‘The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special’ Is Nothing Like the Original
There are unloved Star Wars movies and then there’s The Star Wars Holiday Special — a TV film so hideously awful that George Lucas never allowed it to re-air following its premiere in the winter of 1978. More than 40 years later, the special still hasn’t gotten an official home video release. (You can find bootlegs online if you want to watch it. Unless you’re having trouble sleeping these days, I wouldn’t advise it.)
But everything Star Wars produces, no matter unloved, eventually gets a sequel. This Christmas season, Disney+ will present The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, an update of the old film for a new generation of fans and their toys. The new special is different from the old one in a few ways. The original Holiday Special was more a variety show than a typical Star Wars feature, with random celebrity cameos, musical numbers, and even a cartoon (featuring the debut appearance by future franchise star Boba Fett). The LEGO version is a more typical story — albeit with a lot of winking Star Wars in-jokes — and just a couple references to the original show. The most important difference of all: The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is charming and funny and an extremely pleasant way to pass 47 minutes.
As in the original Holiday Special, it is Life Day in the Star Wars universe, a vaguely Christmas-y holiday celebrated by Wookies. This time, Rey (Helen Sadler) and her friends are celebrating Life Day shortly after the events of The Rise of Skywalker. Doubting her own abilities as a Jedi master and teacher to Finn, Rey leaves the rest of the gang on a quest to find an important artifact at a Jedi temple. This glowing green doodad possesses the ability to send whoever holds it backwards and forwards in time.
At first, Rey uses this Jedi time travel thingie to visit famous scenes from Star Wars’ past; Luke training with Yoda on Dagobah; Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan palling around in the days leading up to the Clone Wars. Then Rey stumbles across the Emperor, Darth Vader, and Luke’s final confrontation from Return of the Jedi, and the Sith realize this time travel device would bring them even greater power. That sparks a battle between Rey and Vader for control of the gem that bounces throughout time and space in the Star Wars galaxy until almost every familiar face from the franchise’s long history winds up making a cameo appearance (up to and including the stars of The Mandalorian).
If you’ve seen any LEGO cartoons, you know the drill: Irreverent, self-referential jokes, and lots of silly, toy-based action. (The Holiday Special is directed by Ken Cunningham, who previously directed LEGO toons based on Marvel and Jurassic World.) While the animation is deliberately clunky, there’s an impressive amount of detail in the characters. In close-ups, you can see the individual flecks of paint on Vader’s helmet, and tiny imperfections in Rey’s plastic. Even if this is a show about a bunch of sentient toys, it looks a heck of a lot better than the original Star Wars Holiday Special did.
Just one cast member from the original Holiday Special appears here, as Anthony Daniels is on hand (yet again!) to voice C-3PO. The other live-action Star Wars cast members who appear are in supporting roles, including Billy Dee Williams as Lando and Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico. The rest of the familiar characters are voiced by actors from previous Star Wars animated series, including Tom Kane as Yoda and Matt Lanter as Anakin. Even if these are mostly soundalikes, they’re very convincing; Helen Sadler is a dead ringer for Daisy Ridley, and makes a very funny, very earnest Rey.
Given the LEGO Star Wars shows’ sarcastic tone, it would have been nice to see the LEGO Holiday Special more directly adapt (or more directly make fun of) the original show. Other than the Life Day stuff (which is a fairly minor detail in a story about the long history of Star Wars), this new special stays away from the old one; in the end, the “Holiday Special” name is more clever branding for a Christmas-themed Star Wars show than anything else. Adjust your expectations accordingly — like when you used to size up your holiday gifts by looking at the shape of the presents under the tree — and you’ll have a good time.
Gallery — Amazing Star Wars Concept Art: