The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Animated;
Not rated.
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.

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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.

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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.

The Death of Superman

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 8/7/18;
Warner;
Animated;
$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray, $39.99 Blu-ray gift set, $39.99 UHD BD.
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action including some bloody images.
Voices of Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Jason O’Mara, Rosario Dawson, Shemar Moore, Nathan Fillion, Matt Lanter, Christopher Gorham.

The Death of Superman packs a punch, in more ways than one.

The latest entry in the DC Universe brand of animated superhero movies is one of the more faithful representations of its source material, resulting in one of the most emotionally resonant movies based on a comic book in quite some time.

The Death of Superman is based on the legendary 1992-93 storyline that saw Superman sacrifice himself to save Metropolis from an unstoppable alien entity called Doomsday. Subsequent storylines dealt with Superman’s return amid the arrival of four new heroes each claiming the legacy of the Man of Steel, but that’s the subject for the next DC Universe movie, Reign of the Supermen.

The “Death of Superman” has provided inspiration for several adaptations over the years, most prominently in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (though the subsequent Justice League movie ignored most of the comic book’s storyline for his resurrection). A highly condensed version of the death and return arcs formed the basis of the first DC Universe animated movie, Superman: Doomsday, back in 2007.

And while Superman: Doomsday remains among the best-selling of the DC animated movies, it’s also regarded as something of a lost opportunity to really dive into the juiciest aspects of the storyline, given how much of it was altered to fit into the limited running time of a single movie. The Death of Superman does much to rectify that.

The new film is a continuation of a continuity that has established within the DC Universe films the past few years, allowing this film to build upon pre-existing character relationships. However, Superman was mostly a background player among an ensemble in those, so this is really the first of the sub-group to really give the character his due.

The movie begins with Superman, in his guise as Clark Kent, fumbling through a newfound love affair with Lois Lane, and getting relationship advice from, of all people, Wonder Woman, who had dated Superman in one of the earlier films.

The screenplay by Peter Tomasi is filled with wonderful insights about the Lois and Clark relationship as it explores the challenges of finding love when one is living a double life to conceal superpowers, as well as the tug-of-war between being a hero for the public and enjoying a private life.

There are also fun nods to other movies featuring the characters, such as Wonder Woman joking about an uptick in her popularity in the past year, and references going as far back to the 1978 Superman movie and its own iconic portraying of Superman’s courtship of Lois Lane.

The effectiveness of the story is given considerable weight by a great voice cast led by real-life husband-and-wife Jerry O’Connell as Superman and Rebecca Romijn as Lois (whose natural chemistry comes through despite the two not recording their lines together).

Rainn Wilson also has some fun in his portrayal of Lex Luthor, who is maneuvering in the background to understand what makes Doomsday tick even as Superman and the Justice League give their all to stop the monster’s rampage.

The film’s efforts to layer in its character dynamics pay off with a terrific climactic fight between Doomsday and Superman, who is all that stands in the creature’s way when the rest of the Justice League can’t stop it.

The Blu-ray includes a 16-minute featurette called “The Death of Superman: The Brawl That Topped Them All,” a good retrospective about the original comic book storyline involving many of the creative minds behind it, intercut with an analysis of the fight itself.

There’s also a 10-minute preview of the Reign of the Supermen movie due next year.

Finally, the Blu-ray includes the “Legion of Superheroes” certoon series two-part episode “Dark Victory,” which incorporated some ideas from the “Death of Superman” storyline.