November 23, 2020
Voices of Helen Sadler, Omar Benson Miller, Jake Green, Eric Bauza, A.J. LoCascio, Matt Sloan, Trevor Devall, Matt Lanter, Tom Kane, Matthew Wood, Dee Bradley Baker, James Arnold Taylor, Grey Griffin, Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams.
To say the “Star Wars” franchise hasn’t had the best of luck with holiday specials would be an understatement.
In 1978, a year and a half after the release of the first “Star Wars” film, CBS aired the original Star Wars Holiday Special for its one and only time Nov. 17. Seizing on the continued excitement surrounding the first movie and anticipation of a sequel, the special re-united the original cast, and was so notoriously awful, with cheap production values and a dreadful variety show format, that “Star Wars” creator George Lucas once wished for every copy to be burned.
In the ensuing years, it was distributed solely through bootleg VHS and DVD copies, shared from one fan to the next and achieving a certain cult status before the Internet made it more readily viewable for everyone.
The story involved Han, Luke, Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2 helping Chewbacca return to his home planet to be with his family for Life Day, the “Star Wars” equivalent of Christmas, while avoiding Darth Vader’s efforts to capture them. While a series of notable guest stars popped in for jaw-droppingly bad musical numbers, the special’s most significant claim to fame was an animated segment that served as the introduction of Boba Fett before his appearance in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.
While much of the special is no longer considered canonical, many elements from it have been reintroduced into “Star Wars” lore over the years, particularly and most recently through references in “The Mandalorian.”
Fans have certainly embraced the concept of Life Day, celebrated the unofficial “Star Wars” holiday every year on Nov. 17. Fittingly, then, and with a healthy sense of humor, Disney+ presented the franchise’s second holiday special on that very day, and this time the results are much more favorable.
Instead of repeating the mistake of the first special and presenting it as a sequel to the first movie, the new one uses the animation style and sensibilities of the “Lego Star Wars” world, making it more of an homage to “Star Wars” than a continuation of it. Filtering the special through the “Lego” lens gives “Star Wars” fans a chance to enjoy a lighthearted, yet still heartfelt, poke at their favorite franchise.
Picking up after the events of Rise of Skywalker, the story finds Rey doubting her ability to train a new generation of Jedi. While her friends prepare the Millennium Falcon to celebrate Life Day with Chewie’s family, Rey consults the ancient Jedi texts and learns of a temple that offers a key to the insight she seeks, but is accessible only once a year on the holiday. While the Life Day celebration begins to spin out of control, Rey journeys to the temple and finds the key opens a doorway through space and time, allowing her to visit significant moments in “Star Wars” history, a trip that descends into chaos when the characters of the various eras begin to interact.
The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special crams a lot of gags into its 44-minute running time, drawing inspiration from the entire 43-year history of the franchise and putting the characters in fun but absurd situations that, because its Lego, doesn’t detract from actual canon.
It has all the “anything goes” feeling of kids playing with their “Star Wars” toys waiting for Christmas dinner, and with letting imagination run wild definitely makes for a winning combination.