The amazing thing about the “Star Wars” franchise is that even when it’s awful it’s still somehow legendary. Take the 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special.” This is a classic example of exploiting a franchise to the degree that the exploiters might actually be damaging it. Carrie Fisher sings the “Star Wars” theme, now set to lyrics; Bea Arthur sings a completely different song because who didn’t want to see the star of “Maude” in that galaxy far, far away? Art Carney, Harvey Corman, Diahann Carroll, and Jefferson Starship also show up because why not.
George Lucas was so embarrassed by “The Star Wars Holiday Special” that he prevented anyone from seeing it for decades. But here’s the thing: the two-hour special also introduced Boba Fett to fans, in a stirring cartoon that foretold the saga’s expansive future in animation (and introduced Mando’s pronged weapon on “The Mandalorian”); and it introduced the Wookiee homeworld Kashyyyk, as well as Chewbacca’s extended family, hinting that the galaxy you saw in “Star Wars” was much bigger than you imagined.
So “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” has to clear two bars: one incredibly low, the other almost impossibly high. Is it better than the “Star Wars Holiday Special”? By a parsec. Will it be legendary like the “Star Wars Holiday Special”? Eh… only if a Jedi Mind Trick convinces you it will.
Lego has riffed on “Star Wars” many times before — including in a whole animated TV series called “The Freemaker Adventures” — but “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” is by far the most accessible to newcomers. Its premise is something fans really, really want to see. What happens to Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose after the events of “The Rise of Skywalker”?
Yes, Finn is Force sensitive. That’s addressed in the opening scene, with Rey now teaching him the ways of the Force. She’s having difficulty though. Despite reading the Sacred Jedi Texts cover to cover, she feels she’s missing the mark with her teaching. A chance discovery may prove the answer. If she goes to a Jedi Temple on a far flung world she may find a tool that will allow her to see how previous masters have taught their Padawans.
But she’s only able to go on one day: Life Day, the galactic holiday celebrated in the original 1978 special. Does she go on her quest, or does she spend time with her friends on this special day? She chooses the former and finds that what’s waiting for her at the Jedi Temple is a time-travel device. That means she can see Yoda teach Luke up close, as well as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan (who whines about how boring trade disputes are, in a knowing wink to “The Phantom Menace”), and Obi-Wan and Anakin.
Imagine putting the entire saga into a blender and setting it to puree. What follows is a mash-up that almost reaches the comedic heights of the “Robot Chicken” “Star Wars” parodies. Hopscotching through iconic “Star Wars” moments across time like she’s in a galaxy far, far away version of “Sherlock Jr.,” Rey finds herself crammed into Luke’s X-Wing cockpit with him when he blows up the Death Star, then jumps into the Boonta Eve Classic podrace his father won (we’re still betting everything on Sebulba), then into a scene from “The Mandalorian.”
These are all pretty basic, but “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” really shines with the deep cuts: three Obi-Wans (at different ages) all saying “Hello there!” to each other in unison; Poe’s displeasure that Max Rebo’s going to be their Life Day entertainment since “no one’s listened to him in 30 years”; Babu Frik showing he’s a B-Boy.
Some of the references may go over your head. Poe tries different methods of cooking the “tip-yip,” an Endorian chicken that attendees of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will recognize as one of the foods served in the park. But the whole thing moves so fast — with the speed and energy of kids at play who don’t give a hoot that the stories they’re telling aren’t canon — that if one joke flies past the next one will probably land. And yet a lot of the low-hanging fruit mercifully goes uncollected. It’s for the best that Gungan jokes aren’t here or an over-reliance on Hoth for a “holiday” setting (the icebound planet only shows up briefly).
What’s surprising is how moving “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” ultimately becomes. Yes, this isn’t canon, but it’s certainly a confirmation of what was only hinted at in “The Rise of Skywalker”: that Finn has the power of the Force and is destined to be a Jedi, too. You really empathize with the pressure Rey feels to do right by him and make sure she’s a good teacher. As her sidekick on much of her journey is teenage farmboy Luke, ripped out of time and still unaware of his destiny, how she relates to this kid who would become her master is sweet and full of promise — a way for her to see the wizened Jedi who nearly rejected her in a different light, and a way for her to keep in mind how unformed Finn still is and what he could still become.
I think I speak for all “Star Wars” fans in saying that a canon story of Rey teaching Finn is what we need asap. If the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy was all about these new characters taking up the torch of the beloved characters of the past, “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” literalizes that idea with Rey getting to see the whole saga unfold before her in one go. “The Rise of Skywalker” was billed as a capper for the entire eight-film saga before it, but oddly it’s this block-and-brick telling that gives equal weight to each of the franchise’s different eras. And it’s made that much better that Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams, and Anthony Daniels lend their voices to this. What are the holidays for than a time to spend with friends.
Will people remember this, for better or worse, with the vividness they did the 1978 original? Will it become legendary? Maybe not. But sometimes it’s more fun not to be a legend.
“The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” is now streaming on Disney+.