In 2015, Lucasfilm announced their plan to release a new Star Wars movie every year until we are all dead. 2015 was, as we all know, 84 years ago, and Lucasfilm can be forgiven for failing to predict 2020, COVID-19 or the spiralling budgets and critical disappointments of Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) and Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) (or the nerd civil war over The Last Jedi ). But, with The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, they have technically kept their promise for yet another year.
Is it good? We’ll get to that later. First, much like Rey in the LEGO Special, we must go back in time to understand the present.
“It all started in 1978 when I let people make a Star Wars TV Special without me…”George Lucas, Robot Chicken
The original Star Wars Holiday Special is infamously bad. The actual Star Wars team were busy making The Empire Strikes Back (1980) but 20th Century Fox was anxious about a three year gap between movies and gave CBS access to costumes, sets, actors and presumably a lot of cocaine. The resulting plot, if it could be called one, is that Chewbacca must get back to his home planet Kashyyyk in time for Life Day, while his low budget family anxiously await him. Most of the special follows Chewbacca’s family, who all communicate in Wookie, the garbled screaming noise Chewbacca makes, which is fun when your mate Dan at the pub does it but becomes viscerally painful at around the four minute mark. A large chunk of the Holiday Special is people watching things on screens — musical numbers, space cooking shows, cartoons, hypnotic acrobatics and space porn. The main Star Wars trio all make brief, literally phoned-in appearances — Luke Skywalker is somehow even more of a twink than usual, Carrie Fisher is clearly coked out of her mind, and the only cast member who seems normal is Harrison Ford, because he clearly doesn’t want to be there.
The Star Wars Holiday Special was never rebroadcast, never released in any form and is not available on Disney Plus (an honour it shares with Song of the South , a movie that implied slavery was actually pretty good). But in the age of the internet, nothing is lost — you can watch the Holiday Special on Youtube, right now. I don’t recommend it. It’s not even so bad it’s good. It’s simultaneously painful and boring. Much like Cats (2019), the fun idea of watching something famously bad to spite God quickly devolves into boredom and long minutes of Wookie screeching. It goes for 90 minutes, but feels like it lasts several years.
“We are ghosts or we are ancestors in our children’s lives. We either lay our mistakes and our burdens upon them, and we haunt them as ghosts. Or, we assist them in laying those old burdens down, and we free them from the chains of our own flawed behaviour, and as ancestors, we walk alongside of them, assisting them to find their own way.”Bruce Springsteen
Star Wars is a franchise that has long been obsessed with its own past. Even in the original films, the ghosts of the Clone Wars, the Old Republic and the Jedi hung over the film, giving a storied, lived-in texture to the universe at a time of tin foil, futuristic sci-fi. After exploring that past in critically reviled but increasingly beloved prequels, the recent films sought to replicate the look and feel of the original films, both spiritually, through the wholesale repetition of story beats in the Sequels, and more directly with the release of Solo (2019), Rogue One (2016) and The Mandalorian (2019–), all set chronologically closer to the original trilogy and able to replicate the aesthetic and style of the original films.
While the The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special uses blissfully little from the original Star Wars Holiday Special, it instead takes its cue from Avenger’s Endgame (2019) and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and uses time travel to do a quick tour of the franchise’s Greatest Hits. Rey is struggling to teach Finn to be a Jedi, so she finds a magic crystal that allows her to time travel through the franchise and learn from the Jedi masters of the past. This is the franchise’s first use of time travel, and it’s a device that works well in a LEGO world, since most Lego sets are a jumbled mix of films and franchises. It’s also a neat way to deal with the franchise’s habit of killing off mentors at the end of the second act because Joseph Campbell told them to. Jedi masters have a history of reappearing as voices, ghosts, or stilted CGI apparitions resurrected from deleted scenes, but never before have three Obi Wan Kenobis been able to say “Hello There” simultaneously.
Like Albus Severus Potter and Tony Stark, Rey uses time travel to connect with her father (except it’s not actually her father, it’s Luke Skywalker, a guy she knew for like a week max who made it pretty clear he didn’t want to be her dad). She stops in on every film in the Original and Prequel trilogy, and an episode of the Mandalorian for good measure. But when she passes through Return of the Jedi and accidentally clues her Grandfather Palpatine into the existence of a time travel crystal, Rey’s adventure starts to borrow wholesale from the third act of Avengers Endgame. Meanwhile, back on Kashyyyk, Finn, Poe and Rose are trying to throw the perfect Life Day party, in the tradition of Holiday specials. It’s a harmless branded adventure, complete with Darth Vader wearing a Christmas sweater and giving Palpatine a “Galaxy’s Greatest Emperor” mug from Batuu.
The time travel of The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is the logical conclusion of this focus on the past, jumping around the history of the franchise and barely touching on its most recent instalments. Rey is in constant awe of every character and their wisdom, and a time-travelling Kylo Ren gets a chance to stan Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine (interesting choice for a guy who was determined to “let the past die”). Not to keep falling back on Avengers Endgame, but the similarities are striking, down to glowing gem based time travel McGuffin and a team up battle between a galaxy’s worth of good and bad guys under the twin suns of Tattooine.
If pushed to describe The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special in a word, it would be brand. It is Lego, it is Star Wars, it is Disney Plus. It is the cleanest version of each of those, tied together with a wink and a nod that might as well skateboard onto your screen with a “How Do You Do Fellow Younglings?”.
“A brand is your soul’s own work of art, you can never go wrong if you follow your heart.”Hugh Brandity aka Brian David Gilbert
Disney Plus launched in 2019, preceded by the removal of all Disney owned content from other streaming services. Well, most Disney owned content — content deemed “not family friendly” was relegated to Hulu, resulting in some controversy when queer teen series Love, Victor (2020–) was moved from Disney Plus to Hulu (less discussed is the fact that High Fidelity (2020) was originally developed for Disney Plus).
Disney Plus is almost the complete opposite of Disney’s long-held content strategy of manufactured scarcity. The “Vault” strategy, pioneered in the 90s and still in use as recently as 2014, released classic Disney films on VHS for a limited time with limited number of units. Prior to this, Disney would re-release its films in cinema every seven to ten years — Snow White and The Seven Dwarves (1937) was re-released into cinemas seven times before finally being released on VHS in 1994 and selling 10 million copies (it has since been “released from the vault” on DVD and Blu-ray, both on sale for less than 18 months).
On the other hand, Disney Plus’s entire strategy is centered around availability — the entire Disney catalogue, including Star Wars, Marvel, National Geographic and every single episode of The Simpsons (1989–), available to watch at any time. The combination of an aggressive marketing strategy and exclusivity has attracted more than 73 million Disney Plus subscribers in just over a year — for comparison, it took Netflix eight years to reach 74 million.
But Disney Plus has walked a fine line — the library of content has killed the concept of the Vault, and despite its weekly rollout of original shows, few have captured the public imagination. Even worse, it has gained a reputation as the final resting place for potential bombs, most notably this year’s Artemis Fowl and Mulan — the latter a disastrous experiment in premium video on demand, the former proof that Kenneth Branagh needs to be stopped. Disney Plus is an ongoing subscription service that is scrambling for a reason to retain subscribers during the 10 months of the year The Mandalorian isn’t on.
If The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is anything to go by, Disney Plus is aiming for the reputation that Youtube Kids lost when people started noticing the strange, procedurally generated animated Elsa and Spiderman videos. It aims to be safe content you can drop your kids in front of, and The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is aggressively safe in that way. The lightsaber battles are bloodless, the stakes are low and the jokes all feel recycled from r/PrequelMemes, and normally involve looking at camera and saying, “Hey, that thing you guys noticed? We noticed it too!”. And it’s a multidisciplinary slot filler — it creates new, safe content for Disney Plus, keeps the Star Wars brand active in the mind of consumers, and acts as a 45 minute ad for the Star Wars Lego sets, especially the new Star Wars Holiday Special Advent Calendar (which features both Darth Vader and Poe in Christmas Sweaters).
The best jokes in The LEGO Holiday Special play with the fact that the characters are Lego — Rey loses her signature triple-bunned hair and has to click it back on, Darth Maul appears as the top half of a figurine with no legs. It’s the everyday tangibility of the LEGO character that gives the whole Special most of its charm and nostalgia, like you’ve smashed together your Christmas gifts and come up with a story that makes sense for what you have, not carefully managed brand sensibility (though it lacks the multi-franchise hell in a cell, rage in a cage vibe of The LEGO Movie  or even the more heavily branded LEGO Batman , which unleashed villains like Sauron, Lord Voldemort and Agent Smith). That said, one side effect of the Lego figurine animation is that the characters lose all sense of scale — Chewbacca is only marginally taller than his human friends, the porgs and BB-8 are waist height (because you bet there are porgs in this) and, probably most unsettlingly, Yoda (and Baby Yoda) are the same size as people.
So, is The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special good? It’s…. fine.
Is it better than the original Star Wars Holiday Special? Yes.
Is it better than The Rise of Skywalker? Absolutely. Finn gets to be a Jedi and Rose gets to be part of the gang. It only goes for 45 minutes. Kylo Ren has less than 10 minutes screen time, and most of that is shirtless simping for Darth Vader. There is absolutely no mention of the fact that Rey is a Palpatine. Poe wears a Christmas sweater, cries with happiness around his found family, loses his shit over Space Christmas and is so viscerally gay they have to put a mistletoe-no-homo moment in. In fact, apart from the brief appearance of a few Episode IX characters, this could easily take place after The Last Jedi and replace that film in canon (sign my petition here).
It’ll entertain groups of disparate cousins hanging out in the living room while their parents drink and talk in the kitchen over the holidays, hiding in the air conditioner from the harsh summer heat. But overall, The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is a reflection of films that the creators clearly love, using characters they probably don’t have very strong feelings towards. It is tainted by an energy that can only be described as “children watching their parent’s favourite film and absolutely fucking loving it”, a feeling most parents aspire to and few children ever really feel.
The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is now streaming on Disney+.
Tansy Gardam is a writer and TV producer who can and will lecture you for hours about the music from all three How To Train Your Dragon films. She is one half of hypothetical film and music podcast Pitch Shift, and offers an endless barrage of unwanted opinions on Twitter as @tansyclipboard.
 https://www.wired.com/2015/11/building-the-star-wars-universe/.  His wife, Malla, is literally a rejected version of the Chewbacca costume from A New Hope (1977).  I wish I was joking.  Jenny Nicholson has a great breakdown on Forces of Destiny, the girl-aimed Star Wars doll line, and how a big part of its failure is the different time periods all the characters live in, preventing them from interacting in the tie-in material.  The only major Jedi who doesn’t appear is Ahsoka Tano, since Lucasfilm apparently want me to die mad.  The planet where Galaxy’s Edge, aka Star Wars Land from Disneyland, is located.  Which Disney also owns a controlling stake in, thanks to the purchase of 20th Century Fox. Also, fun fact, the rights to A New Hope were the only part of Lucasfilm that Disney were unable to acquire in the initial Lucasfilm takeover, since they were controlled by 20th Century Fox. Disney now owns the entire franchise.