The original Star Wars Holiday Special, which aired for the first and last time on CBS on November 17, 1978, was bad in ways that a normal, non-Quaalude-taking individual could not possibly have anticipated. A celebration of the Wookiee holiday called Life Day, a variety special, and an excuse to get the cast of the enormously successful 1977 blockbuster onto prime-time television, it tested one’s understanding of what defines television, what qualifies as Star Wars canon, and the nature of reality itself. The only way to make sense of it, then and now, is to think of it as the result of the 1970s exploding the way the Death Star blows up at the end of Episode IV. It is a TV special in which pieces of random shrapnel from the decade are glued together with the hope of making something that looks vaguely complete.
The Star Wars Holiday Special included Wookiees living in houses with hideous green carpet; Harvey Korman dressed in drag while hosting a cooking show; a performance by Jefferson Starship; clips from the movie Star Wars; the equivalent of a Saturday-morning cartoon that introduces Boba Fett for the first time; Bea Arthur singing a song in Mos Eisley’s Cantina while sitting next to what looks like the Muppet version of Ben, the rat star of the 1972 movie Ben; Han Solo and Chewbacca flying around in a low-rent Millennium Falcon; an appearance by Art Carney, Oscar-winning star of Harry and Tonto; and Chewbacca’s dad Itchy watching soft porn that features the Oscar-nominated star of Claudine and the TV series Julia, Diahann Carroll. You can be forewarned that this TV special is bonkers. You can even know yourself from having watched it before. Yet any and every time you see it, you will say, What the absolute Force-Be-With-You fuck is this?
All of this is a long way of repeating that The Star Wars Holiday Special is terrible, but terrible in such spectacular ways that it has become unforgettable and legendary, a status certainly helped by the fact that it has never been rebroadcast on television or released on home video. (Psst … you can find it on YouTube.) That brings us to The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special, a new Disney+ offering that arrives on the platform on the 42nd anniversary of that other Life Day extravaganza and is mediocre in the sort of unimaginative, promo-tainment ways that have become commonplace in the modern era.
Animated in the same style as other Lego-rooted features and Star Wars specials, with all the principals assuming the form of mini-figs, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special tips its hat to the first one by setting its action on Life Day, which Yoda describes via voice-over as “a holiday of friendship, of family, of connection.” It is also a time for Rey, Poe, Finn, and Rose to celebrate with Chewbacca, and for Rey to continue training Finn in the ways of the Force. (Yoda’s voice-over reminds us that timeline-wise, the First Order has just fallen, which means everything that happens in the next 47 minutes takes place post–Rise of Skywalker.)
Frustrated by her inability to impart wisdom to Finn, Rey, accompanied by BB-8, journeys to an Ancient Jedi temple where she acquires a key vaguely reminiscent of the talisman that factors into the animated portion of the Star Wars Holiday Special and that allows her to open portals that transport her to various moments in Star Wars history. In other words, rather than chucking bits of the ’70s into a single holiday special, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special throws together a wild array of elements from the movie and TV franchise.
We get Porgs and Ewoks, Stormtroopers and various members of the Skywalker family, Babu Frik and C3PO, Baby Yoda and old Yoda. Rey and BB-8, who are eventually joined in their time jumps by Darth Vader, obviously, land in sequences from various movies, including The Phantom Menace (“Bored, bored,” complains a young Obi-Wan. “Who cares about a trade dispute?”), The Empire Strikes Back, and A New Hope, in which Rey and BB-8 help Luke destroy the Death Star. In an inevitable act of Disney+ synergy, there are also some dips into the world of The Mandalorian. Will any of these interferences change the nature of past or future events within the Star Wars universe? Beats me, Marty McFly!
The B story within the special is somehow sillier, in that it revolves around Poe’s anxiety about making the perfect Life Day feast. Yes, Poe Dameron, one of the most badass characters in the most recent trilogy, spends all of his time fretting about the holidays while wearing the mini-fig equivalent of an ugly Christmas sweater. By the way, most of the actors associated with these parts — Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver — don’t lend their voices to the special, but a few key ones do, including Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, and Kelly Marie Tran, who gets more screen time as Lego Rose than she did as human Rose in Rise of Skywalker.
Ultimately, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special doesn’t so much tell a story as spit out callbacks that seem to have come from a random Star Wars reference generator. For some, particularly children who may be thrilled by all the frenetic, illogical action, that will be enough. Certainly there are some older Star Wars fans who also will appreciate the more insider-y and adult humor that’s worked into all of the hopping. Yes, there is a Jar Jar Binks joke. Also, at one point, it is strongly implied that Lego Allegiant General Pryde has the hots for a shirtless Lego Kylo Ren, who, even in mini-fig form, still has killer abs.
But many, this critic included, may come away feeling like this Lego Star Wars Holiday Special was built in a factory, possibly located adjacent to Lego’s North American headquarters in Connecticut, where the humor, allusions, and doses of holiday sentimentality were assembled, brick by brick, to create the most widely appealing product. The 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special was an utter disaster in a way that this one is not. But it was also gloriously bizarre in a way that only human beings, possibly under the influence of Ripple and disco biscuits, could make it. This new Holiday Special is less embarrassing. But it also takes far fewer risks.