When you see the phrase ‘LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special’, your initial reaction to that jumble of words might be “what? Christ!” But LEGOifying Star Wars has of course already met with some success in the gaming world. More notably, the genre of animated films where it’s ‘the thing, but done in LEGO’ has become a bit of a hit, although perhaps not a surprising one. Rendering whatever it might be – Batman, for instance – entirely in LEGO is a sort of inoculation against the script ever being at risk of taking itself too seriously.
Works which are mockingly self-referential have become much more common over the past twenty years, since the end-of-history ‘90s. You know the type – there’s a certain kind of genre-awareness at work, the characters point out the tropes they’re living out, at times to the point of mockery. The issue with this is that it’s not merely winking at the fourth wall, but actively hurling themselves against it to see if it breaks. It trades in suspension of disbelief for a kind of pantomime setup, where the audience might as well yell out ‘he’s behind you’ – though lord knows at times the horror genre begs for it.
LEGO hits a natural equilibrium in this regard that flesh-and-blood actors typically can’t. There’s already a degree of silliness to it, but crucially one which needn’t necessarily stop you being blindsided by moments of actual emotion. It allows the kind of self-awareness scriptwriters love, without damning the whole project as mugging-to-camera inconsequential nonsense.
As such, it’s a medium which lends itself quite naturally to a concept like The Star Wars Holiday Special. The original – broadcast only once in 1978, surviving on bootleg videos ever since – was a quite uniquely ridiculous piece of television. To call it so bad it’s good is perhaps a stretch of this fragile language, but it’s certainly so bad it’s fondly remembered in a perverse way, kind of like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. It’s camp, it’s kitsch, whatever you want to call it, making it all out of LEGO isn’t going to detract from its unique kind of charm in the slightest.
LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special Cast: Who’s Involved?
Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) have all confirmed they will be appearing in the voice cast, reprising their roles from the films. “[Billy Dee] Williams had such great, positive energy around the whole project and, of course, we couldn’t do C-3PO without Anthony Daniels and he brought his magic to the character,” said executive producer James Waugh. “Daniels did joke around with us that he couldn’t believe he was doing yet another holiday special…He never thought he’d be doing that again.”
Waugh also pointed to Tran’s involvement as particularly significant, saying “She has a really prominent role throughout the story…This story works in an A-B way. The ‘A’ story is on Kashyyyk where Rey, Poe, Rose and Finn are all trying to create the greatest Life Day party ever for Chewie and his family. Then the B story is Rey going off to seek knowledge at the Jedi Temple that takes her across the movies’ history… Rose’s role in this is to really take charge, she basically saves the day, in many ways. We wanted to make sure we got a lot of Kelly in as Rose was going to be an essential part of whatever [the Resistance heroes’] future was going to be after Episode IX, and she was a blast to work with.”
The voice cast will also include The Clone Wars regulars such as Matt Lanter as Anakin Skywalker, Tom Kane as Yoda, James Arnold Taylor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Dee Bradley Baker, the voice of the clone troopers.
Notably, though, nothing’s been confirmed about the involvement of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, or Oscar Isaac, who respectively played Rey, Finn, and Poe, the main power trio of the sequel trilogy. Having already suffered through that, it could be that they want nothing more to do with Star Wars – particularly Boyega, who’s been very vocal about his issues with the franchise – and their characters will be phoned in by someone else.
LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special Plot: Spirit of the Holidays
The special’s return to Wookie homeworld Kashyyyk mirrors the original Holiday Special, whose A-plot also revolved around Chewbacca’s family preparing to celebrate ‘Life Day’, rendered mainly in untranslated grunts and growls. Whether this will, like the original, delve into what’s on TV in the Star Wars universe – which ranged from bad cooking shows to what was clearly meant to be softcore pornography – remains to be seen.
The foregrounding of Kelly Marie Tran, however, seems to be scrambling to make up for her diminished role in 2019’s The Rise Of Skywalker: a product of her sharing many scenes with dead CGI Carrie Fisher, all of which were subsequently declared not up to standard and cut from the film. It also represents a throwing down of the gauntlet towards the section of the audience who, for whatever reason it might be, simply didn’t like seeing an Asian actress onscreen (one can criticise how a character was written, and even the actor’s performance, without then sending them racially charged death threats).
The B-plot, meanwhile, appears to be setting up a nostalgia-baiting best-of reel, where the most memorable moments of the franchise’s history are recreated in LEGO. This is where the LEGO format becomes an obvious advantage, as they won’t even need to resort to Forrest Gump-style camera trickery to slip people into old footage. “[Rey] has a nice It’s a Wonderful Life moment,” revealed Josh Rimes, director of animation development at Lucasfilm, “as she reflects on her own mistakes, her own teachings, and what it means to be a mentor.”
Waugh has hinted at an explicit mixing and matching of different parts of the franchise’s history. “One thing that helped define how we approached this special was actually looking at how kids are playing with LEGO Star Wars. [In the Story Group], we’re in our canonical sense of building stories, which delineates certain characters and vehicles sets across different points of time. And when I’m watching my son play with them, and watching other kids play with them, that’s not the case. It’s more like, ‘I’m dumping all my LEGO Star Wars out, and I’m going to have the AT-AT fight battle droids from the prequels.’ It’s one of the cool things about bringing LEGO sets home. We were talking a lot about that, Josh and I, early on. ‘How do we craft a story that allows for that?’” In something of a giveaway, Rimes added “There’s a moment…we call it the ‘bucket dump’ moment.”
Despite all the criticism of the original Star Wars Holiday Special, it was the first piece of Star Wars media to feature a plucky young up-and-comer named Boba Fett, whose immediate popularity led to the character being included in Empire and Jedi, given a backstory in the prequel trilogy, and, ultimately, spawning Disney+’s current baby The Mandalorian (whose second season begins at the end of October). This could well explain why Disney have taken the unexpected direction of making another Holiday Special, in the hopes of lightning striking in this way again.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine Disney will be able or willing to recreate the rough-and-ready conditions that gave rise to the original Holiday Special. Carrie Fisher famously claimed she didn’t even remember filming it. George Lucas, despite distancing himself from the project, was the one responsible for the whole Life Day plot. In his 2019 autobiography, Anthony Daniels described it as a “turd”, much to Disney’s displeasure. It featured inexplicable musical cameos from Bea Arthur and Jefferson Starship, a combination that had never been tried before, or since.
Perhaps most notably, the original Star Wars Holiday Special was made in a time when franchises drawing celebrities’ names out of a hat and throwing together a variety show for the holidays was the done thing. The Star Wars iteration just became the most well-known example, partially because of the sheer scale of the Star Wars brand and partially because it was so dreadful. It was, without wishing to be too harsh, an accident, whereas Disney and LEGO’s reprising of the formula is all too deliberate.
The people behind this iteration are, unavoidably, all too well aware of their famously bad predecessor. According to Waugh, “It was completely anathema to talk about doing a holiday special within the halls of Lucasfilm for years. But the truth is, it’s part of our tapestry. It’s part of our story. And fans have embraced it in a kind of ironic, fun way. And we’re not doing the Holiday Special. It’s more honoring the elements of that holiday special that have lingered with the franchise. The truth is, Life Day is now in The Mandalorian. Life Day is celebrated at [Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge]. So, it’s part of our DNA and it was something to look back to.” To be sure, a twisted affection for even the worst parts of the franchise has been Star Wars’ lot for a long time now: remember the initial reaction to A Phantom Menace?
The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is scheduled to stream on November 17th on Disney+.
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