*****STAR DESTROYER-SIZED SPOILERS!!*****
Like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather III,” just when I thought I was done with new Star Wars content for awhile, DisneyPlus “pulls me back in!” However, Disney’s latest offering falls somewhat in line with a subject near and dear to my heart–Halloween. Star Wars isn’t exactly the sort of franchise you’d think of for a Halloween holiday special, but Lego CGI-cartoon writer David Shayne and director Ken Cunningham have crafted a decent, 44 minute time-killer that should keep the kids entertained with age-appropriate, non-traumatic Halloween entertainment while also slyly filling in missing gaps of Star Wars continuity…
“Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales.”
Like many other moments to come in this special, the special opens by filling in a bit of canonical backstory for Star Wars, with Darth Vader (Matt Sloan) showing off his Sith-inspired castle on Mustafar–yes, the very planet where he was horribly mutilated before being transformed into his half-crippled, bionic self. Real estate jokes fly by as Vader’s relaxing bacta tank “bath” is prepared, much to the chagrin of the Emperor (Trever Devall). This fills in missing canon between “Revenge of the Sith” and “Rogue One,” but in a very tongue-in-cheek way.
Note: None of the original actors from Disney’s Star Wars movies returns for this special, unlike other Lego Star Wars Holiday Specials. That said, the soundalike voice actors (some of whom come from other Star Wars animated series) do well enough.
Cut to the post-Star Wars sequel trilogy present (after the events of “The Rise of Skywalker”). Poe Dameron and BB-8’s X-wing fighter is crippled during a First Order attack, and he forced to make an emergency landing on the planet Mustafar for repairs. The temporarily stranded Poe is met by Graballa the Hutt (Dana Snyder), who is the real-estate mogul cousin to the late Jabba the Hutt. Graballa has purchased the late Darth Vader’s old castle and plans to convert it to an “an all-inclusive Sith-inspired luxury hotel,” because the lava hellhole Mustafar is apparently (?) a tourist attraction waiting to happen, or so Graballa hopes. Meanwhile, others at the hotel have ‘foreseen’ Poe’s arrival, believing him to be the ‘brave stranger’ who will fulfill the “Prophecy of Mustafar.” They seek to keep him at the castle for as long as possible…
Recognizing Poe as the Resistance hero who destroyed Starkiller base and led the assault at Exegol, Graballa hopes to use Poe as a celebrity endorsement in exchange for repairing his X-wing, which he later assigns to the care of his courageous young mechanic, Dean (Raphael Alejandro). Like Anakin and Luke Skywalker before him, young Dean dreams of leaving his miserable existence on the volcanic hellhole of Mustafar behind, but he is bound to stay and earn money for his family.
Note: Dean is clearly the younger audience’s avatar–the able, too often-ignored kid who later charges in and saves the day. Dean speaks for all kids who sometimes feel they have to shout just to be heard over all the squabbling adults.
Poe, Dean and Grabella the Hutt are met by Vanee (Tony Hale) an ex-associate of Darth Vader, and his black armored, curiously-named protocol droid NI-L8 (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn). Vanee is acting as a ‘technical advisor’ to the hotel’s authenticity, given his former role as Vader’s aide. Trying to leave, Poe finds himself a captive audience for Vanee’s ‘tales from the (literal) dark side’–the first of which is a throwback to 1987’s “The Lost Boys”, telling the story of the Knights of Ren’s seduction of young Jedi trainee Ben Solo (Matthew Wood)…
Note: Valee acts as the “crypt-keeper” of “Terrifying Tales”–the expositional character who introduces the stories for the other characters, and, of course, the audience. Such characters are a horror anthology storytelling staple, as old as the genre itself. Writer/producers Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock also famously introduced segments of their own horror-supernatural TV shows (“The Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” respectively) as well.
Flashing back to the days when young Ben Solo (future Kylo Ren) is a Jedi-in-training under the tutelage of his uncle, the legendary Luke Skywalker (Eric Bauza). Dreams of glowing-eyed Jedi haunt Ben; he is also frustrated by the seemingly remedial lessons given by his uncle, who is worried by his young nephew’s power. The small town of the Jedi Academy is overrun by a nasty gang of black-clad, speeder-bike riding Sith wannabes who call themselves the Knights of Ren (their roaring into town is much like the motorcycling “lost boys” storming the beachside boardwalk of “The Lost Boys”). While the other young Jedi trainees resist the ‘bad boy’ Knights, the disaffected Ben Solo is swayed to join them, as their mullet-wearing leader Ren (Christian Slater), takes the teenager under his wing…
Note: Christian Slater (“Ren”) was, back in the 1990s, a teen idol-contemporary of Kiefer Sutherland, who played “David Powers”, the vampire leader of “The Lost Boys”–the cult 1980s flick that inspired this segment. Slater and Sutherland worked together in “Young Guns II” (1990); a sequel to the 1988 Brat Pack western. Personally, I think the “Lost Boys” David/Ren connection might’ve been a bit more solid if they cast Sutherland as Ren. Just saying…
Much like we saw in “The Lost Boys”, the young Ben Solo’s own ambition soon puts him at odds with Ren, and the two break out their lightsabers to duel it out. Ren is eventually killed when Solo crushes him with a pile of stones (a ‘remedial’ lesson from his uncle Luke that paid off). Adopting the Knights’ earlier insult of “Kylo” (meaning small & weak) as his new name, Ben earns the remaining Knights’ respect, paving the way for his ascension as their eventual leader (before he destroys the Jedi academy, as seen in “The Last Jedi”).
Note: Interesting how this missing bit of Star Wars canon was never covered ‘officially’ in the live-action sequel trilogy (2015-2019), yet fits in so well within a “Lost Boys” parody. Even without the overt horror film reference, this could’ve easily been filmed (sans mullet) as a live-action flashback for one of the sequel trilogy films.
We also hear the tale of “The Wookiee’s Paw”–a hilarious sendup of the old “monkey’s paw” story– wherein a finder of the severed creature’s paw is granted several wishes of their choosing. In this case, the finder of the paw happens to be none other than Luke Skywalker (Eric Bauza), back when he was still a frustrated teenager living on the nowhere desert planet of Tatooine. While wishing upon the paw, Luke is granted passage off of Tatooine, gaining admittance into the Academy (his dream before he joined the Rebel Alliance), where he soon becomes a TIE fighter pilot, stationed at the Death Star (!)–yes, the very armored station he was destined to destroy in the original timeline. Well, as fate would have it, the Rebel alliance soon begins their attack on the station, led by pilots Princess Leia (Shelby Young) and the out-of-retirement Old Republic general, Obi Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor). TIE fighter pilot Luke, wishing once again on the Wookiee’s paw, desires to become a legendary pilot–which he accomplishes by clumsily firing his proton torpedoes into that pesky thermal exhaust port of the Death Star, destroying the station once again–this time entirely by accident!
Note: For fans of the original trilogy like myself, this might easily be my favorite of the “Terrifying Tales,” and certainly the funniest. Kudos to Shelby Young, the Carrie Fisher soundalike who voiced Princess Leia–her voice was a good match for the late actress (1956-2016).
Other tales recounted in the special dig deeper into the backstories of the mutilated Darth Maul (Sam Witwer), whose rescue and subsequent ‘repairs’ involve his comically trying on various sets of clumsy mechanical legs before eventually settling on the ones he wears in 2018’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” We also see General Grievous (Matthew Wood) getting various refits as well–though still not able to get rid of that nagging cough. Meanwhile, Vanee is trying to get Poe to fulfill his ‘role’ in the Prophecy of Mustafar by showing him both the Sith Holocron (one of several known chronicles of Sith Lore, contained in a glowing red, pyramidal vessel) and a special red lightsaber that is said to possess its user. After Grabella absent-mindedly breaks the hilt of the saber, Dean fixes it–and, once working, he begins to feel its power. The hosts realize that Poe is not the one foreseen in their Prophecy–it’s Dean.
Soon, all hell breaks loose, as NI-L8 (annihilate–get it?) awakens the battle droids contained within the castle’s storage bays. The possessed droids, their eyes glowing Sith red, are under the command of Vanee and NI-L8, who seek to claim the awakened Sith artifacts from Poe and Dean. Poe sends Dean off to his X-wing for safety, which the boy later returns in–simultaneously piloting the craft and using its laser blasters to make short work of the zombified robots. Eventually, the Sith holocron is tossed into the lava surrounding Vader’s old castle (as is NI-L8) and Poe rescues the boy by flying him off of Mustafar–where he promises to have his friend Rey train him in the ways of the Force.
Note: There were a lot more plot machinations squeezed into this slightly over-stuffed 44 minute Halloween special, but I’m giving the Cliff’s Notes version in this column, since I didn’t find all of those details to be terribly interesting–I was more interested in the horror references (see: below), and in seeing the missing pieces of the Star Wars story filled in (Maul’s survival, Kylo’s disaffection, etc). For those qualities, as well as the humor, I enjoyed this special well enough.
“Terrifying Tales” draws its primary inspiration from the Amicus horror anthologies from the late 1960s and 1970s, such as “The House That Dripped Blood” (1971), “Tales From the Crypt” (1972–easily the best of the bunch), “Vault of Terror” (1973) and others. Such movies typically unspooled multiple stories within a single 90-odd minute running time, usually with a crypt keeper, evil monk, real estate agent, or some other expositional figure who details the haunted history of a location–either the location where the stories are set, or some other bizarre commonality which somehow draws the characters there in the first place. The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Terror” specials also famously used this format as well. Horror anthologies were successfully revitalized in live-action with Spike Lee’s “Tales From the Hood” (1995), which has since spawned its own made-for-video franchise, with two sequels. “The Wookiee’s Paw” story of Terrifying Tales is an old campfire story which was also retold in “Tales From the Crypt” as well.
Note: When I reference “Tales From the Crypt”, I’m speaking only of the 1972 movie version, not the 1989-1996 HBO TV series. The original movie was loosely based on the EC Horror comics of the same name.
Other references are made to more popular horror films. The Kylo Ren origin story cleverly uses the aforementioned “The Lost Boys” as its model (which itself is a vampiric retelling of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” tale), right down to the mullet-sporting leader of the Knights, the Kiefer Sutherland-inspired “Ren.” The Knights of Ren, who (along with Snoke–acting as the ‘lead vampire’) eventually seduce young Kylo Ren to the dark side, just as the vampires briefly swayed “Michael” (Jason Patric) into joining their undead ranks…
This origin story for Kylo Ren’s seduction into the dark side of the Force was never adequately explained in the sequel trilogy, and the much ballyhooed Knights’ return in “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” was little more than an excuse for a restored Ben Solo (Adam Driver) to kick that much more ass later on. Sadly, the Knights of Ren went from discount Sith Lords to little more than Star Trek redshirts. However kiddingly, “Terrifying Tales” manages to redeem that underdeveloped thread from the sequel trilogy.
Long a staple of the horror genre, the transformation of an ‘evil estate’ into a tourist attraction is also a not-so-subtle dig on the evils of corporations (Disney, perhaps?) who sometimes package and mass-market things not entirely understood just to keep their ledgers in the black. “The Shining” (1980) is an example, with Graballa the Hutt playing the Barry Nelson role from the film–an expositional character whose main purpose is to show prospective employees/partners around his new “all-inclusive Sith inspired luxury hotel”–riffing on similar characters in horror movies (“Friday the 13th,” “The Shining,” “Poltergeist”) who try to revitalize haunted/cursed properties. “The Shining” is even more directly referenced when a battle droid smashes through a door, much to Graballa’s horror–a frame directly referencing Jack Nicholson’s “Heeerre’s Johnny!” moment from that film.
Speaking of the battle droids, the Sith holocron-controlled droids in the final act of the story directly spoof the zombie genre, which was pioneered by George Romero (“Night of the Living Dead” and its infinite spinoffs/sequels), but instead of seeking “brains”, the red-eyed droids mindlessly repeat “Roger, Roger” in a flat monotone. There are sprinklings of other horror films referenced throughout the special, but these are some of the more obvious ones, and once again, none of these horror references are done with the kind of impact that would traumatize or scar younger viewers, but their parents might get a giggle or two once they figure them out.
Summing It Up.
“Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales” is a safe, innocuous piece of Halloween entertainment for the whole family that cleverly fills in bits of missing Star Wars canon within a horror anthology format. Just like last year’s “Lego Star Wars Holiday Special”, younger kids will enjoy the colorful, humorous storytelling, while older kids (and their parents) will be amused by the in-jokes and references cleverly hidden (just like old Warner Bros. cartoons in my own childhood).
If I had any nits, it’s that the movie goes feels a little overstuffed within its 44 minute running time (the needlessly protracted subplots go on longer than necessary), but this isn’t nit a dealbreaker. At any rate, “Terrifying Tales” is a slickly assembled, clever piece of Halloween-season entertainment. A nice treat for Star Wars fans, and fans of horror movies–however incongruous that match may seem. As a fan of both, it managed to bring a smile (and a few laughs) to my old face.
Where To Watch.
“Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales” is available to stream exclusively on DisneyPlus. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current COVID pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are now over 700,000 as of this writing (with over 4.5 million deaths worldwide), so please continue to wear masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent further infections.
May the Force be with us all, and have a safe, Happy Halloween!