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As divisive as the Star Wars franchise has become, the vast majority of fans can at the very least agree on one thing: the Star Wars Holiday Special is fucking awful. Airing in November 1978 as a way of capitalizing on the blockbuster success of Star Wars the previous year, the whole thing makes rapid pendulum swings between cringe-y and unbearable. Any and all good will created by the animated sequence (which is almost exclusively of note because it marks the first appearance of Boba Fett) is annihilated by the awful Jefferson Starship performance and extended Wookie conversations that are left untranslated until filtered through expository dialogue of human characters. It’s cheap, shoddy, boring, and pretty much every other negative adjective available under the twin suns of Tatooine.
Forty-two years later (to the day), the Star Wars franchise is now trying to take ownership of that abject failure with another attempt at celebrating Life Day – and it obviously benefits from a bar so low that it’s legally one with the planet’s mantle. Going into watching Ken Cunningham’s LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special there is a particular optimism knowing that it would be literally impossible for it to be any worse than its predecessor. But while that winds up being true, there unfortunately isn’t all that much else to praise it for.
It’s certainly a project well fit for the animated LEGO brand, as there is a history of snark and irreverence there that opens the door for the special to laugh at itself, but it’s also very much lacking in substance. The wrap-around story is cute enough, but it also jams a MacGuffin into the plot that has the sole purpose of turning the whole enterprise into a clip show.
Set in the aftermath of the events featured in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker – though most certainly not canon – the story begins with Rey (Helen Sadler) and Finn (Omar Miller) aboard the Millennium Falcon shortly after its arrival on the planet Kashyyyk a.k.a. Chewbacca’s homeworld. The former is trying to teach the latter in the ways of the Force, using the same equipment Obi-Wan originally used with Luke, but her efforts seem fruitless as Finn struggles to advance in his training.
As an enthusiastic Poe (Jake Green) arrives, ready to set up a massive Life Day party for Chewbacca’s family, Rey heads off on her own adventure, having read in the ancient Jedi texts about a special “key to the universe” that is only active during the holiday and may be the answer to her teaching woes. With BB-8 by her side, what she discovers is a device that gives her the ability to open up portals in space and time, and while she first uses the power to observe some of the universe’s great mentor/mentee relationships, trouble brews when she is spotted by Emperor Palpatine (Trevor Devall) and Darth Vader (Matt Sloan) and they stay on her tail pursuing the key.
The plot of the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is built just to revisit scenes from movies available on the same streaming service.
While it has the style of Star Wars and the hook of time travel, the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special isn’t all that far removed from pre-streaming sitcoms that would use up an episode in a later season to feature lead characters gathering together to reminisce about all of their wild adventures together. The issue is that those shows were popular when audiences didn’t have the capacity to instantly watch all of those wild adventures in full with just a few taps of one’s index finger, and the reality is that all nine of the live-action movies that are tied in here can also be viewed on Disney+.
In all fairness, the second half of the special does start to actually add on to and manipulate the scenes that every fan is familiar with – but you still have to get through a LEGO recreation of the first Death Star’s destruction, and even when things start to go a bit nutty the holiday story bends over backwards to still try and sneak in familiar quotes and overt references. It’s not without its clever moments, such as how it goes about tackling the much-disputed “who shot first” debate, but more often than not it just feels tired.
Its best moments come when it’s poking fun at the Star Wars franchise’s low points.
To further use that one example, though, what is nice about the special in general is that it is a project that feels much freer than most to actually make fun of Star Wars – a franchise that far too many people take far too seriously. The fact that its existence is a callback to the worst thing to ever come out of the George Lucas-created universe gives it a bit of license to be cheeky, and it’s in those moments that it gets the most laughs. Whether it’s a Rodian letting out a joyful “Maclunkey!” or Darth Vader suggesting that Return Of The Jedi’s Death Star II is “derivative” and offering “Starkiller Base” as an alternative, the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special knows all the right buttons to press to make life-long fans chuckle.
This is definitely meant primarily for the super young Star Wars audience.
All of this subjective perspective so far comes from the viewpoint of someone who has spent more than a quarter-century appreciating Star Wars, and surely audiences of all ages will check it out upon its launch for the same reasons I was curious about it. That being said, it should be made clear that the prime audience for this special aren’t those who are familiar with the original Star Wars Holiday Special because that particular piece of television history aired nearly 40 years before they were born. The target for this piece of the franchise is children who are fresh off watching all of the movies for the first time and haven’t been exposed to the thousands if not millions of pop culture jokes and references that have been made in the last four decades.
The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special has the honor of redeeming the name of holiday specials in the Star Wars legacy, which is something to hang its hat on – though that’s only saying so much when its predecessor is the only thing in the franchise that is universally reviled. It’s fun, it’s short, it has a few surprises, and it’s basically just ok.