If At First You Don’t Succeed…
42 years ago, there was a great disturbance in the Force… CBS aired “The Star Wars Holiday Special” and it was arguably the worst thing to happen to the Star Wars universe before Jar Jar Binks. CBS and Lucasfilm created a shot-on-videotape variety special (which were insanely popular in those days) featuring the entire cast of 1977’s “Star Wars” (!) as well as a few TV stars of the day who had nothing to do with Star Wars, such as Art Carney (“The Honeymooners,” “Harry and Tonto”), Bea Arthur (“Maude” “Golden Girls”) and Harvey Korman (“The Carol Burnett Show”). There were also ‘musical guest stars’ such as pop group Jefferson Starship. There was sort of a story, as we see Harrison Ford’s Han Solo struggling to get his Wookiee buddy Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) home to Kashyyyk in time for a “Life Day” (aka Star Wars Christmas) celebration with his family, including his wife, kid and grandfather (who wears a VR headset to see Diahann Carroll do a sexy creepy serenade for ol’ gramps). Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (a somnambulistic Carrie Fisher), R2-D2 and C3PO (Anthony Daniels) all appear as well.
At two hours (with commercials), the now infamous Special was unwieldy, unfunny, boring, and just plain bizarre. Not even entertaining in a campy, so-bad-it’s-good way. It was my then-11 year old self’s first major brush with Star Wars disappointment (21 years before “The Phantom Menace” ). The Special aired but once, and George Lucas himself has said he wished he could destroy every single copy. Oh, and I very much agree with him. The 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special doesn’t deserve to live, despite featuring the first appearance of Boba Fett (in an unrelated cartoon segment).
….Try Try Again.
Cut to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, and with it, a major sea change in all things Star Wars. Some whine about the “new Star Wars,” and that’s going to happen with any changes to a franchise of sufficient popularity (see: Star Trek, over 54 years). Disney Star Wars has seen successes (“The Mandalorian”) and failures (the unjustly demonized “Solo”), just as the Star Wars franchise has experienced since 1978. This is nothing new. However, in my humble opinion, the ratio of success over failure has been higher under Disney’s flag. At the very least, the overall quality and production value of the Star Wars franchise under Disney has been inarguably consistent.
Which brings us to 2020’s “Lego Star Wars Holiday Special.”
****DEATH STAR-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!****
The story begins with narration from Yoda (Tom Kane), who tells us of a post-“The Rise of Skywalker” Life Day celebration taking place aboard the Millennium Falcon which is landed on Chewbacca’s home planet of Kashyyyk, awaiting for his family to join in the festivities. Rey (Helen Sadler) is frustrated with her new Jedi pupil Finn (Omar Benson Miller), and gets a bit short with him. Feeling his failure is somehow hers (the same mistake Luke made with Ben Solo), Rey consults the ancient Jedi texts, and learns of a key in an abandoned Jedi temple, which would allow her to gain insights from Jedi masters past. This mystical Key is only active on Life Day, so Rey has to leave the hectic shindig preparations aboard the Falcon and take off with BB-8 in her X-wing…
Note: While they’re not named, Chewbacca’s family members look an awful lot like his son Lumpy, wife Molla and creepy grandpa Itchy from the 1978 Special–that’s as close as this new special gets to referencing the 1978 abomination, which is mercifully forgotten save for the Chewbacca family homage and Life Day itself.
Finding the ancient Jedi temple buried under snow on a distant planet (under some Christmas-y Northern Lights effects), Rey learns that the Key opens a time portal (time travel in the Star Wars universe was first canonized in Star Wars Rebels). Rey and BB-8 are pulled into the portal, landing at various historic moments within the Star Wars universe…
Note: The Lego-ized recreations of various scenes within the Star Wars movies are all nicely rendered for a tongue-in-cheek animated short feature; the attack on the first Death Star, Luke’s training with Yoda, the Tatooine pod race and twin sunsets, are all faithfully recreated with almost frame-by-frame adherence, despite the parodic tone. Oh, and if anyone watching all of this is totally unfamiliar with the Star Wars universe? None of it will mean anything to you, but more importantly, um…why are you even watching a Star Wars holiday special to begin with?
Rey finds herself time-jumping with BB-8 to the swamp world of Dagobah to witness her future Master Luke Skywalker (Eric Bauza) training with Master Yoda, before she’s yanked to the prequel era with Obi Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) and Qui-Gon Jinn (Tom Kane again), only to be zapped to the Battle of Yavin (“A New Hope”) right into Luke’s cockpit at the very moment where he (they) use the Force to destroy the Death Star. An awestruck but frustrated Rey, hoping to learn from each temporal skip, begins to drag other characters out of their own timelines along with her, making a tangled mess of Star Wars history (yet never changing it–this is Star Wars, not Star Trek).
Note: Han Solo (A.J. LoCascio) meeting his older, sequel-era self as both agree to “shoot (Greedo) first” was one of my favorite (of many) blink-and-you’ll-miss-it time jumping gags across the Star Wars cinematic universe. The notion of Rey striving to learn the lessons of the past, a past in which she’s not yet born, resonates with both Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and Capra’s “It’s a Good Life.” Fitting homages for a Christmas holiday special.
Aboard Death Star 2, during the events of “Return of the Jedi,” Palpatine (Trevor Devall) is given a Life Day gift by Darth Vader (Matt Sloan), which turns out to be a “Best Emperor in the Galaxy” coffee mug. Palpatine isn’t impressed (“Best? I’m the only Emperor in the galaxy!”). Once the Emperor learns of the powerful Key, via one of Rey’s accidental sojourns, things get really complicated…
Note: The humor of the Special is very much in the self-aware vein of the Robot Chicken Star Wars specials, particularly the scenes between Darth Vader (Matt Sloan), who is played as a pathetically needy ‘Smithers’ to Palpatine’s ‘Mr. Burns’ (for the record, DisneyPlus’ online library also includes “The Simpsons” as well).
In the Special’s only non-cinematic time jump, Rey briefly finds herself in the era of “The Mandalorian” with both Mando and Baby Yoda. You can even hear a trace of Ludwig Göransson’s score as well. Despite having only peripheral connection to the Skywalker family saga, the inclusion of Mando and company makes good business sense, as this series has become too popular to be ignored.
Note: It just wouldn’t be a proper 2020 Star Wars Holiday Special without at least a brief appearance by Baby Yoda, right? The insanely popular pop culture icon has become a best-selling toy and inexhaustible meme generator since his first appearances in November of 2019. To be honest, I’m almost surprised the Special didn’t conclude with Baby Yoda somehow saving the day.
As Rey interlopes across various points in the Star Wars universe, she finds herself aboard Death Star 2, where her loses the Key to the Emperor, who force-snatches it for himself. The Emperor uses it to trek forward into his own future and lure Kylo Ren (Matthew Wood) out of “The Last Jedi”, grooming him for a role as his new apprentice, once he learns Vader will betray him.
Note: Despite the comedic tone of the entire special, the idea of the Emperor acquiring time-travel would be nice real estate to revisit in a future Star Wars novel someday…
There is one particularly hilarious scene (among many) where a shirtless Kylo Ren manages to fluster everyone who gazes upon his bulging pecs and abs, including sexually repressed subordinate General Hux (Ben Pendergast) and even the Emperor himself!
Note: If there is anyone who finds sexual suggestiveness “inappropriate” for an animated short feature? I guess you never saw Bugs Bunny in drag flirting with Elmer Fudd, either? Or the insanely seductive Jessica Rabbit in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” It’s hardly going to destroy any childhoods to share a few risqué giggles at Kylo Ren’s Lego-ized torso…
Rey, despondent at losing the Key, is returned to the temple, where she bemoans her failure…just as she is blaming herself for errors with current Jedi pupil Finn. A younger, Tatooine moisture farm-era Luke is hurled back into the temple with her, as the spirit of narrator Yoda tells them there are other crystals with which to make a new Key, and that the wisdom she seeks was within her the whole time. Said wisdom can be unlocked by learning to appreciate the value (and abilities) of her friends. With her faith in herself and her friends renewed, Rey must first fix the mess she’s made of the Star Wars universe…
Note: Ghost-Yoda’s motivational pep talk with Rey is an homage to Clarence’s pep talk with post-suicidal George Bailey at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where the angel tells George that no person is a failure so long as they have friends.
After the Emperor is once again destroyed (he plummets to his death in the Death Star shaft juuuuust as he rethinks his entire life), Rey, along with unexpected allies and foes, arrives on Tatooine at that pivotal moment–the moment when blue-milk guzzling farmboy Luke gazes into the binary sunset for the last time before his life is changed forever. Past meets present in a farcical battle royale, and the various combatants are sent back, one-by-one, to their various time periods. Once that’s accomplished, a renewed Rey is off to Kashyyyk to rejoin her friends on the Millennium Falcon for their Life Day celebration…
Note: Rey frantically sending all the Star Wars heroes back to their respective times might be an homage to Disney’s own “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, when Jack Skellington had to frantically return Santa on Christmas Eve in order to repair the holiday that well-meaning Jack had accidentally ruined. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) is one of my all-time favorite holiday movies, and has become a modern-day classic, though it did only lukewarm box office in its initial theatrical release (same with “Wizard of Oz” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”… high box office doesn’t equal future classic).
Meanwhile, on Kashyyyk, Chewbacca’s grumpy family aren’t pleased with the paltry Life Day celebrations, as an overly sensitive, Christmas sweater-wearing Poe Dameron (Jake Green) slaves over a hot starship engine to prepare dinner. A grateful Rey and BB-8 arrive just in time to rejoin Rey’s newly appreciated friends Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, C3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran).
The Life Day party then kicks into high gear with the arrival of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), his daughter Jannah, and wise old barkeep Maz Kanata (Gray Griffin). Also in attendance are the Jawas, the Mon Calamari, the Ewoks, and even Jabba’s ex-house band musician Max Rebo, acting as party DJ. It’s a full house aboard the cramped little Millennium Falcon.
Note: Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams and Kelly Marie Tran are the only actors from the live-action Star Wars movies to reprise their roles for this special. It’s a bit surprising that Mark Hamill, a renowned voice actor (well known for voicing “the Joker” in various animated Batman projects), didn’t return as well.
The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special ends as it began, with narrator Yoda closing out the story in a cute homage to the narrating snowman originally (voiced by folk singer Burl Ives) from the classic Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated feature “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964), which was also one of the inspirations for the aforementioned “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
The end credits play over a nice rendition of Oscar-winning composer John Williams’ gorgeous Star Wars theme.
A Quick Unwrapping.
This new Star Wars Lego Holiday Special immediately does two very important things right. First, rendering the special in Lego-esque, “Toy Story”-style computer animation appeals to kids (and adults) who love to play their Star Wars toys, which is precisely what this special feels like at times–opening and playing with all of one’s bright, colorful Star Wars toys. Toys and Christmas are a natural fit. Second, clocking in at a brief 45 minutes avoids the clock-watching, paint-drying boredom of the aimless, overlong 1978 special. Oh, and no weird cameos from entertainers and musical acts which have nothing to do with Star Wars. Okay, so that’s three things. And did I mention that it’s actually funny, too? No? Alright, that’s actually four things…
Whatever qualms some fans may have with Disney’s stewardship of the Star Wars franchise, this is how you do a Star Wars Holiday Special. The combination of Lego toy-style animation, countless Star Wars-universe easter eggs, a healthy dose of self-aware humor and Disney polish make the Lego Star Wars Holiday Special a giddy, silly experience for Star Wars fans of all generations, thoroughly erasing the stain of the 1978 CBS mishap.
The Force is very strong with this one.
The “Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” is available for streaming on DisneyPlus, as are most of the Star Wars movies and TV series. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are around 259,000 (over a quarter of a million people dead) as of this writing. Meanwhile, there’s no vaccine or even effective treatment for COVID-19 as of yet. Yes, some businesses are reopening, some are closing again, but the overall situation is far from safe. So for the time being, please continue to practice social safe-distancing as often as you can, wear masks in public, and avoid overly crowded outings (even large holiday gatherings) as much as possible.
Wear a mask, and have a safe and happy Life Day! May the force be with us all…