This Thanksgiving, around the time we’ll all be reading articles online about whether or not it’s safe to insult your extended family in person, or over Zoom, there will also be a new Star Wars “festive” product to watch on Disney+. The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is coming whether your want it or not, and even if you haven’t paid attention to any of the other Lego Star Wars things, something in the Force tells me everyone is going to have an opinion about this thing specifically.
In an exclusive report, USA Today revealed that the special will reunite Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron to celebrate Life Day, the Star Wars holiday first introduced in the original Holiday Special that aired on CBS in 1978. Executive producer Josh Rimes described the new special as It’s a Wonderful Life but in the Star Wars universe. Rey will meet a young Luke Skywalker via time travel, and there will also be Lego versions of other Wookiee characters from the original special.
So, Lego Rey is going to meet the ghosts of Star Wars past a la A Christmas Carol, and the whole thing is going to be zany and heartwarming, right?
Previous Lego Star Wars projects almost always emphasize goofy humor, with varying degrees of success. But, when it comes to this new holiday special, to paraphrase the opening theme song of A Series of Unfortunate Events, we really should look away. Just because there’s a cutesy new Star Wars thing that is threatening to mine nostalgia from the entire saga AND the embarrassing 1978 Holiday Special, doesn’t mean we need to watch it.
Star Wars fans should think hard about what this kind of thing really is: A subpar Star Wars product which has the same relationship to actual Star Wars as “cheese product” has to real cheese. Even before it airs, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special combines the three things that are the most embarrassing about Star Wars junk: The tendency to make cool Star Wars things into reductive Lego romps, nostalgia as a product, and a dishonest love for the objectively terrible 1978 Holiday Special.
Like Darth Vader swooping in on Rebel pilots Dutch and Tiree during the Death Star trench run, let’s knock out those first two real quick. Most of the Lego Star Wars movies and shows are not very cool and destroy their own potential by being Lego products. I mean, the best Lego Star Wars thing is The Freemaker Adventures. Not only does that series star mostly entirely new characters (the Freemaker family) but it’s closer to canon, and best of all, it features the most powerful Black family in Star Wars.
And yet, for all of the good things about The Freemaker Adventures, it’s still not quite canon, and that’s mostly because of the Lego aspect. This bothers me. It’s the most racially diverse version of Star Wars, but it’s relegated mostly to a Lego-joke. Why not feature these characters in a regular Star Wars thing?
Lego Star Wars isn’t necessarily evil, and it’s (probably?) not hurting anyone, but anything interesting or progressive that happens in a Lego Star Wars thing (like the Freemakers) is undone by the fact that it is Lego. It’s impossible to take it seriously, and while fans of Lego Star Wars stuff will tell me to lighten up, I’d like to point out that it’s possible to be funny without being zany. Star Wars already has a fantasy hyperbolic artifice by nature. The Lego version just reduces it to a toy ad, an overtly commercial venture designed to entice you to buy Star Wars-themed Lego kits.
Look, a saga-spanning Star Wars Holiday Special doesn’t sound bad on its face, but the question is: why does this have to be Lego? Why not just an animated Star Wars Holiday Special done in the style of Forces of Destiny or The Clone Wars? The premise sounds fun: Rey discovers the World Between Worlds from Rebels and then travels back in time to meet everyone significant from all of Star Wars. Thinking about this as a piece of non-Lego animation is much more exciting. Thinking about it as a Lego thing just telegraphs out the message ahead of time: This is just a new notch in Disney’s partnership with the toy company.
What would happen if you had a Star Wars Holiday Special sponsored by 7-Eleven and all the characters were just drinking Slurpees the whole time? This is kind of why I hated the Michael Bay Transformers movies; they were commercials for Hummers, Camaros, and Mountain Dew. At its worst, Star Wars is a commercial for its own merch and toys, and adding Lego on top of that just makes it seem all that more superficial.
Which brings me to the larger point. This feels desperate. If Star Wars — as a brand — were trying to mitigate some of the sourness caused by The Rise of Skywalker, this doesn’t feel like the way to go. If the Sequel Trilogy proved anything, it’s that nostalgia will only get you so far. Playing the hits is fun at first but bringing the Emperor back for reasons in the third act of a trilogy that’s supposed to be about a new generation of heroes shows a lack of imagination…and an unwillingness to move forward.
And the Lego Star Wars Holiday Special shows that Disney has learned nothing on that front. Why does Star Wars have to pay any kind of homage to the 1978 Holiday Special in 2020? The original Holiday Special is a media product that George Lucas himself wishes he could take back. Look. I know it’s funny to say “Release the Holiday Special, you cowards.” But, come on. It’s really bad. Do you want to see Chewbacca’s uncle or whatever low-key masturbating to weird dancing girl holograms? Do you want to see Mark Hamill’s bizarre haircut? Do you want to see Carrie Fisher furious that she has to put words to the Star Wars theme song?
The Holiday Special is Star Wars on coke, trying to play it cool at a five-year-old’s birthday party. It is not a good look. George Lucas was right. We shouldn’t have nostalgia for things that are truly terrible just because there are kitschy aspects to them that are interesting to pop culture historians. Nobody actually liked the Star Wars Holiday Special when it aired, and that’s not because people were wrong. It’s just bad.
Yes, the brief animated cartoon which introduced Boba Fett is cool. But we have a wonderful live-action version of this called The Mandalorian. Where’s my animated 20-minute Baby Yoda Christmas Special? Doesn’t that automatically sound better than this Lego thing? Want to evoke some real nostalgia that actually won’t suck? Why not do a holiday episode of The Mandalorian, but in the animation style from 1978? THAT would be cool. In comparison, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special feels like the extension of a marketing deal that is being passed off as a narrative. It may fool very young kids, but older ones (including those in their 30s and 40s) should know better.
Nobody asked for a Lego Star Wars Holiday Special. Let’s not repeat history by just trying to do the same thing, but only worse. The path to the Dark Side often comes from many kinds of negative tendencies— greed, jealously, fear — but the one we tend to leave out is the one Star Wars displays the most often: bad taste.
The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special premieres on Nov. 17 on Disney+.