When I first started working at Lucasfilm 6 years ago, one of my responsibilities was to admin the Starwars.com forums. Because I was an admin, I could choose any Star Wars character (including obscure EU folks) I wanted as my avatar. I didn’t have to think about it long. I instantly chose Ackmena — the night-time bartender of the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine played by none other than Bea Arthur in The Star Wars Holiday Special.
I had always a nostaglic love for that Thanksgiving television special which aired in 1978. It wasn’t because of the Boba Fett cartoon, or the discovery that Chewbacca was married and had a kid named Lumpy. Nope. It was all because of Bea. She was strong, smart, witty, and didn’t take any guff from anyone, including the Empire.
Every character Bea Arthur played — whether it be the sassy bartender Ackmena, Maude Findlay (on Maude), or Dorothy Zbornak (on Golden Girls) — had this inner strength and sarcasm that made her cynical yet lovable. She was liberal without being self-righteous. She was a feminist before I ever knew what that meant. Best of all, she danced with Greedo and sang to that wretched hive of scum and villainy as she threw them out of the cantina.
As a writer for Starwars.com I’ve managed to interview and meet many cast and crew from the Star Wars films, but my ultimate quest was to track down Bea Arthur and ask her about her role as Ackmena in The Star Wars Holiday Special. I always wondered what she thought about this weird bar full of bizarre characters. I wanted to know her opinion of another sassy lady — Princess Leia, and if she had a few choice words for Darth Vader.
I wanted her to tell me backstories about the Holiday Special, and how much fun it was to pour drinks into the head (literally) of the lovestruck alien Krelman played by her friend the late-great comedian Harvey Korman. But sadly, I never got my chance to ask.
Bea Arthur was a broad in the best sense of the word. She was outspoken, funny and never ever dull. When I grow up I still want to be just like Bea. She was one of a kind, and one heck of a cantina bartender.
I’m still waiting for Hasbro to make an Ackmena action figure (HINT! HINT!) so I can act out my own cantina dramas with Han Solo, Hammerhead and IG-88. (Trust me, I have an awesome scenario playing out in my head for some time now.)
Her standard farewell to cantina bar patrons was, “Come back soon, I’ll be waiting.” I’d like to think that she’s in that big cantina in the sky, waiting for us with a few sage words of advice and a pitcher of her best libation.
Rest in peace, Bea. And save me a cantina cocktail!
Read more about Bea Arthur here:
Bea Arthur was a true ‘Golden Girl’ (via Los Angeles Times)