatooine, Vader confronting Luke (then with the surname of “Starkiller”) with his lightsaber, the Mos Eisley cantina, The Millennium Falcon in Docking Bay 94, the attack on the Death Star trench, and a view of a floating city that would eventually become Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back.

6. Harrison Ford’s casting was accidental.

Lucas shared the seven-month-long casting sessions for Star Wars with his friend and fellow director Brian De Palma, who was casting for Carrie at the same time. Lucas was looking for unknown faces that he had never worked with before, and initially brought in Harrison Ford—who had appeared as the antagonist street racer Bob Falfa in Lucas’s American Graffiti—to feed lines to the auditioning actors.

Lucas saw dozens of actors—including a young Kurt Russell—for the part of Han, but liked Ford’s delivery feeding lines to the other actors so much that he caved and cast him in the part.

7. Sound designer Ben Burtt had to get innovative.

Now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt got his start on Star Wars fresh out of USC film school. He was tasked with coming up with a completely new and organic soundscape for the movie, which was at odds with the trend of creating intentionally electronic and “futuristic” sounds for sci-fi movies at the time.

The first sound effect he created was Chewbacca’s voice, which is a blend of bear, lion, walrus, and badger vocalizations. R2-D2’s “voice” was made using loops on a synthesizer matched with beeps and boops modeled after baby coos performed by Burtt himself. Darth Vader’s infamous breathing was recorded by putting a microphone inside a regulator on a scuba tank. The Tusken Raider yowl is a mixture of mule sounds and people imitating mule sounds. The lightsaber whoosh was made by blending the hum of an idle 35mm film projector and passing a slightly broken microphone cable by the tubes of an old television set.

8. Orson Welles was almost Darth Vader.

George Lucas originally wanted Orson Welles as the voice of Darth Vader, but dropped the idea when he thought Welles’s famous baritone would be too recognizable.

9. The movie’s iconic opening crawl was created with practical effects.

The opening crawl for the original movie (which was cribbed from the Flash Gordon serials that also inspired the film) was done practically, by carefully placing two-foot-wide die cut yellow letters over a six-foot-long black paper background with a camera making a slow pass over them to mimic the crawl. In total, it took three hours to shoot.

10. It was Robert Englund who encouraged Mark Hamill to audition for the film.

According to Robert Englund, he auditioned for the role of Han Solo but was told he was too young for the part (he would have been in his late 20s at the time). Which didn't stop him from suggesting his friend, Mark Hamill, audition for the film. “I said, ‘Hey, Lucas is doing this space movie. Maybe you’re right for it. The lead guy’s like a teenager,” the future Freddy Krueger recalled. “So Mark got on the phone to his agent and I think he went up the next day. He nailed it, and the rest is history.”

11. Mark Hamill was paid $1000 per week to play Luke Skywalker.

Later on, he received a quarter of one percent of the film’s profits, so he didn’t make out too badly. The Empire Strikes Back alone netted him $1 million.

12. The original Millennium Falcon looked completely different.

The original concept model of the Millennium Falcon was long and cylindrical—very unlike the flat design we know now. The model makers complained the design was too similar to the spacecraft from the 1970s British TV series Space: 1999, so Lucas told them to create something completely different that looked like a flying hamburger and sailed like a sunfish.

A variation of the Falcon prototype did, however, end up in the movie. It’s the Rebel Blockade Runner seen fleeing the Imperial Star Destroyer in the opening scene.

13. Lucas used real-life war footage for the space battles.

Industrial Light and Magic is now one of the preeminent special effects companies in the world, but back in the late 1970s it was just a group of artists in an empty warehouse in Van Nuys, California. The company, which invented technology like special computer-controlled camera rigs in order to create the special effects for Star Wars, was tasked with completing a year’s worth of work in just six months.

To give them ideas for the type of high-intensity and cutting-edge sequences he wanted, Lucas used old newsreels to cut together footage of World War II dogfights. ILM eventually matched many of the sequences frame by frame—including the space battle in the Millennium Falcon between Han, Luke, and the TIE fighters—directly to the footage Lucas provided.

14. One of Stanley Kubrick's closest collaborators designed Chewbacca's costume.

To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

15. Theaters balked at showing Star Wars.

Less than 40 theaters agreed to book showings of Star Wars after its release date was moved up to before Memorial Day (the studio thought it would bomb in a crowded summer movie slate). Around the same time, 20th Century Fox was going to release an eagerly anticipated adaptation of a bestselling book called The Other Side of Midnight, which theaters were eager to show. Fox then stipulated that any theater showing The Other Side of Midnight must also show Star Wars, which inflated the number of screens for the movie.

Needless to say, Star Wars eventually became the highest-grossing movie ever made up to that time, while The Other Side of Midnight didn’t even break the $25 million mark. And as requiring movie theaters to show one movie in exchange for another movie was actually illegal, 20th Century Fox ended up being fined $25,000—for forcing theaters to show The Other Side of Midnight.

16. Lucas’s idea for The Star Wars Holiday Special was a “Wookiee Rosh Hashanah.”

One of the most infamous entries in Star Wars’ filmography is The Star Wars Holiday Special, a bizarre holiday variety show that aired in 1978. When it came time to brainstorm ideas for the program, co-writer Leonard Ripps told Mental Floss that his co-writer “Pat [Proft] and I spent the entire day with Lucas. He took out a legal pad and asked how many minutes were in a TV special. He wrote down numbers from one to 90. He was very methodical about it. He had at least a dozen stories he had already written, so we were just helping to fill in a world he knew everything about. His idea was basically for a Wookiee Rosh Hashanah. A furry Earth Day.”

17. Lucas says he was talked into doing the holiday special.

“Fox said, ‘You can promote the film by doing the TV special,’” Lucas explained in an interview with Empire magazine. “So I kind of got talked into doing the special.”

18. Harrison Ford was a tough sell on the holiday special.

“Harrison Ford was not happy to be there at all,” camera operator Larry Heider told Mental Floss. “Carrie Fisher, I think part of her deal was she got to sing a song, and that was her draw to it. Because Lucas was involved, and if another movie is coming out in two years, there’s pressure to keep going. So they showed up, on time. Mostly.”

19. Lucas initially funded The Empire Strikes Back himself.

Due to the overwhelming success of Star Wars, and the studio trying to undermine him at nearly every turn, Lucas decided to put up the money to make The Empire Strikes Back out of his own pocket, which was unheard of in blockbuster filmmaking. The unprecedented move would give Lucas complete creative control, while still having a major movie studio distribute the movie for its theatrical release.

This maneuver wasn’t without its drawbacks, however. When the budget for The Empire Strikes Back ballooned to $10 million over their original estimate, the entertainment branch of Bank of America that put up a loan to help Lucas cover the movie’s costs pulled out, despite the fact that this was the (relatively) financially secure sequel to the then-highest-grossing movie ever made. Lucas then had to approach 20th Century Fox to help, which forced him to give up certain rights on the movie. Lucas was so unhappy with Fox’s approach to the new deal that he brought a new project he was working on to rival movie studio Paramount. That new project was Raiders of the Lost Ark.

20. Irvin Kershner initially said no to directing The Empire Strikes Back.

Though Lucas decided to back out of directing The Empire Strikes Back, he remained a very hands-on producer, guiding the movie throughout production. He offered the directing job to one of his old USC professors, Irvin Kershner, even though he had never helmed such a big-budget effort before.

Kershner initially turned down the offer because he thought anything trying to one-up Star Wars would be doomed to fail. Lucas then met with Kershner to explain that The Empire Strikes Back wouldn’t try to surpass the first movie, but would simply build on its mythology. Lucas’s assurance—and the fact that Kershner’s agent reminded him the job would be highly lucrative—convinced the professor to say yes.

21. George Lucas wanted Jim Henson as Yoda.

In an interview with Leonard Maltin, Lucas admitted that he wanted Muppets maestro Jim Henson to play the role of Yoda. “I went to Jim [Henson] and said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m busy, I’m doing this, and doing that, I’m making a movie and all that—I really can’t, but ... how about Frank [Oz]? You know, Frank’s the other half of me.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’d be fantastic.’”

Henson also recommended creature designer Stuart Freeborn, who explained that, “I was the one who kind of put all the elements of Yoda together, and although Jim didn’t make Yoda, George and he had an understanding that they would exchange technology information. George would give to Jim and Jim would give some of his people to George to help. Wendy Froud helped out a little bit with the character and two other people from Jim’s company worked the cables for me.”

22. Frank Oz recalls the story differently.

In a 2014 interview, Oz, the normally reclusive puppeteer and director, said that, “George didn't want my voice in the beginning. I gave him a tape. He said, 'No thank you.' And in post-production for about a year I heard that he was auditioning voices for Yoda. He had no intention of using me for the voice. Then I was on my honeymoon with my first wife about 25 years ago or 30 years ago, and he [called and] said, ‘Frank can you come out … I think we'd like to try your voice.’ So I flew back and recorded Yoda.”

After the release of The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas lobbied for Oz to get an Oscar nomination for his performance, but he was ultimately disqualified for consideration when it was ruled that puppeteers aren’t actors.

23. Yoda's first name was Buffy.

In early drafts of the screenplay Yoda was actually named “Buffy,” which was completely changed in subsequent drafts to the full name “Minch Yoda,” and then shortened to just Yoda.

24. The Emperor used to be a chimp.

In the original version of the film, the scene in which Darth Vader converses with the Emperor used to look a lot different. Though many viewers automatically associate the character with actor Ian McDiarmid, the original Emperor was an old woman with chimpanzee eyes and the voice of Clive Revill. (You can see both versions side-by-side here.)

25. In real life, Darth Vader’s suit would set him back about $18.3 million.

English sunglass retailer Shade Station recently broke down the numbers on what it might cost to build Darth Vader’s suit in real life. Their final tally? $18.3 million. We’re not actually sure how much Sith Lords get paid, but it sounds like a lucrative profession.

26. Some of the asteroids you see are spray-painted potatoes.

Many of the shots of the Imperial AT-ATs on Hoth (which were inspired by the alien Tripods in H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds) were all done in-camera without bluescreen composites. Highly detailed snowy landscapes were drawn for the backgrounds, while stop-motion animation was used for the walkers in the foreground. The snow in these shots is a mixture of flour and micro-balloon epoxy filler.

When they needed asteroids in the background during the Millennium Falcon’s escape through an asteroid belt, they simply spray-painted potatoes and filmed them in front of a bluescreen to composite later. And that space worm that nearly eats the Falcon? It was just a hand puppet shot at high speeds to give it scale.

27. R2-d2 builder Tony Dyson’s first meeting with Lucas was about hamburgers and airplanes.

When asked to recount his first meeting with George Lucas, R2-D2 builder Tony Dyson (who passed away in March 2016) said that what they talked about wasn’t R2-D2, but hamburgers and flying. Specifically, “The fact that it's difficult to find a good U.S.-style burger in the UK and how much George dislikes flying. The next meeting we discussed R2-D2 and his fabrication.”

28. Alec Guinness didn’t want to be in the movie.

Sir Alec had a testy history with his legacy when it came to Star Wars. He described the first film as “fairy-tale rubbish,” and wanted nothing to do with The Empire Strikes Back.

Lucas and the filmmakers eventually persuaded the actor to appear as the ghostly version of Obi-Wan with Yoda on Dagobah, but Guinness would only do it under very strict conditions: He would work only one day but would start at 8:30 a.m. and be done by 1 p.m., and would have to be paid one-fourth of a percent of the movie’s total gross. That 4.5 hours worth of work netted Guinness millions of dollars.

29. Han Solo’s best line was an ad lib.

In the fateful exchange between Princess Leia and Han Solo before he’s frozen in carbonite, Leia says, “I love you,” and Solo quips, “I know.” But the exchange wasn’t written that way. The script had Solo just responding, “I love you, too,” before potentially never seeing his true love again. But both Kershner and Ford agreed the line was all wrong for a charming rogue like Han Solo.

In a few final takes before breaking for lunch, Kershner switched things up, forcing Ford to think on his feet by spontaneously calling “action.” Carrie Fisher delivered her “I love you” line, while Ford naturally responded, “I know,” improvising what is one of his character’s most iconic moments.

Another notable feat for Han is that, not counting the prequels, he is the only non-Force-user to wield a lightsaber when he uses Luke’s sword to open up the dead Tauntaun for warmth while the pair is stranded on Hoth.

30. Monty Python and The Rolling Stones made Han and Leia smile.

In 1999, Carrie Fisher penned an essay for Newsweek on her Star Wars experience and recounted the time she and Ford pulled an all-nighter at a party with Eric Idle and the Rolling Stones. “Eric had just come home from filming Life of Brian in Tunisia,” Fisher wrote. “He brought this drink that he said they gave the extras so they'd work longer. I called it Tunisian Table Cleaner. As a rule I'm allergic to alcohol, and Harrison doesn't really drink either. But that night, there was a makeshift party. The Rolling Stones were there ... We stayed up all night and drank the table cleaner and never went to sleep. When we arrived at the set the next morning, we weren't hungover—we were, like the extras in Tunisia, more than willing to work. That morning we shot our arrival at Cloud City, where we meet Billy Dee Williams. And it’s one of the very few times in the series both Harrison and I smile. To this day, Eric is proud as a papa of his impact on the trilogy.”

31. Vader’s big reveal was kept under wraps from nearly everyone.

Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox

In early drafts of the screenplay, writer Leigh Brackett actually had Luke’s father appear to him as a ghost as a separate character from Vader, which was scrapped in subsequent drafts written by Lucas and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan.

The only people who knew that Darth Vader was Luke’s father before the scene was actually shot were Lucas, Kershner, and producer Gary Kurtz. Mark Hamill was told only moments before the first take. To keep the moment a secret for as long as possible, a false page was inserted into all scripts with Vader’s dialogue stating that Obi-Wan killed Luke’s father. David Prowse, the actor in the Vader costume, even delivered the “Obi-Wan killed your father” dialogue during takes while Hamill played the scene with full knowledge of the true lines. The lines were then added later when actor James Earl Jones recorded his dialogue for Vader.

32. Darth Vader could have been Chewbacca.

David Prowse, who ended up portraying the in-costume version of Darth Vader, originally turned down the role of Chewbacca. When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

33. Dutch and German speakers may have had a clue about Luke's parentage.

Dutch and German speakers should have known Darth Vader was Luke’s father from the get-go, as the Dutch and German words for father are vader and Vater, respectively.

34. the “big reveal” may not have been such a secret after all.

Much has been made of the lengths to which Lucas and his fellow filmmakers went to keep the revelation that (spoiler alert?) Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father under wraps. In a 2004 interview with Sound & Vision, Hamill shared that “it was a wonderfully hard secret to keep because [Irvin] Kershner, the director, brought me aside and said ‘Now I know this, and George knows this, and now you're going to know this, but if you tell anybody, and that means Carrie or Harrison, or anybody, we're going to know who it is because we know who knows.’” But the truth is that anyone who picked up the novelization of the movie, which was released a month earlier than the film, would have known the plot twist already. (Good thing Twitter didn’t exist.)

35. David Prowse spilled the beans on Luke’s connection to Vader in 1978.

Two years before the Empire novelization hit bookstore shelves, a crowd of approximately 1000 Star Wars fans gathered in Berkeley, California to shake hands with David Prowse, the man in Darth Vader’s suit. Believe it or not, Prowse shared that critical plot point with the crowd. A newspaper clipping from 1978 teased the genetic connection, even quoting Prowse as saying, “Father can’t kill son, son can’t kill father.”

36. Its most memorable line is also its most misquoted.

When Darth Vader drops the paternal bomb on Luke, he does so by stating, “No, I am your father.” The line is one of the most often misquoted in cinema history, and usually repeated as “Luke, I am your father.” (Yes, even Chris Farley got it wrong in Tommy Boy.)

37. Cliff Clavin is in it.

Two years before he began his decade-plus run as Boston mailman/trivia expert Cliff Clavin on Cheers, and a full 15 years before he began voicing Hamm in the Toy Story series, John Ratzenberger made an early-career appearance as Major Bren Derlin, part of the Rebel Force in The Empire Strikes Back. While he loved being part of such a major film franchise, what he remembers most is how “I somehow got a parking space next to Kermit the Frog. It was Jim Henson’s space, with this Kermit the Frog sign. So I took a photo of it and sent it to my mom with a caption that read, ‘Look, Mom. I made it. I got a parking space next to Kermit the Frog.’”

38. There was an opening credits controversy.

To keep the iconic Star Wars logo with the opening crawl, Lucas and the filmmakers wanted to once again put the full credits at the end of the movie (which in the late 1970s and early ‘80s was an unusual practice), which caused the Writers and Directors Guilds to try to pull the movie from theaters because of credit rules.

On Star Wars, writer-director Lucas’s name was at least at the start of the film due to the Lucasfilm Ltd. title card, but on Empire, the new director and writers were relegated to the end credits. The DGA and WGA fined both Lucas and Kershner, and Lucas paid them in full. The attempt to sabotage the movie by pulling it from theaters on a technicality caused Lucas to withdraw his membership from the DGA, WGA, and the Motion Picture Association (he has yet to return).

39. The film marked the end of Gary Kurtz and George Lucas’s partnership.

Though it’s George Lucas’ name that’s most synonymous with the Star Wars universe, producer Gary Kurtz—who came up with the title for The Empire Strikes Back and also served as an uncredited assistant director—was an essential contributor to the first two films. Yet the pair ended their partnership following The Empire Strikes Back. “I could see where things were headed,” Kurtz told the Los Angeles Times in 2010 of his reasons for stepping far, far away from Lucas’ film galaxy. “The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It's a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It's natural to make decisions that protect the toy business but that's not the best thing for making quality films.”

40. Hamill wasn’t a fan of some of Lucas’s tinkers.

While fans have long lamented the many changes Lucas has made to the original trilogy over the years, even Luke Skywalker himself wasn’t crazy about some of them. “I can't say I cared for that scream they added to the Special Edition (now gone), when Luke sacrifices himself [in The Empire Strikes Back],” Mark Hamill told Sound & Vision. “Kersh and I talked about the fact that when he actually reaches the point whether he has to join them or not, he lets go. It's like he's committing suicide rather than going to the Dark Side. So it is a calm thing. Look, it’s [George's] to tinker with as he sees fit. I always say it's his train set, if he wants to put up new billboards and new landscaping … Remember the old, ‘It's good to be the king?’ I guess George is ‘It's good to be The Emperor!’ If he wants to make them into musical comedies, that's his choice.”

41. Contrary to legend, Return Of The Jedi was the movie’s original title.

Lucas and co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan originally titled their movie Return of the Jedi, but Fox thought the title was too bland, and forced the pair to change it to Revenge of the Jedi.

The alternate title lasted so far into production that official trailers and posters for the movie featured the “Revenge” title until Lucas realized that within the mythology he created Jedis do not seek revenge. So the title was changed back to Return of the Jedi just weeks before the movie opened on May 25, 1983. The “Revenge” theme would pop up again—in the third prequel, Revenge of the Sith.

42. Return Of The Jedi was called something else during filming on purpose.

By 1983, the fervor surrounding new Star Wars movie had reached an all-time high, with cast, crewmembers, and the public willing to leak any new information about the storyline they could. To combat this, the new movie was shot under the production title Blue Harvest to throw people off.

The thought was that if production notices proclaimed the new Star Wars movie was shooting nearby, there would be unwanted attention. But if a nondescript movie called Blue Harvest was shooting nearby, nobody would likely care. The fake title also helped the production team secure shooting locations without being price-gouged simply because it was a Star Wars movie. The filmmakers even came up with a fake tagline for their fake movie: “Horror Beyond Imagination."

43. Some big names were on the shortlist to direct Return Of The Jedi.

Director Steven Spielberg
Getty Images

Steven Spielberg was Lucas’s first choice to direct the third installment of the series, but Spielberg was forced to bow out due to Lucas’s unceremonious exit from the Directors Guild, of which Spielberg was a prominent member.

Then-relative newcomers David Lynch and David Cronenberg were also tapped to potentially direct. Lynch was coming off the commercial success of his movie The Elephant Man, but turned Lucas down to direct the big-screen adaptation of Dune instead. Cronenberg was also coming off of a hit—the horror classic Scanners—but he turned Lucas down to write and direct Videodrome.

Lucas eventually settled on Welsh director Richard Marquand because he liked his previous movie, the 1981 WWII spy thriller Eye of the Needle.

44. It took up to seven different puppeteers to be Jabba The Hutt.

The Jabba puppet was partly inspired by stout British actor Sydney Greenstreet, who had appeared in such movies as The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. The massive puppet, created by Yoda designer Stuart Freeborn, was controlled by a handful of puppeteers. Three puppeteers were inside: one controlled the right arm and jaw, another handled the left hand and jaw, tongue, and head movements, and both of them moved the body; a third person was in the tail. Outside, there were one or two people on radio controllers for the eyes, someone under the stage to blow cigar smoke up a tube, and another working bellows for the lungs.

45. Han Solo was supposed to die.

Solo’s fate after being frozen in carbonite was intentionally left up in the air at the end of The Empire Strikes Back because Ford’s contract was only for two movies. Ford eventually returned for the third, but urged screenwriters Lucas and Kasdan to kill off Han Solo because there was nothing constructive to do with his character.

Kasdan agreed, and didn’t want Solo to survive the carbonite freeze in order to signal to the audience that anyone else in the movie could be next. Lucas ultimately vetoed the idea because he wanted an uplifting ending for the trilogy with all the main characters making it out alive.

46. The Battle of Endor was originally supposed to take place on the Wookiee home planet.

Early drafts of the screenplay had the final battle between the Rebellion and the Empire take place around the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk, with Chewie and his fellow walking carpets battling the Empire forces on the ground. The idea was eventually scrapped because Lucas wanted the thematic thrust of the scene—that a primitive society would rise up to help defeat a technologically advanced one—to ring true. Within the Star Wars universe, Wookiees are a technologically advanced species that can co-pilot ships like the Millennium Falcon after all, so the lesser-evolved similar species of Ewoks were created and the final battle was switched to Endor.

47. The speeder bike chase was filmed very, very, very slowly.

The mile-a-minute speeder bike chase on Endor between Luke, Leia, and a group of Scout Troopers was filmed in the Redwood State Park near Eureka, California that was about to be cut down for logging, giving the production near-free rein.

To make it seem like the bikes were racing at breakneck speeds, Steadicam operators walked a slow, step-by-step path through the forest and shot at three-fourths frame per second for hours. When sped up on film to the standard 24-frames-per second, it made it seem as if the P.O.V. shots were going 120 miles per hour.

48. An Ewok got his big break because of food poisoning.

Then-11-year-old Warwick Davis was initially cast as an Ewok extra after his grandmother heard about an open casting call on the radio in England for little people to appear in Return of the Jedi. When Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2 and was also originally cast as the main Ewok named Wicket, fell ill with food poisoning on the day he was supposed to begin shooting his Ewok scenes, the filmmakers had Davis play Wicket instead. Davis allegedly based his performance of the inquisitive little critter on his dog. (Baker assumed the smaller Ewok role of Paploo.)

49. The filmmakers wanted a movie star to be the unmasked Vader.

The one moment at the end of Return of the Jedi that fans had been waiting years for was seeing Darth Vader’s actual face. When the time came, audiences finally got that moment, and the face they saw was… Sebastian Shaw’s.

Shaw, who was primarily known as a British stage actor before making his Jedi cameo, wasn’t the first person the filmmakers had in mind. They initially wanted to make it a momentous occasion by casting a well-known movie star like Laurence Olivier or John Gielgud to be behind the mask, but later changed their minds. Instead of a recognizable star they thought it’d be better if Vader turned out to be a nondescript person, and eventually Shaw fit the role.

50. The saga could have ended very differently.

During an early story meeting, Lucas pitched an idea for the end of Return of the Jedi that would have irrevocably changed the entire Star Wars saga as we know it.

His idea started out very much like the end of Jedi now: Luke and Vader engage in a lightsaber battle with Vader ultimately sacrificing himself to save Luke by killing the Emperor, then Luke watches his father die after taking his mask off. But then, in the proposed ending, Lucas suggested that, "Luke takes his mask off. The mask is the very last thing—and then Luke puts it on and says, 'Now I am Vader.'"

The idea was scrapped because Lucas didn’t want the story to go that dark, and wanted a happy ending after all.

51. In 1983, a copy of Return Of The Jedi was stolen from a projectionist at gunpoint.

Hoping to sell a print of Return of the Jedi on the black market, a teenager stole a copy of the film from a projectionist in the parking lot of the Glenwood Theaters in Overland Park, Kansas in 1983. (He wasn’t the only one to have that idea; it became somewhat of an epidemic.) A sting operation was set up and he was eventually arrested; in December of 1983 he was given five years of probation and was ordered to perform 120 hours of community service.

52. The title of Episode I was kept top secret.

Lucas began writing the first prequel for a new Star Wars trilogy in November 1994, which was titled “The Beginning” all the way through production until Lucas revealed the new title as The Phantom Menace. To ensure the movie wasn’t pirated, the film was shipped to theaters under the title The Doll House.

53. Audiences got their first glimpse of The Phantom Menace by seeing Meet Joe Black.

Back in 1998, before every new trailer was just uploaded to YouTube, the first teaser for The Phantom Menace was attached to the movie Meet Joe Black, causing attendance for the Brad Pitt romance to spike. Audiences allegedly went to see the trailer and walked out before the feature even started.

54. Qui-Gon Jinn's communicator is actually a ladies’ razor.

Talk about low-tech! The communicator that Liam Neeson’s character uses in The Phantom Menace is actually a razor. A Gillette Ladies Sensor Excel Razor, to be precise.

55. You won’t find any official clone trooper costumes out there.

Lucas leaned on CGI pretty heavily in the prequels, and it shows. There were no physical Clone Trooper costumes made for Attack of the Clones or the rest of the prequels because every single one is a digitally-rendered CGI creation.

56. Ewan Mcgregor has some strong opinions on the Star Wars experience.

When asked by Details about playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ewan McGregor was pretty outspoken: "The people I meet are the f*ckers who want me to sign Star Wars photos so they can sell them on the Internet or the people at premieres who are crushing children against barriers to get me to sign their f*cking picture of Obi-Wan Kenobi. They're not fans—they're parasitical lowlifes and f*cking wankers."

57. Benicio Del Toro was supposed to play Darth Maul.

The Oscar-winning actor dropped out after most of Darth Maul’s lines were cut. He did, however, appear in The Last Jedi.

58. A young Han Solo was supposed to show up in Revenge Of The Sith.

Though 2018's Solo: A Star Wars Story treated us to the adventures of young Han Solo, a pint-sized Solo could have showed up much earlier—in Revenge of the Sith.

Character designs of a 10-year-old Solo were made for a scene that was eventually cut from the third prequel involving the boy being raised by Chewbacca on Kashyyyk, and helping Yoda find the location of the evil General Grievous.

59. Revenge Of The Sith was the first non-PG-rated Star Wars movie.

The third prequel was rated PG-13 by the MPAA for “sci-fi violence and some intense images,” something Lucas attributes to the fiery finale when Anakin Skywalker finally transforms into Darth Vader.

“I would take a 9- or a 10-year-old to it—or an 11-[year-old],” Lucas told 60 Minutes, “but I don't think I would take a five- or six-year-old to this. It's way too strong. I could pull it back a little bit, but I don't really want to."

In 2015, The Force Awakens was also labeled PG-13—as have all of the films since then (including the standalone films, Rogue One and Solo).

60. Natalie Portman claimed that Star Wars nearly ruined her career.

In an interview with New York Magazine about late director Mike Nichols, Natalie Portman stated that, “Star Wars had come out around the time of Seagull, and everyone thought I was a horrible actress. I was in the biggest-grossing movie of the decade, and no director wanted to work with me. Mike wrote a letter to Anthony Minghella and said, ‘Put her in Cold Mountain, I vouch for her.’ And then Anthony passed me on to Tom Tykwer, who passed me on to the Wachowskis. I worked with Milos Forman a few years later. He said, ‘Mike saved me. He wrote a letter so that I could get asylum in the U.S.’ He did that for 50 people, and it doesn’t make any one of us feel less special.”

61. Peter Mayhew's height helped him land the role of Chewbacca.

Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He was 7 feet 3 inches tall.

62. Han Solo’s death was a long time coming.

Though Han Solo’s death at the hands of his son was one of the saddest moments for fans in The Force Awakens, it was a long time coming for Ford. “I’ve been arguing for Han Solo to die for about 30 years, not because I was tired of him or because he’s boring, but his sacrifice for the other characters would lend gravitas and emotional weight,” Ford told Entertainment Weekly. But Lucas, reportedly, "didn't think there was any future in dead Han toys."

63. Oscar Isaac wasn’t initially sold on the role of Poe Cameron.

“J.J. [Abrams] basically told me it was an intense, heroic, dramatic character and he hadn't seen me do that,” Oscar Isaac told GQ. “I didn't know if I could make it interesting. I didn't know why me and not anybody else.” He spent a few days mulling it over before signing on.

64. The Force Awakens is loaded with celebrity cameos you probably didn’t notice.

Bill Hader, Simon Pegg, and Daniel Craig are among the many stars you probably didn’t notice the first time around. Watch it again and try to spot them. Come on, it's Star Wars Day!

65. Emperor Palpatine will be back for Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

In April 2019 The Rise of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams confirmed the rumors that Emperor Palpatine would indeed be returning for Star Wars: Episode IX. While rumors had been circulating for a while that original actor Ian McDiarmid might be returning, Abrams actually said he was surprised that the actor's presence on the set hadn't been leaked earlier.

One serious Star Wars fan actually had predicted the Emperor's return all the way back in 2012 ... as well as the upcoming film's title. A Jedi trick if we've ever seen one.

Additional Source:

Blu-ray special features

Updated for 2019.

Celebrate Season 2 of The Mandalorian With These 10 Products

LEGO/Amazon
LEGO/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The second season of The Mandalorian is here, and that means a tidal wave of new merchandise is already on store shelves for eager fans to devour. And, of course, when we're talking about Mandalorian merch, we're really talking about anything with Baby Yoda's face printed onto it. And there's plenty of that available for the series' sophomore season on Disney+, whether you want to invest hours in a new LEGO set or just want to kick back and have a drink out of a Baby Yoda-shaped tiki mug. Check out some of our favorite products below.

1. Star Wars: The Mandalorian Polaroid Camera; $140

Polaroid/Amazon

Polaroid cameras are as classic as Star Wars itself, so this collaboration feels natural. The instant camera has The Mandalorian logo etched onto it, and the unique i-Type film prints photos with little Baby Yoda illustrations decorating the borders.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Amazon 3rd Generation Echo Dot The Child Stand; $25

Otterbox/Amazon

Amazon Echo Dots have become so popular, it seems most homes have a couple lying around. With this Baby Yoda stand, you can make sure you'll always know which one is yours. The iconically elongated ears will brighten up any Star Wars fan’s room and get them ready for the new season of the show.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars: The Mandalorian Marshmallow Cereal; $11

General Mills/Amazon

It feels like cereal hasn’t changed too much over the past couple of years, which is why this Mandalorian cereal is a real treat. It's not just that Baby Yoda's grinning on the box; the cereal itself also has marshmallow pieces shaped like the character.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Baby Yoda Socks; $11

Disney

Even your feet can join in on the Mandalorian hype with this set of Baby Yoda socks from Disney.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Stanley Mandalorian Insulated Mugs; $30-$35

Stanley/Amazon

The famous thermos mug brand, Stanley, has teamed up with Disney to create three exclusive bottles featuring imagery from The Mandalorian. The models include a vacuum bottle with The Mandalorian logo, a trigger-action mug showcasing The Child, and an insulated tumbler with Mando's helmet on it. And since these are from Stanley, you know your drinks will be kept at just the right temperature for up to 24 hours.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Mandalorian-Themed Monopoly; $30

Hasbro

The world of intergalactic bounty hunting makes a seamless transition into Hasbro’s classic game of property management and armchair capitalism in this special edition of Monopoly. Here, staples like Park Place and Baltic Avenue are replaced by the Armorer’s Workshop and a Jawa Camp, with boot and thimble tokens making way for Mando, Baby Yoda, and Moff Gideon pieces.

Buy it: Amazon

7. LEGO Razor Crest Ship; $130

LEGO/Amazon

Mando’s bulky star cruiser is one of the most memorable additions to the Star Wars ship library since the Disney acquisition. This 1023-piece LEGO set allows you to recreate the vessel brick by brick. The Razor Crest set even opens up to reveal a cargo hold, cockpit, and an escape pod—which are all the perfect size to fit the minifigures of Mando, Greef Karga, and Baby Yoda that come along with it.

Buy it: Amazon

8. 10-Inch Chrome Mandalorian Funko Pop!; $40

Funko/Amazon

If any duo deserved an extra-large Funko Pop!, it’s this one. Here, the Mandalorian, real name Din Djarin, is decked out in a special chrome helmet variant meant to resemble his fancy beskar armor. In his clutches is Baby Yoda, and the pair strikes a pose that's perfect for displaying on a desk or bookshelf.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baby Yoda Tiki Mug; $27

Geeki Tiki/Toynk

This tiki mug is firmly in the “at this point, why not?” category of Baby Yoda merchandise. At 16 ounces, it’s an adorable vessel for your favorite island drink, ensuring that even your beverages are on brand while you binge the latest season of The Mandalorian.

Buy it: Toynk

10. Baby Yoda 39-Inch Area Rug; $50

Robe Factory LLC/Amazon

For floors that have a distinct lack of Baby Yoda, this 39-inch area rug sports a vivid illustration of everyone’s favorite pint-sized Force wielder sitting in his adorable floating bassinet. Made of 100 percent polyester, this rug would be right at home in your bathroom, kitchen, or bedroom.

Buy it: Toynk

Related: 11 Great Gifts for Star Wars Fans

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

The 40 Best Christmas Television Episodes

Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey.
Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey.
Masterpiece on PBS

If the gifts, cookies, PTO, full-fledged trees indoors, license to wear ugly sweaters, and general sense of cheerfulness aren't enough to make you look forward to Christmastime more than any other time of year, there's one last selling point that just might make you change your tune to "Jingle Bells": the possibility of your favorite TV show airing a Christmas episode.

Watching characters you've come to know so well in other contexts navigate an emotionally-charged holiday atmosphere is not only extremely entertaining, it can also deepen your understanding of what the holiday is about—or at least give you a break from your own eccentric extended family to laugh at someone else's.

Settle in with a gallon of eggnog and gear up for this year's yuletide festivities by revisiting our top 40 Christmas television episodes of all time (listed in alphabetical order by series titles).

1. 30 Rock // "Ludachristmas"

With Christmas in New York City, family dysfunction, and unabashed partying, "Ludachristmas" is a 30-minute encapsulation of what the holidays are all about—the only thing missing from this 30 Rock episode is Ludacris himself. From Jack’s hilariously malevolent mother to Kenneth's painfully boring (but essential and meaningful) portrayal of Christmas to Liz's not-so-happy-after-all family, just about every audience member can relate to this. Christmas is the best time of the year! Just ask Tracy, who couldn't help but wildly celebrate and disobey his 30-day alcohol probation mandated by a judge. —Thomas Carannante

2. Alfred Hitchcock Presents // "Back for Christmas"

Alfred Hitchcock might not be known for holiday cheer, but the Master of Suspense did put his distinctively dour stamp on this yuletide installment of his long-running anthology series, and it's one of the few episodes he directed himself. In “Back for Christmas,” John Williams (not the composer) portrays Herbert Carpenter, a man who offs his wife Hermione (Isobel Elsom) in England and believes he can conceal her body in the foundation of their home. While relaxing in America during a holiday break, he receives distressing news from across the pond. His late wife’s Christmas gift to him was a wine cellar—one that will require excavating his basement floor. And now you understand why Hitchcock, despite his Santa-esque proportions, was considered less than jolly. —Jake Rossen

3. Arrested Development // "Afternoon Delight"

Don't disrespect President Gob in his $5000 suit or else you'll face the consequences, which the entire Bluth Company does at the annual holiday party when Gob mistakes some forced compliments from an employee as a roast. The only thing worse (and more hilarious) than that is Michael singing "Afternoon Delight" with his niece, Maeby, before realizing the lyrics are inappropriate for such a duet. Lucille is even more neurotic during the holidays; Buster enjoys his Christmas detour from Army at the arcade; Tobias's ruptured eardrum (thanks to Lucille's poking and blowing) forces him to miss a life-changing call from the Blue Man Group; and the locals continue their Christmas tradition of destroying the famed banana stand—COME ON! —TC

4. Black Mirror // "White Christmas"

No amount of seasonal cheer can alter the bleak outlook of Black Mirror, and its holiday special is no exception. Trapped together in a cabin with snow piling up outside, Matt (Jon Hamm) and Joe (Rafe Spall) discuss the circumstances that have brought them together. Matt was an expert in artificial intelligence and ruthlessly captured the consciousness of people to become part of a sentient personal assistant device; Joe admits he killed his fiancée’s father with a snow globe after an argument. The cabin seems like a prison, and both of their fates are intertwined. By the time Matt is wandering the streets, rendered unseen and essentially invisible to the outside world, and Joe is trapped in a purgatory of his own making, you’ll be wishing for the Grinch to help cheer you up. —JR

5. Cheers // "Christmas Cheers"

As is par for the course with Cheers, nothing about season 6's Christmas episode is remotely subtle—which, of course, is why we love it. From It’s a Wonderful Life playing on the bar’s television to Norm’s Santa suit (and Santa-suited friends), the whole episode makes you wonder if maybe you’d rather skip the big family shebang this year and spend the holidays in a cozy bar with a frothy pint instead. —Ellen Gutoskey

6. Community // "Comparative Religion"

“Comparative Religion” is hardly a canonical episode of Community. This is, after all, the show best known for its high-concept, over-budget homages. “Comparative Religion” has none of that, though it does feature an exceptional guest spot from Anthony Michael Hall. Instead, the episode focuses on building the characters of the study group, dealing out simple but hilarious jokes (“We're trying to get Jeff ready for the fiiiiiiiiiiiiiight,”), and giving the world the gift of Christmas Troy. —Noam Radcliffe

7. Community // "Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas"

Born of a vague, technical approval from an executive and a “screw-it” attitude, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" is peak Community. With its striking stop-motion aesthetic, it earned the show its sole Emmy—for Individual Achievement in Animation—and sent director Duke Johnson on the path to 2015’s Anomalisa, but its real legacy lives in the simple fact of its existence. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” does what only Community could, balancing studied homage, formal wanderlust, and unbelievable heart in an all-too-brief 23-minute package. —NR

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm // "Mary, Joseph and Larry"

Larry David’s holiday spirit is on full and awkward display in this seasonal episode that sees the comedian ruining Christmas for his wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) by accidentally eating cookies intended for a family nativity scene. Finding that the true meaning of Christmas involves not upsetting his in-laws, Larry goes in search of a solution and finds a live nativity that might be able to save the day. On Curb Your Enthusiasm, you can expect he’s likely to just make everything delightfully worse. —JR

9. Doctor Who // "A Christmas Carol"

Christmas specials are just as much a part of Doctor Who canon as regeneration or Daleks, which means there are several holiday-themed episodes from which to choose. But the 2010 edition, featuring Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, was a clever retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol—which, when you think about it, is sort of about time travel anyway. Which fits perfectly into the series’ legendary sci-fi pedigree. —Jennifer M. Wood

10. Downton Abbey // "Christmas at Downton Abbey"

After two dramatic seasons of will-they-or-won’t-they-get-together storylines—plus one scandalous post-coital death, a miraculous recovery from paralysis, and a convenient case of Spanish flu that killed off a romantic rival—(distant) cousins Matthew and Mary Crawley finally seal the deal. Which, in this case means: Matthew proposes, Mary tells him he better do it properly (she likes things done properly), she says yes, the ASMR-inducing music swells, and they spin around in the snow to celebrate their newly betrothed bliss. Don’t knock it ‘til you watch it. —JMW

11. Friends // "The One With the Holiday Armadillo"

Whatever your feelings may be about Ross Geller’s questionable behavior as a parent, boyfriend, professor, doctor (of paleontology), or person in general, you must admit his histrionics as the holiday armadillo have earned him a place in the Christmas television hall of fame. In the absence of any available Santa Claus costumes, Ross dons a terrifying armadillo suit to teach his half-Jewish son about Hanukkah—but when Chandler appears dressed as Santa Claus, and Joey bursts in dressed as Superman, it turns into the weirdest Christmas pageant of all time. —EG

12. Futurama // "Xmas Story"

Futurama’s ability to be heartfelt and charming seconds after a sophomoric gag is a great strength, and this first Xmas episode strikes that strange balance. John Goodman as murderous Robot Santa is a treat, but Fry and Leela’s bond growing deeper over their shared loneliness—he as an unfrozen future man, she as an alien of unknown parentage—is a building block for what’s to come. Oh, and Zoidberg saves the day! Now, let us all sing "Santa Claus is Gunning You Down.” —Sam Dunn

13. Gilmore Girls // "Forgiveness and Stuff"

Gilmore Girls is rife with enchanting snowfalls, steaming mugs of coffee, and a general sense of coziness throughout, so a solid series binge come December is totally justified. If you only have about 45 minutes of free time, however, this episode from season 1 is worth a rewatch. Familial tensions run high when Richard suffers a heart attack, and we get to see all the characters (Lorelai and Emily in particular) at their worst, then best, then worst again, then best again, and so on. It’s not only classic Gilmore Girls, it’s classic “any family during the holidays.” Messy, relatable, and ultimately impossible not to love. —EG

14. Hey Arnold // "Arnold’s Christmas"

One of the first iconic tear-jerkers in this young adult series, Arnold gets lonely Vietnamese boarder Mr. Hyunh (long before he became a country star) in their household's Secret Santa drawing. His grandiose Christmas plan is to reunite the recent immigrant with his daughter Mai, whom he had allowed to escape on a helicopter 20 years prior. After many fruitless attempts, Arnold surrenders hope, only to watch Mai arrive on his doorstep anyway, thanks to his guardian angel, the head-over-heels Helga. We're not sure why one cartoon was legally allowed to make us cry so deeply and for so long. —Adam Weinrib

15. The Honeymooners // "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

First aired on actual Christmas Eve 1955 (television used to be a smidge more magical back then), Ralph Kramden learns a lesson in generosity, courtesy of the Ghost of O. Henry (figuratively, not literally). After blowing his Christmas money on a bowling ball for himself, he then regrets it and sells the ball to buy his wife a real present. She then gifts him … a now-unusable bowling ball bag, leading to a tender moment and oft-remembered Kramden monologue about the real joy of the holiday. —AW

16. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia // "A Very Sunny Christmas"

What does the Gang want for Christmas? For Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson), it’s the respect of their father Frank (Danny DeVito), a selfish ogre who buys their most desired gifts then keeps them for himself. They attempt to course-correct by stuffing him into a couch so he can hear his old co-workers discuss what a terrible person he is. For Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day), it’s rediscovering the joy of the holiday after finding out Mac’s parents broke into homes to steal presents and that Charlie’s mom apparently traded sexual favors with Santa for gifts. That this all involves Charlie assaulting a mall Santa and Frank running around naked and gasping for air is par for the course on Sunny. In attempting to find the true meaning of Christmas, the Gang is that rare television holiday special oddity: They learn absolutely nothing. —JR

17. Lizzie McGuire // "Aaron Carter’s Coming to Town"

Basically, Lizzie, Gordo, and Miranda learn that teen pop star Aaron Carter will be filming a music video nearby and immediately start scheming ways to meet him. Using the classic Disney blueprint of sneaking into anywhere—head-stacks peeking around corners, really weak disguises, etc.—they finally find themselves in Aaron’s dressing room. Lizzie convinces Aaron’s less-than-pleased manager to let one of them meet the singer (because ’tis the season, am I right?). Next, Lizzie pulls the ultimate Christmas move by suggesting Miranda use this opportunity to further her music career. Cute.

But the true Christmas miracle happens when Lizzie “realizes” she “forgot” her tape recorder in Aaron’s room. She knocks on his door and that’s when it happens—that’s when Aaron Carter opens the door, asks “Is this yours?,” Lizzie goes “Yeah.” Then comes Aaron's iconic line: “Merry Christmas, Lizzie McGuire” (totally having had peeped her name on the tape recorder). Oh, and would you look at that? Lo and behold, Aaron Carter has mistletoe over his door, so he kisses Lizzie. If you, like 11-year-old me did at the time, are wondering how kissing a famous celebrity would change the plot of the remaining seasons? Don’t, because none of this is ever mentioned again. The episode ends with the gang joining Aaron Carter on stage to sing everyone’s favorite Christmas song: “I Want Candy.” A true Christmas classic. —Angela Trotti

18. Mad Men // "Christmas Comes But Once a Year"

It’s jarring even nine years later watching cowboyish Lee Garner Jr. emasculate Roger Sterling, he of the equal and opposite swagger, by forcing him to wear that Santa suit. Notably, this episode saw Megan begin to emerge; she’s almost Zen-like in her competence compared to the smoldering emotional wreck anyone too closely connected to Don Draper becomes. Dr. Faye gets hard-done here by that drunken black hole of sexy amorality, too, and we’ll never forgive holy-hell-what-a-lil’-creep Glen Bishop for doing weird things in Sally’s room. —SD

19. Mad Men // "Christmas Waltz"

In its fifth season, Mad Men gave us the best Christmas present money couldn’t buy: Don Draper and Joan Harris just hanging out and drinking. Sure, plenty of other stuff goes down in “Christmas Waltz”—Lane Pryce seals his fate by forging Don’s signature, Harry Crane gets it on with a Hare Krishna acolyte in his office, everyone ignores Pete Campbell getting a shot at Jaguar—but sometimes it’s the little things that feel the best. Don and Joan commiserating in a Midtown bar like the old friends they now are is a particularly heady Christmas magic. —NR

20. Mr. Bean // "Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean"

Rowan Atkinson is often referred to as "The Man With the Rubber Face," and much of that is due to his run as the largely silent but painfully expressive Mr. Bean. But he earned a new distinction with this Christmas episode: The Man With the Turkey on His Head (skip ahead to the 19:35 mark above). Yes, long before Friends made it a thing, Mr. Bean—who was always ahead of his time—was doing it. —JMW

21. Mystery Science Theater 3000 // "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"

The best way to appreciate 1964’s low-budget bomb Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is through the lens of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which riffed on the movie in 1991. In the movie, Santa is kidnapped by aliens so he can dispense gifts to their children. In the margin of the screen sits Joel (Joel Hodgson), Crow (Trace Beaulieu), and Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy), who attempt to make sense of this misfire. By the time the gang is singing “A Patrick Swayze Christmas,” you, too, will believe in Santa and his ability to breathe unassisted in a Martian atmosphere. —JR

22. The O.C. // "The Best Chrismukkah Ever"

In this episode, Seth uses the Christmas-Hanukkah hybrid holiday he calls Chrismukkah to justify not having to choose between the two girls he’s dating simultaneously, and the pressure of the holidays drives Marissa to both shoplift and drink herself into oblivion. Did the showrunners turn down the dial on the melodrama in the spirit of warm and fuzzy Christmas feelings? No. Did we expect them to? Absolutely not. The endlessly soapy, can’t-stop-watching quality that makes The O.C. such an angsty teen classic is on full display here and, as it turns out, it’s even more fun with Christmas decorations in the background. —EG

23. The Office (NBC) // "Christmas Party"

Considering that the Dunder Mifflin employees all purchased gifts with specific recipients in mind, Michael’s decision to turn the Secret Santa into a Yankee Swap is equal parts disastrous and hilarious: Everyone vies for the iPod that Michael bought for Ryan, and Jim’s trinket-filled teapot for Pam almost ends up as Dwight’s nasal cleanser. Alcohol flows freely, emotions run high all around, and one unlucky regional manager ends up getting flashed by an employee. Does this sound like your office’s Christmas party? In the name of all that is holy, we hope not. —EG

24. The Office (NBC) // "A Benihana Christmas"

Though "Dinner Party" may be widely regarded as the best-ever episode of The Office, then “A Benihana Christmas” deserves honorable mention at the very least. In this hour-long Christmas special, Michael Scott cancels Christmas (and threatens to take New Year’s away) but ultimately ends up taking Dwight, Jim, and Andy to Benihana to get drunk before they return to the office for not one, but two dueling Christmas parties (one that starts at 3 p.m., and a “way more fun party” that starts at 2:45 p.m.) The episode’s soundtrack alone is worthy of a Grammy, featuring covers of classic hit songs like Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” by Kevin Malone and a 30-second preview of James Blunt's “Goodbye My Lover,” which Michael plays on a loop to mourn his breakup with his realtor Carol (played by Nancy Carell, Steve Carell’s real-life wife). “A Benihana Christmas” answers a lot of questions—for example, how does one correctly butcher a goose?—but also keeps viewers wondering … does Michael know how to ride a bike? —AT

25. The Office (UK) // "The Office Christmas Special"

More than a year after "Interview," The Office's season 2 finale, which initially felt like the series finale, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant returned to co-write and co-direct this two-part Christmas special that revisited the Wernham Hogg gang—past and present—and answered some truly burning questions, including: Why was there a documentary crew filming this office at all? What happened after the documentary series aired? How many copies of David Brent's cover of "If You Don't Know Me By Now" did Juxtaposition Records actually sell? How is Tim faring with Gareth as the new office manager? Did Dawn and Lee ever get married? And who does your tampons? Just like its two official seasons, The Office Christmas special mixes brutally uncomfortable humor with moments of true sentimentality—none more so than when Tim finally gets the girl. —JMW

26. Rugrats // "Chanukah"

Rugrats was one of the only depictions of a Jewish family on TV when it aired on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. The show made cartoon history when Tommy, Chuckie, and Angelica reenacted the story of Passover in 1995, and a year later, the Rugrats celebrated another Jewish holiday. "Chanukah" follows the same format as the Passover episode, with the babies playing characters in a retelling of the miracle. Grandpa Boris fighting with his rival Shlomo over who will play the lead in the synagogue's Chanukah play also makes for an entertaining B-plot. —Michele Debczak

27. Saturday Night Live // "Justin Timberlake/Justin Timberlake, 2006"

Though SNL always boasts underrated holiday vibes (even the set dressing always feels warm and highly wreathed), this episode features the most Bulk Christmas, in terms of modern classics. It opens with Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and Maya Rudolph crooning "Santa's My Boyfriend," and prominently features the Emmy-winning, 16-bleep Timberlake-Samberg digital short that NBC execs called "Special Christmas Box" during their publicity push (the box, of course, contains a d***). Also noteworthy? Bill Hader and Timberlake singing the Alvin and the Chipmunks classic "Christmas, Don't Be Late" in the monologue. Don't forget. —AW

28. Scrubs // "My Own Personal Jesus"

The hospital on Scrubs always has a way of shaking the faith of at least one main character every episode, and when it finally happens to Turk—Donald Faison, the show's beacon of positivity—after a Christmas Eve shift beset by tragedy, it just hits a little harder. But Scrubs’s humor just wouldn’t be the same without some heartbreak to go along with it, and Turk’s despair is eventually rewarded with a Christmas miracle that restores his faith and gives us one of the best uses of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” you’ll ever see on TV. —Jay Serafino

29. Seinfeld // "The Strike"

Going home for the holidays can get a little dull by December 26, but at least our holidays all end. But n the Costanza household, no celebration—no matter how languid—is ever finished until George can pin his father to the ground, a process that could take days. It's all part of Festivus, the Costanza-specific holiday first explored in this late-season episode. This isn't even to mention that we're dealing with a rare Seinfeld episode where Kramer has a job; he returns to H&H Bagels after a decade-long strike for the holiday season, and swiftly uncorks a steam valve. —AW

30. Sherlock // "A Scandal in Belgravia"

Watching a nearly naked (and surprisingly strapping) Sherlock Holmes display all of his cheeky arrogance in Buckingham Palace is Christmas-themed in that it is the best gift many viewers have ever gotten. That aside, this episode also features an awkward yet heartwarming holiday party, during which Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock exhibits some mind-blowingly uncharacteristic behavior in the spirit of Christmas: After pelting Molly with a barrage of verbal abuse, he apologizes, wishes her a merry Christmas, then kisses her on the cheek. If that isn’t Christmas-y enough to qualify its inclusion on this list, I’ll eat my deerstalker hat. —EG

31. The Simpsons // "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire"

Marge loses the holiday spending budget when Bart’s tattoo requires removal and Homer’s work bonus doesn’t come through. An attempt to win it all back at the dog track flops, but they don’t come home empty-handed: Santa’s Little Helper is in tow. Watching this very first episode of The Simpsons can be jarring. The character designs aren’t dialed in, and their movement is gelatinous. But the core conceit of a family that loves one another despite their flaws is present. Homer’s brain may not be in the right place, but his heart is. —JR

32. The Simpsons // "Marge Be Not Proud"

In just 22 minutes of television, “Marge Be Not Proud” serves as a crash course in everything that made The Simpsons the premier comic institution during its golden years. First, you’ve got classic gags, like the deadpan brilliance of Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge, Homer getting hoodwinked by an Allan Sherman record, and the introduction of “Thrillhouse”—or, more fittingly, “Thrillho.” But all of these sight gags and quotable moments wouldn’t still be remembered nearly a quarter-century later if not for the emotional sincerity of the story, which sees Marge and Bart rebuild their strained relationship after Bart gets caught shoplifting a video game at the local department store right before Christmas. If the show’s seventh season is remembered as its peak, then this is the absolute pinnacle. —JS

33. Six Feet Under // "It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"

On the first anniversary of their patriarch's death, the Fisher family reflects on their first Christmas without Nathaniel, as David stresses about bringing his new boyfriend home for the first time. This episode isn't all Christmas dinner and funereal tears, though; it opens with a Santa on a motorcycle getting hit by a car. Ta-da! —AR

34. South Park // "Red Sleigh Down"

“My children, you should know something ... I'm packing.” Thus spake Jesus, our half-Rambo, half-Blade dispenser of righteous violence, as he annihilated a legion of extremist militants. Bringing Christmas to Iraq—Cartman’s grand plan to get off Santa’s Naughty List—is harder than it looks, and the Messiah ultimately pays with his life, sacrificing himself to save Santa Claus and our boys in an outrageous mishmash of 2001’s Black Hawk Down and 1999’s Three Kings. But the topper? Kenny just kind of showing up after being dead for a calendar year. It's a Christmas miracle! —SD

35. Tales From the Crypt // "And All Through the House"

Based on the 1950s pulp comics of the same name, Tales from the Crypt was often more campy than scary, but for its Christmas episode, the HBO series went full horror. "All Through the House" follows a woman being terrorized by an escaped asylum patient dressed as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. The terrifying tale is the perfect antidote to all the feel-good content clogging the airwaves this time of year. —MD

36. Veep // "Camp David"

As is often the case for Selina Meyer, things go horrifically awry in this particular holiday gift exchange. The always-callous Veep regifts the antique pen her daughter gave her during their family Camp David retreat to Chinese President Lu, then accidentally hands the robe she received to her daughter's partner, Marjorie, eventually leading to the terms of an illicit deal being very much scrapped. Don't you hate when Christmas regifting causes an international incident? —AW

37. Victoria // "Comfort and Joy"

It's 1843 and Christmastime has arrived at Buckingham Palace, where a pregnant (again) Queen Victoria is facing her first holiday without her beloved governess-turned-confidante Baroness Lehzen. So Prince Albert is determined to make it Victoria's best Christmas ever and goes about transforming the palace into a yuletide wonderland full of dangling Christmas trees, gifts galore (including an orphaned princess), and family members that no one really wants to deal with. Though Albert (incorrectly) gets a lot of credit for bringing a variety of German Christmas traditions to England, we'll let accuracy slide in this case because what the show recreates is a thing of beauty—and a reminder that donning a crown doesn't mean that you don't also have to deal with overbearing parents, dysfunctional siblings, and/or frustrating in-laws. —JMW

38. The West Wing // "In Excelsis Deo"

Every episode of The West Wing is actually a Christmas episode if you believe, as I do, that President Bartlet is just a very tan Santa Claus with southern-gentleman vibes (he’s from New Hampshire, which is technically south when compared to the North Pole). This one, however, has many other added elements of holiday cheer, including a scene where the President sneaks into a bookshop for some last-minute Christmas shopping—which he forbids anyone from telling the press about—a scene where Josh gives Donna a book with a heartfelt note inside (They hug! It’s important!), and a subplot where Toby organizes a military funeral for a homeless veteran who died wearing his coat. —EG

39. The Wonder Years // "Christmas"

Kevin doesn’t end up getting the color television he so badly wants in this episode, though he does learn that Christmas isn’t about the “tinsel and wrapping paper,” but about memory. Oh, sweet Kevin, it was never about the tinsel or wrapping paper—it’s about what’s wrapped in it. Anyway, given that the holidays are a time to gorge on the sappy, saccharine feelings that you try to bury for the other 11 months of the year so you can get some dang work done, this episode is definitely worth indulging in. —EG

40. The X-Files // "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas"

The ghosts that steal Christmas in this episode are a pair of lovers played by Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin who, after dying in a murder-suicide pact so they could spend eternity together, terrorize Mulder and Scully to the point where they practically can’t tell up from down. It’s trippy, it’s spooky, it’s tons of fun, and it’s all ultimately irrelevant when compared to the final scene of this episode, during which “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” plays in the background while we watch—through a frosted windowpane, no less—the will-they-or-won’t-they partners exchange Christmas gifts even though they had decided not to. —EG