Disney+ tries to replicate the giddy anarchy of Star Wars‘ most infamous work of media, but it doesn’t cohere apart from the occasional in-joke.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is often considered the black sheep of the Star Wars universe; aired only once in 1978 and never released on home video, it was Bruce Vilanch-and-cocaine-penned attempt to graft this new school of sci-fi blockbusters into the vaudevillian variety show format of the Bruce Vilanch mold. Instead of intergalactic adventures and spirited performances, it had extended, subtitle-less Wookiee family sitcom sequences, a zonked-out Carrie Fisher, and Bea Arthur as a cantina bartender. It’s got its defenders as a good bit of campy, so-bad-its-good fun (this writer being among them), but one could hardly confuse it for Important Science Fiction Television, or a part of the canon, or part of the waking, sane world.
But as uniformly terrible as that special was, it’s at least memorable in ways that LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special (which just dropped on Disney+) will never be. It’s been 42 years to the day since that televisual fiasco graced the airwaves one and only once, and the powers that be saw this as opportunity to revive Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron and the gang for a bit of post-Rise of Skywalker fun, entertaining the kiddies while also nosing in a few cheeky references to the past for those manchildren still in the audience. Unfortunately, apart from those occasional glimmers of fun, the special’s far too patchwork to truly lift off.
The premise, like its predecessor, is thin: framed like a Rankin-Bass holiday special, but with Yoda in the Burl Ives role (right down to the clothes, by the end), we’re treated to a lightweight adventure that sees Rey and BB-8 travel to a mysterious planet with an ancient Jedi Temple that might grant her the wisdom she needs to start training Finn as a Jedi Knight. (I guess the special, like the movie, relies on us to absorb behind-the-scenes interviews that explained plot points Rise of Skywalker couldn’t be bothered to elaborate.) There, she finds a time crystal that zaps her and BB-8 through various moments in Star Wars history. Naturally, this attracts the gaze of Emperor Palpatine, who seeks it in his quest for… say it together, everyone…
Along her whirlwind journeys we see everything from Ewoks to Porgs, podraces to snowtroopers, and more from the prequel, original, and sequel trilogies. We even drop in on Mando and Baby Yoda, if for only a second. All of these events are pretty inconsequential, and amount to little more than the creators mashing a variety of minifigs together — but hey, it’s a LEGO special, what more do you expect?
While Rey et al. battle for control of the timeline, the B-story back on the Millennium Falcon is far more sitcommy, as Poe — officially the coolest person in the galaxy — suddenly turns into a harried housewife worrying about throwing the perfect Life Day feast. It’s all cute enough, and at least grounded in that same primetime-sitcom vibe as the original, though it can be a disappointing cut away from the main action. It doesn’t help that few of the original actors show up, most of the soundalikes coming from Clone Wars or previous LEGO Star Wars specials; they give spirited impressions, but it’s just not the same. We basically only get Billy Dee Williams as Lando for a couple of lines, ditto with Anthony Daniels as C-3PO; Kelly Marie Tran shows up as Rose, which is nice, especially since she definitely gets more to do here than she did in all of Episode IX. Still, as an excuse to bring the old gang back together, it’s more than a little lacking.
What does work, though, are the in-jokes, though they can be few and far between, even in the special’s 45-minute runtime. We get jokes about blue milk, Kylo Ren’s abs, and how boring trade disputes are; they even poke fun at the implausibility of the Emperor’s return in Rise of Skywalker (guess they read the tea leaves on how many people hated that one). It’s charming enough for a chuckle, but few of the gags really lead to anything, and any of the bits not directly calling back a specific moment in Star Wars history falls flat.
At the end of the day, LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special feels as factory-assembled as the interlocking pieces of plastic that inhabit it. Honestly, I was hoping for more riffs on the actual Holiday Special: where’s the inexplicable musical acts (bring in Billie Eilish or some Disney-approved starlet to do a song over a hologram!)? Why doesn’t Chewie’s family get more to do? Where’s the Boba Fett animated vignette? This new Holiday Special wants to cash in on the memory of the franchise’s most notorious moment, but is simultaneously terrified of it at the same time. The result is something that might keep your snot-nosed nerf herder busy for up to an hour, but won’t satisfy any but the most credulous Star Wars fan.
LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is currently streaming on Disney+.