The Star Wars franchise has been through quite a lot over the past four decades. It goes without saying that it’s arguably the most popular franchise in all of pop culture, and yet, for all its successful endeavors, there have been a few instances where some of the franchise’s releases ended up being critical duds. And when it comes to Star Wars, there’s one piece of media that’s often considered to be the franchise’s most infamous release (and no, racist/misogynistic side of the internet… it’s not The Last Jedi). On November 17th, 1978, about a year and a half after the initial release of Episode IV – A New Hope, the Star Wars Holiday Special aired on CBS as the franchise’s first official cinematic spinoff. However, this would end up being the only instance in which it was aired as it quickly became one of the notorious broadcasts in television history due to its incredibly poor reception. Since then, it’s only been made available via bootleg releases and unofficial uploads to video-sharing sites like YouTube and is not something that the franchise’s biggest stars (not to mention series creator George Lucas) fondly look back upon. But now, in a year as unpredictable as 2020, one of the most genuinely unexpected things has occurred… a new Star Wars Holiday Special has been released exactly 42 years after the original’s debut. But unlike the original, this one didn’t make its debut on TV… nor is it a live-action production. Instead, this new Star Wars Holiday Special is an animated feature that comes to us as the latest Disney+ original thanks in large part to one of the most popular toy lines in the world (that has also played a key factor in the franchise’s impact on pop culture), LEGO. And while the following statement is obviously not saying much given the original production’s notorious reputation, this new Star Wars Holiday Special is far superior to its predecessor.
Before we get into the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, however, we should reflect upon the original Holiday Special to understand exactly how we got here. For the uninitiated, its plot revolves around Han Solo and Chewbacca traveling to the latter’s home on the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk so that Chewie can be reunited with his family in time for the annual holiday known as ‘Life Day’. On the way there, however, they run into some Imperial forces that delay their arrival. This 98-minute special can best be described as a variety show that consists of a series of skits that are tied together by the main plot of Han and Chewie’s efforts to get back in time for Life Day. However, the biggest thing to note about this special is that, for a production set in the Star Wars galaxy… it barely focuses on any of the characters that fans of the franchise are familiar with. Sure, Han, Chewie, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, C-3PO, and Darth Vader are all in it, but they’re only in it for like a few minutes each. Instead, the special spends the bulk of its runtime with Chewbacca’s family on Kashyyyk as they wait for him to come home; his wife Malla, their son Lumpy, and his father Itchy. And yes, because this special focuses on a bunch of Wookiees and their race’s official language, Shyriiwook, is never properly subtitled… we have no idea what any of them are saying. As for the previously mentioned skits, we get a… ‘unique’ collection of segments ranging from an instructional video in which a malfunctioning robot played by Harvey Korman attempts to build a translation device to a music video for the song ‘Light the Sky on Fire’ as performed by Jefferson Starship. And before anyone asks… no, I’m not making any of this up. However, if there is one notable thing that did come out of this special, it was that it technically served as the official debut of one of the franchise’s most popular characters, Boba Fett. Yes, the fan-favorite bounty hunter made his first appearance in this special via a short cartoon segment that was developed by the Canadian animation studio Nelvana Ltd., who would then go on to produce the franchise’s first major TV series spin-offs, Droids and Ewoks. And if that wasn’t enough, some elements from this special have been referenced in future Star Wars productions, such as the fork-shaped rifle that Boba Fett wielded in the animated short being used by the titular character in The Mandalorian.
Now, for the record, the Star Wars Holiday Special was something that series creator George Lucas had little to no involvement with. While he was initially approached with the idea by CBS, he was ultimately unable to work on it as he was busy developing Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Nevertheless, the bulk of the special’s premise was inspired by an idea that Lucas had for a potential Star Wars film that would’ve been based around Wookiees. Thus, the special was developed by a bunch of veteran writers and producers who had experience working on variety shows. Originally, the special was directed by David Acomba who, like Lucas, had studied film at USC. However, he ended up leaving the project because of his general unfamiliarity with the process of a multi-camera set-up that is widely used for sitcom-type productions. While he was responsible for a few segments of the final product such as the Jefferson Starship music video and a sequence where Bea Arthur plays the owner of the Mos Eisley Cantina, the bulk of the production was directed by veteran television director Steve Binder. And as for the main stars of the franchise such as Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford… by most accounts, none of them wanted to be there but they ultimately had to due to contractual obligations. With all this in mind, it goes without saying that the Star Wars Holiday Special is quite the anomaly as far as this franchise is concerned… that and it’s also, to be perfectly blunt, not that good. The complete lack of context for any of Chewbacca’s family’s dialogue is incredibly frustrating and the drawn-out nature of most of the skits results in a special that is downright boring to watch. That said, though, I will admit that this is still something that I recommend Star Wars fans watch at least once in their lives if only to experience the utterly insane nature of its production. And so, with all that out of the way, the time has finally come for us to discuss the Star Wars Holiday Special’s newly released spiritual sequel.
The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special takes place after the events of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Going off one of the film’s most widely discussed moments in which Finn tries to tell Rey something before they get sucked into quicksand on the planet Passana (which is never revealed in the film proper but has been widely speculated as him revealing his connection to the Force), the special opens with Rey attempting to train Finn in the ways of the Jedi. However, despite her efforts to follow the sacred Jedi texts, Rey feels that she hasn’t been able to provide Finn with the guidance that he needs. Thus, she and BB-8 head to an ancient Jedi temple on the planet Kordoku when she learns of a “key to the galaxy’s past” that only appears on Life Day but can help make “a Jedi’s future become clear”. Once there, Rey finds this key in the form of a mysterious gem that allows her to travel through time. In doing so, she ends up witnessing various instances of aspiring Jedi being trained by their respective masters, whether it’s her master Luke Skywalker being trained by Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi training Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker. Unfortunately, she also ends up crossing paths with Darth Vader and her grandfather, Emperor Palpatine, and once the two Sith discover what the time-traveling gem can do, they attempt to take it for themselves so that they can rule the galaxy, thus sending them all on a wacky journey across time and space. Meanwhile, back on Kashyyyk, Poe Dameron takes on one of his most daunting tasks yet as a general… preparing for Life Day and the arrival of Chewbacca’s family by any means necessary, even if the results are often mixed at best.
The connection between LEGO and Star Wars is something that, to be perfectly frank, doesn’t need an introduction at this point. Ever since LEGO developed sets based on Episode I – The Phantom Menace back in 1999, Star Wars has consistently been one of their most popular brands. It paved the way for the current formula of LEGO video games thanks to 2005’s LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game and, more relevant to today’s subject of discussion, has spawned a wide variety of animated spin-offs. Yes, The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is only the latest in a line of animated LEGO Star Wars specials, following in the footsteps of releases such as Droid Tales, a comedic retelling of the first six films as told by C-3PO, and The Freemaker Adventures, which follows a family of scavengers who get caught up in the Galactic Civil War. Basically, it follows the same approach as those LEGO specials by presenting classic moments from thefranchise while simultaneously satirizing them, whether it’s the moment in The Last Jedi where Kylo Ren goes shirtless or by acknowledging the universal truth that ‘The Child’ from The Mandalorian is cute. And while I’ll admit that I’m not too familiar with the LEGO Star Wars specials as a whole, I have seen enough of them to, at the very least, understand their formula, and sure enough, it’s a formula that does yield some hilarious results. These specials do a great job of presenting comedic spins on the Star Wars franchise that, while obviously geared towards younger audiences, do just enough to appeal to longtime fans of the franchise as well whether it’s thanks to their solid humor or adorable bits of fanservice. I mean, where else are you going to see three incarnations of Obi-Wan Kenobi saying “Hello There!” to each other?
Now as for this new special itself, it should be noted that while it does bear the Star Wars Holiday Special name, it isn’t a direct parody of the original Star Wars Holiday Special. In other words, don’t expect a random cutaway to a four-armed chef telling us all to “Stir, whip, stir, whip, whip, whip, stir, WAH!” or an acrobatic performance a la Cirque du Soleil (once again, folks, I must stress that I’m not making any of this up). Instead, it’s a much more traditional Star Wars adventure in which the closest that it arguably gets to mirroring its predecessor’s ‘variety show’ structure is simply through its run-through of the various moments in the franchise’s history that Rey and company end up witnessing. And while it is primarily based around the characters and iconography of the sequel trilogy, fans of the franchise will be pleased to know that it properly represents all three eras of the Skywalker Saga (i.e. the prequel, original, and sequel trilogies). Really, the only downside with this is that, for those who felt that Rise of Skywalker’s overt focus on Rey left other characters like Finn, Poe, and Rose Tico with little to do, that argument does apply to this special as it is very much focused on Rey and doesn’t really do anything with the concept of Finn’s potential as a Jedi. Despite this, though, The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is a truly delightful watch as it does a wonderful job of capturing the enduring charm of the LEGO brand. While the original Star Wars Holiday Special was a disastrous attempt at bringing the franchise into a variety show format to the point where it barely had anything to do with what made Star Wars the cultural phenomenon that it is, the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is a full-blown love letter to the franchise. And let’s be real, folks, in a time where the franchise has been saddled with overly hostile debates over the quality of its recent outings, it’s nice to have something like this that’s wholly undemanding but still fun.
The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is now available to watch on Disney+, and for those brave enough to experience it, the original Star Wars Holiday Special is easy to find online. Thanks for following along and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @TheDisInsider to stay up-to-date on our content that brings you everything you need to know about all that’s going on at the House of Mouse.