*Warning: the following article contains spoilers for LEGO Star Wars Summer Vacation.*
Anyone who knows me likely knows how disappointed I’ve been with Star Wars since the release of The Rise of Skywalker. However, I’m always willing to give each new title a shot, including the LEGO Star Wars specials Disney+ has released over the past two years. I haven’t been much impressed with their past two specials, The Holiday Special and Terrifying Tales, so it pleases me to say that I thought the latest installment in the yearly specials, Summer Vacation, was somewhat watchable and, at times, enjoyable. However, one story flaw sticks out like a sore thumb and prevents the short from genuinely reaching its full potential.
I found it more enjoyable than the last two installments because it wasn’t trying to be a glorified cameo-fest (as most Star Wars titles seem to be leaning towards after Luke Skywalker’s unnecessary cameo in Season Two of The Mandalorian). Yes, it contains many iconic Star Wars characters within a compact, 49-minute runtime. And each legacy character has a purpose in the story and guides Finn (Omar Miller) to realize how important his friends are while he is on summer vacation before they go their separate ways.
The core of the story is simple: Finn gets visited by three Force Ghosts, Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), and Princess Leia Organa (Shelby Young), who each tell him a story about their time vacationing in a galaxy far, far away (because Jedis and Sith Lords need to take a holiday). With each story, Finn will learn one element which will reinforce his friendship with Rey (Helen Sadler), Poe Dameron (Jake Green), and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). And the message the film promotes, on friendship and letting it go (because no one’s ever really gone, of course), is handled with more care and maturity than in the previous two installments.
It’s probably because the special doesn’t necessarily focus on cracking jokes at every second and meta-referencing The Skywalker Saga to the point where it becomes irritating. Of course, the special has winks, such as the “Hello there” and “Never tell me the odds” lines, but they aren’t as egregious as in the last two specials. Instead, it earnestly tries to build an exciting story, even if it’s re-treading the “tales” aspect of the previous two installments. This might be the bit: every LEGO Star Wars film will tackle a season or a holiday and create three tales around that holiday for characters to learn about themselves and their friends. It’s incredibly recycled, yet something clicked here that the last two specials did not do to me.
It seems as though director Ken Cunningham and writer David Shayne have realized that any film must focus on the characters and story first before having fun with multiple cameos. They’ve done that with Summer Vacation, and it mainly works. The action is fast-paced and has more weight since the characters don’t constantly joke around (a bravura Millenium Falcon debris escape is a particular highlight), and its heart is in the right place. In addition, there’s a genuine willingness to make the story and the characters as enjoyable as possible before trying their hands with jokes and meta-references at The Skywalker Saga. Unsurprisingly, the jokes and convenient references are the special’s weakest aspect. But since there’s a less constant comedy, one could appreciate the small nods to the expanded Saga more than the last two specials.
Even if the story is uninspired, and the “tales” aspect becomes redundant after three specials, Summer Vacation has finally figured out what works and what doesn’t. Constant cameos without an emotional core, or investment in the story, will do nothing to audience members instead of making their point out on the screen, knowing who the person is, and getting excited for one brief second. But their excitement will be short-lived and mild if they’re not emotionally invested in the story.
Summer Vacation throws that formula out of the window and delivers something with more weight and fun than the previous two specials. Sure, there are lots of cameos and references to The Skywalker Saga, which don’t work, but the parts that do work are better than they’ve ever been. Small kids will have a ball, and adults will mildly enjoy the themes the special put forward while enjoying its kinetic action sequences. If they focus on the story more and remove the “tales” aspect for their inevitable 2023 special, the next one may be really good and perhaps take LEGO Star Wars in a better direction.
LEGO Star Wars Summer Vacation is now streaming on Disney+.