Published Nov 16, 2020In 1978, hot off the success of the original Star Wars film, George Lucas authorized the first foray into the Star Wars extended universe in the form of a variety show holiday special. The resulting Star Wars Holiday Special was a flop with critics and fans alike and an embarrassment to all involved. While never officially released for home video, the special has been widely bootlegged and made available on YouTube for a whole new generation of Star Wars fans to hate.
At the time it was made, Star Wars was still a new franchise, and the special struggled with striking the right tone for an audience made up of kids, teens and adults. It ran the gamut from a kid-friendly cartoon segment to a surprisingly pleasant Bea Arthur cantina singalong to a truly bizarre sequence where Art Carney shows an elderly Wookie some sort of virtual reality soft-porno. The actors seem disinterested, to the degree that you can pinpoint the exact moment that Harrison Ford realized that he was too good for the Star Wars franchise (30 seconds into Princess Leia's Life Day song).
Despite the 1978 special's terrible reputation, in 2019, Jon Favreau made his intention known to produce a modern holiday special. Needless to say, Ken Cunningham's LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special fares better than its predecessor and is in fact a decent little Star Wars story. Taking place after The Rise of Skywalker, the special is centred on Rey and BB-8 exploring an ancient Jedi temple while Finn, Rose and Poe prepare a Life Day celebration on the Millennium Falcon. The majority of the special follows Rey, as she discovers a Jedi artifact that allows her to travel through time. This allows Rey to observe and interact with scenes and characters from all three Star Wars trilogies lovingly recreated in Lego. As Rey jumps through time and space, wreaking havoc on the Star Wars canon, Kylo Ren and Return of the Jedi-era Darth Vader pursue her and the artifact.
The LEGO special follows the successful formula set by previous LEGO films. It's clearly for kids, but there are references for viewers of all ages. A large portion of the humour is based around the dysfunctional relationship between Kylo Ren, grandpa Darth Vader and the overbearing Emperor Palpatine. At times, these scenes between the trio of dark Force users veer towards Seth Green's unaired comedy vacuum Star Wars Detours, but luckily it never gets sucked in. There are a couple of cringe-y jokes, but nothing to the level of the Robot Chicken-esque Detours.
Much of the enjoyment comes from Rey interacting with younger versions of characters she's already met. In particular, it's fun to see Rey interact with young, coarse and full of the Force Luke Skywalker instead of the cynical hermit she met in The Last Jedi. There are also a few genuinely enjoyable and exciting set pieces, and plenty of references and easter eggs for Star Wars fanatics. It's nice to see iconic scenes from Star Wars history given new life in LEGO brick form, from the pod race in The Phantom Menace to the battle over Exegol in The Rise of Skywalker.
Fan favourite characters like Yoda, Baby Yoda, Babu Frik and Rose Tico all make appearances. Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels return to reprise their roles from the Star Wars films. Keen listeners will also recognize Matt Lanter, James Arnold Taylor and Dee Bradley Baker returning to voice their characters from the Clone Wars animated series.
If there's any large complaint, it's that the special doesn't fully embrace the holiday spirit. While the crew prepare for Life Day on the Millennium Falcon, much of the special centres on non-Life Day-related scenes of Rey jumping through time. There are occasional Life Day references made during these scenes, but it's hard to feel the holiday spirit in the cold interiors of Star Destroyers and Death Stars. Additionally, despite exploring his Force sensitivity, it's disappointing to see the character of Finn sidelined setting up the Life Day celebration, rather than taking part in the main plot with Rey. Perhaps it's wishful thinking to hope a LEGO holiday special would give him a larger role, but it's disappointing to see a potentially interesting character once again spending time on the bench.
It's easy to say that the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special succeeds where the 1978 special failed. After all, the original special featured an eight-minute sequence of an elderly Wookie getting horned up over the aforementioned porno. The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special doesn't have such a scene and is all the better for it. But the LEGO special also goes a step further and actually presents a decent Star Wars story. It has enough to keep kids occupied and it also has enough jokes for older viewers. Star Wars mega-fans will want to watch just to see Babu Frik. (Disney)