If you’re not already familiar with The Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978… well, here’s an exhaustive blog entry I wrote about it a few years ago. In summary, it’s an especially infamous entry in the Star Wars franchise, and a world-renowned “so bad it’s good” classic in its own right.
And ever since the news first broke that Disney would be purchasing Star Wars, the whole fandom has been eager to know if Disney would be doing anything with the holiday special that hadn’t seen an authorized mainstream release in forty years. Hell, could Disney even legally do that? Between George Lucas, 20th Century Fox, CBS, and God knows who else, who would ever out themselves as the copyright owner of this thing?
But assuming that Disney holds the necessary copyrights (and after their purchase of 20th Century Fox, they almost certainly do), would Disney tarnish the twisted and subversive joy of this beloved underground classic by giving it a mainstream release? Or would they keep it buried in the vault and leave a whole ton of money on the table? Sure, George Lucas hated the holiday special more than he loved the fanbase’s money — and with good reason — but he also didn’t have to make back the $4 billion spent on purchasing the IP, much less the $52 billion spent on purchasing 20th Century Fox.
In the end, Disney came up with a third option: Make a totally new holiday special, introducing Life Day back into the canon on their own terms, without any of the baggage inherent in the previous attempt. Am I the only one who didn’t see that coming? In hindsight, that seems like a blindingly obvious choice.
Let’s start with the most obvious, and perhaps most important question: Does The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special feature the original cast? Sadly, not really. We’ve got Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams, and Anthony Daniels coming back, but that’s about it. On the one hand, I’m a little disappointed that nobody else could be bothered to spend a bit of time in a recording booth, playing a more lighthearted semi-parody of their characters. On the other hand, the context is so radically different that I don’t know if it would’ve worked as well.
Anyway, if more of the original cast had been involved, it might have led to some initial confusion as to whether or not this is supposed to be canon. Having seen the short film, I can only conclude that there’s no way in hell it could possibly be canon. Not unless the filmmakers and the die-hard fans want to break the goddamn space-time continuum trying to explain how all of this makes sense. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The film takes place some unspecified amount of time after the events of Episode IX, though it might as well take place after Episode VIII for all the difference it makes. Suffice to say that Rey (here voiced by Helen Sadler) has taken it on herself to train Finn (Omar Benson Miller this time) in the ways of the Jedi. And it’s not going well.
Long story short, Rey temporarily excuses herself from the Life Day festivities to go chasing after a hidden Jedi relic that can only be accessed on Life Day. And it turns out that this relic can open up portals in time and space. Things inevitably spiral out of control, as various events and characters across all nine movies collide. In turn, this allows for all manner of action sequences and comedic scenes, as characters from the past comment on future events and vice versa.
Like I said, there’s no possible way any of this could be canon.
Right off the bat, this film is demonstrably better than the previous holiday special for a few obvious reasons. First and foremost, the more recent effort was clearly made by people who knew what they were doing. It is the product of competent filmmakers with a crystal clear picture of what movie they wanted to make and who they were making it for. It also helps that (unlike the filmmakers of 1978), they had several decades of franchise history to inform precisely what Star Wars is and what material (read: jokes and references) was available to work with.
Secondly, the CGI-animated Lego effort is half the length, so there’s less to endure. Thirdly, there’s only one godawful song that only lasts for maybe five seconds, as opposed to the cavalcade of mind-melting songs that comprised half the previous special.
Lastly, this one actually has a coherent plot. I use the term loosely, as time travel plots are unavoidably incoherent to some degree, but any inconsistencies or paradoxes are hand-waved away with the knowledge that this is clearly some silly little Lego show not to be taken seriously. And for better or worse, that’s the whole point here.
By virtue of its fanbase and the uneven sequel trilogy, the property has grown unavoidably toxic. It’s famously impossible to even mention Star Wars without risking a social media flame war. And of course the films and live-action TV shows themselves are such massively valuable cash cows that everyone from Hollywood to China (especially Hollywood and China) wants to simultaneously meddle in their development while keeping the brand “safe”.
Everyone has gotten so uptight about this swashbuckling space opera with laser guns and light swords and magic samurai. The holiday special takes a step back and offers a loving yet irreverent take on the franchise, offering a self-aware and comical take that’s fun for all ages. It’s absolutely possible — maybe even necessary — for a franchise to make room for such an entry.
So the good news is, it’s a disposable film that can be enjoyed on its own merits without any need to figure out how this fits into the greater overall canon. The bad news is, it’s a disposable film that doesn’t offer anything insightful or clever or particularly new. It doesn’t do anything so well that it demands to be seen, yet it doesn’t do anything so terribly that it earns outright hatred (which, admittedly, is a bar the franchise hasn’t always cleared). And of course it helps that the film is only 45 minutes long, which means that there’s less to examine even as it means there’s less to slog through.
Of course the special is an obvious cash grab, but I can’t even hate it for that. I saw it for free with my Disney+ subscription, and I can’t summon up a whole lot of anger for a cash grab that cost me so little cash. Sure, it still works as a toy commercial for the Lego sets, but then again, so does everything else in the franchise.
On a technical level, the film works on its own goofball terms. In fact, the slightly inaccurate voicework and the blatantly fake animation both helped to increase the divide between this film and the rest of the franchise. That said, I noticed that the characters’ skin had some subtle texturing, and I found that rather disturbing. I frankly would’ve preferred the characters to be shiny and plastic, like the dedicated Lego Movies.
The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is harmless. It’s a breezy little short film that’s funny in places, but without being especially incisive or detailed. (Robot Chicken, this ain’t.) And yet, the film’s complete disregard for canon sets itself apart from the nasty online discourse, making it easier to enjoy the self-aware jokes and riffs without any regard for how it’s all supposed to fit in the greater mythos.
If you’re already using Disney+ — and especially if you’ve got any young kids with you — I’d say it’s worth your 45 minutes to check out.