REVIEW: “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special”

Continuing with the Holiday spirit, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special just came out on Disney+ today. I am (unfortunately) familiar with the infamously terrible original Star Wars Holiday Special, and when I heard that this new Lego special would be a quasi/spiritual sequel to that original special, I was both intrigued and terrified. The trailers made it look charming and irreverent, but everything about Life Day (the fictional holiday at the heart of both Star Wars holiday specials) is mired in controversy and questionable choices—seriously, who thought it was a good idea to have the original Holiday Special’s dialogue be comprised of almost entirely unsubtitled Wookie-speech? But still, it looked fun. With all of that in mind, how is The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special? It’s solid. It is a holiday-themed, caffeine-fueled, hyperactive joyride through Star Wars past and future that should satisfy the child audience the special is aimed at while potentially exhausting everyone else. (3 out of 5 wands.) 

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (Written by David Shayne, directed by Ken Cunningham)
Directly following the events of “Star Wars :The Rise of Skywalker,” Rey leaves her friends to prepare for Life Day as she sets off on a new adventure with BB-8 to gain a deeper knowledge of the Force. At a mysterious Jedi Temple, she is hurled into a cross-timeline adventure through beloved moments in Star Wars cinematic history, coming into contact with Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Yoda, Obi-Wan and other iconic heroes and villains from all nine Skywalker saga films. But will she make it back in time for the Life Day feast and learn the true meaning of holiday spirit?

First things first, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is undeniably better than the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. The original one is nearly-unwatchable, comprising of a collection of extremely loosely-connected sketches and increasingly absurd and questionable variety show performances. The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special, on the other hand, is a more traditional affair. Sometime after the conclusion of The Rise of Skywalker, Rey (Helen Sadler) has started training Finn (Omar Miller) in the ways of the Jedi, but his training isn’t going so well. While looking through the Jedi Texts, she finds tales of a Jedi Temple that can provide a key to the Jedi’s past—but only on Life Day. So, she goes to find this temple while her friends stay behind and prepare the Millenium Falcon for their Life Day party. What follows is, essentially, a mashup of A Christmas Carol and Back to the Future as Rey travels through time to various important moments in Star Wars history and, predictably, messes things up before learning a valuable, holiday-themed lesson. It’s as solid a plot as most Holiday specials have, for sure, and it opens the door for a lot of fun cameos and irreverent Star Wars humor.

This structure is both the biggest strength and the biggest weakness for the special. Adding a kind of throughline to a story like this helps unify all of the various parts. The original special tried to do this, but the storyline of Chewbacca’s family waiting for him to get home proved a bit too loose of a structure. This one, however, might have the opposite problem; it might be too big of one. The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special frequently gets lost in all of the possibilities its structure allows it. Instead of picking a handful of key moments from Star Wars history to visit (a la A Christmas Carol), we visit a hodgepodge of moments in quick succession. It feels more like a hyperactive shot of Star Wars nostalgia than a collection of scenes meant to teach Rey a lesson. There’s a solid ten minutes where it’s just cameo-after-cameo, location-after-location, and it’s rather exhausting. Perhaps I’m just too old for these kinds of things, but I frequently found myself wishing the special would just slow down a bit and luxuriate in what it was doing. Instead, it’s as though those who made it are preoccupied with the audience losing interest if they don’t keep things moving fast enough. And maybe that’s true—I don’t watch kids’ TV these days, so I don’t know what media that’s targeted at them looks like anymore. And The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is very clearly targeted at kids.

Now, to be fair, there is a lot to enjoy here even if you’re not a kid. The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is a blatant love letter to all that Star Wars is. It’s filled with little easter eggs, jokes, and fun moments that would make even the coldest, grumpiest Star Wars fan smile. The Lego style of animation has always worked well with the Star Wars universe, and the style of humor found in most Lego productions meshes well with Star Wars. If you’re looking for irreverent humor, you’ll be pretty happy here. The jokes come quickly and many of them are delightfully meta and filled with the kind of random, Star Wars minutiae that will please fans and confuse those less familiar with the intricacies of the franchise. The holiday cheer is apparent from the moment the special starts, and it continues until the moment it ends. You’ve seen holiday specials with messages very similar to this one, but that doesn’t prevent it from being an enjoyable watch. Life Day is a fun concept, and it’s nice to see canonical Star Wars embrace it again. Watching The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face and get you in the holiday mood.

The animation looks a bit better than the average Lego TV special, so that’s nice. There are lots of fun action sequences and plenty of visual gags. There’s something that’s just very warm and comforting about Lego animation, and it fits very well with the holiday theme. The voice cast is a bit of a mixed bag, though. Many of the characters are voiced by their film actors (Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams) while others are voiced by their longtime animated actors (Matt Lanter, Dee Bradley Baker, James Arnold Taylor, etc). However, some of the newer characters are voiced by actors who sound nothing like their film counterparts; they do a good job, but it’s a bit distracting how dissimilar they sound from what most audiences will be familiar with. Still, it’s not a big deal and doesn’t detract much from the overall experience.

On the whole, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is a fun watch. It’s a bit too hyperactive for my taste and could’ve used more focus on its premise instead of trying to cram as many Star Wars references as it could into 45 minutes. However, I suspect it will delight younger fans—who, after all, are the target audience for this. The animation is slick and fun to look at, the jokes are plentiful and funny, and the vocal performances are solid. If you like Star Wars and you’ve got kids to entertain, you could do a lot worse than this. If you’re looking for something light and fun and Star Wars-y to watch, you could do a lot worse than this. And if you want to see what a more competent Star Wars holiday special looks like, well, you could definitely do worse than this.

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