(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GLEN WELDON, HOST:
"The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special" on Disney Plus is trying to do a lot of things at once. It's a straight-up holiday special for families, with messages about coming together to celebrate friendship, love - the whole schmoopy (ph) Hallmark schmear. But it's also a story that takes characters from the final trilogy and sends them hopping through pretty much every climactic moment of the Skywalker saga and beyond. It gently satirizes the franchise, the way the Lego Star Wars games do. It even references the ultracheesy 1978 "Star Wars Holiday Special," which was a fiasco stuffed inside in a debacle, wrapped in Harvey Korman.
So who's it for? And does it do what it needs to do? I'm Glen Weldon. And today we're talking about "The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. So don't go away.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WELDON: Welcome back. Here with me from her home in Los Angeles is entertainment journalist and producer Joelle Monique. Hey, Joelle.
JOELLE MONIQUE, BYLINE: Hey, Glen. What's up?
WELDON: Let's get to it. So "The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special" brings back computer-animated, extruded-plastic versions of Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewie, Rose, Lando and the droids. The only actors voicing their original characters, however, are Billy Dee Williams, Kelly Marie Tran and Anthony Daniels, who never turns down a gig and bless him for it.
WELDON: It's Life Day, a Wookiee holiday of peace and harmony. While the rest of the characters set up for a party on the Millennium Falcon, Rey and BB-8 go off on a journey that brings them in contact with pretty much every major character in the entire Star Wars saga. Joelle, what'd you think?
MONIQUE: Oh, man. These Lego specials are always such a delight. I like the original stuff they've done. They made a kyber crystal spaceship. It's one of my favorite things about Star Wars now.
MONIQUE: Video games - entertaining as hell. And this definitely lives up to exactly what you expect it to do. It does some fun things the movies could never get away with. It's like a really great catch-up syllabus for young children that you're like, please get into Star Wars so that we can have this bond. Great thing to show them - so, like, a brief synopsis of everything that's ever happened in Star Wars. It's delightful. It's fun.
WELDON: Yeah. I mean, it's unabashed fan service. I mean, it seems little more than that to me, actually. But you know what? I'm a fan - service me.
WELDON: I mean, the thing that makes it weird, though, is that it seems like it's trying to be fan service to a few different kinds of fans. And, like, that'd be one thing. Like, if there was only one kind of Star Wars fan, that'd be fine. But there are a lot of different kinds of fans. I mean, some fans of the original trilogy really hate the new Abrams-Johnson-Abrams final trilogy. They hate all its characters. So foregrounding Rey as much as the show does is going to turn them off, and let alone giving her such a central role in some of the original trilogy's biggest events - that's going to send them straight to Reddit.
WELDON: I mean, the fact that it is also clearly just a joke. It's just a goof. It's just a show for kids. That's not going to matter to them. Where do you fall in the fandom?
MONIQUE: Yeah, so in fandom, I saw the prequel trilogy when it came out, when I was 10. The original trilogy was, like, a big staple of my childhood, but I become a die-hard Star Wars fan at "The Clone Wars" animated series. That is my big intro - like, oh, my God, there's Ahsoka, and she's a girl, and she's holding a lightsaber. And it was everything to me. I don't think the die-hard OG fans are going to watch this, so I don't think it'll be a problem (laughter).
MONIQUE: I don't think they have any interest in Lego Star Wars. I think they're going to see Rey on the cover and be like, eh, not for me. What really interested me about the series and what I think the people who do watch it will really enjoy is, like, the way this sort of spoofs the original Christmas special but, also, "It's A Wonderful Life." (Laughter) At some point you're like, is this just Star Wars as "It's A Wonderful Life"? Very exciting. None of this is canon. It's not going in the movies.
MONIQUE: This doesn't greatly impact the universe. Y'all, please just let your kids enjoy this. Legos are so funny. It's cool. At one point, they have a character who's halved in the movies, but it's Lego so he just breaks apart. It's...
MONIQUE: Oh, it's so cute. Here's what I'll say. If you're an originals fan and you're like, oh, I'm not sure there's going to be anything in here for me, there's a lot of nudge-winks - they're like, why did that happen? I don't know.
MONIQUE: Moving on. And so I feel like it's trying to engage you.
MONIQUE: It's trying to see your point of view.
WELDON: I mean, I belong to the cohort of fans who like the final trilogy just fine, thank you very much...
WELDON: ...But wished it went further to distance itself from the first three films, you know, instead of just iterating the same story beats and character arcs. I was disappointed - and I think when we talked about it on the show, a lot of us were - that "The Rise Of Skywalker" dropped so many of the threads established in "The Last Jedi." So for me, the fact that Rose - I think if we count, Rose gets more lines in this silly thing than she did in the entirety of "Rise Of Skywalker." That's kind of sad, but I'll take it - more Rose. And the fact that we see Finn starting his Jedi training under Rey, which was something that was kind of mentioned or hinted at. But it's good to see.
MONIQUE: Ten thousand percent, yes, that. That is something we could absolutely have used in the original 'cause - I don't want to get too into what could have been. But, like, his - like, oh, he-kind-of-has-the-force-but-not-really mumbo weird stuff at the end of the trilogy really bummed me out.
MONIQUE: And so to see Finn holding a lightsaber, even though it's not his lightsaber yet...
MONIQUE: Yeah, it was cool to see him in his Jedi training. It was fun to see him, like, well, struggling but eager to learn. And I like that the core element is, like, Rey thinks she's going to go back and look at different masters and apprentices to see what their relationship is like. And I think, as a Star Wars fan, there's something, like, extra exciting about being able to visit these moments in a way that is outside of their core representation but lets you enjoy those relationships all over again, even if it's happening in the blink of an eye.
WELDON: Right. And even if it's happening sort of at a slant because, like, for example, I like the way they characterize the Emperor in this. I mean, he gets the best lines. He's less pure - dark side.
WELDON: Absolute power - and more Snidely Whiplash. You know, it's cuter.
MONIQUE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
WELDON: (Laughter) It's just a lot cuter.
MONIQUE: He's more insecure here.
WELDON: Yeah, yeah. And I think this has some solid jokes in it. But I want to preface this - I want to let people know that they're not quite as on point as they were in the Lord and Miller theatrical Lego films, which is admittedly a high bar. I mean, that's - those movies are pretty funny. But set your expectations in terms of the joke hit rate - I would say this is less "The Lego Movie" and more "The Lego Ninjago Movie," OK?
MONIQUE: Yes (laughter).
WELDON: You're somewhere in there?
MONIQUE: A perfect ratio of Lego movies (laughter).
WELDON: But here's the thing. This thing does not overstay its welcome - 44 minutes, in and out. It's amazing. It's, like, exactly as long as it needs to be.
MONIQUE: Yeah. And some of the turns are really great, where you're like, oh, I really wasn't expecting that to - even though, again, nothing wild or out of the ordinary is happening. But as you get into these characters and the different ages of these characters - even appearing, we see, at an age we've never seen them at on screen - that really tickled me. I was like, oh, man. And I think that's sort of the joy of these Lego movies, is they can take you to places you wouldn't normally go. Did you enjoy the way they blended some of those original elements into this?
WELDON: Well, I mean, let's talk, you and I. Let's pivot for a second to the 1978 "Star Wars Holiday Special."
MONIQUE: OK. All right.
WELDON: That special, the 1978 special, was a cash grab that neither George Lucas nor any of his people had much to do with. And whoo-boy (ph), it shows. It was astonishingly two hours long.
WELDON: And it crawls. I mean, it has this very old-school CBS variety show vibe. That's even before Harvey Korman shows up and Art Carney.
WELDON: I was this many years old, Joelle, when I learned that Bruce Vilanch was a co-writer. And it was like, oh, of course (laughter).
MONIQUE: OK. Well, now we're getting somewhere.
WELDON: The universe makes some sense again, doesn't it?
WELDON: OK. So here's the thing about that. The main cast of "Star Wars" was contractually obligated to appear, and Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher did so with gusto. Carrie Fisher gets a song at the end. Harrison Ford did so with whatever the opposite of gusto is. There's a lot of Wookiee grunts in this thing, too many Wookiee grunts. They're all at different pitches because they're different-aged characters. But it has a place in history because it introduced the character of Boba Fett in this very freaky cartoon.
Let's go through the plot, you and I. Real quick.
MONIQUE: Is there one? (Laughter).
WELDON: There is. Believe it or not, there's connective tissue - let's call it that. Chewie wants to go home to his family on Kashyyyk, although I think there's an imperial officer who calls it Kazook (ph) because the Empire is famously racist. And he wants to go home to celebrate Life Day. This is where we learn he's got a wife, he's got a pervy old dad, and he's got a kid. The kid's name is Lumpy. The dad's name is Itchy because, apparently, we name Wookiees after skin conditions. That's a thing we're doing.
WELDON: We see Chewie's home, and he lives inside this very bad matte painting of a house in the trees. There's that home entertainment system. Let's talk about what that home entertainment system plays.
WELDON: It's this freaky circus performance that is like "Cirque Du Soleil" meets "Studio 54" meets...
WELDON: ...Meets "Pippin."
MONIQUE: It's so - I was like, why are we doing "Pippin" in space?
WELDON: For 10 minutes, it goes on.
MONIQUE: What's happening?
WELDON: But if you hang in there, you get a Bea Arthur musical...
WELDON: ...Number where she plays the proprietress of the Mos Eisley Cantina. She gets a number that's really just the Star Wars Cantina song slowed down - way, way down - to turn it into this - it's like a oom-pah (ph) number. It's like a German beer hall thing that turns out to be pretty good because it's Bea Arthur, and she's a pro.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL")
BEA ARTHUR: (As Ackmena, singing) Just one more round, friend. Then homeward bound, friend. Don't forget me in your dreams. Just one more song, friend. And then so long, friend.
MONIQUE: The way she makes this song anything is - like, the woman is talented because she - the lines they give her, the things they ask her to do are beyond ridiculous and boring. And she imbues so much life and character. It's very, like, Old West saloon Broadway number.
WELDON: Yes, absolutely.
MONIQUE: It's like, here are all the characters. She's closing down her shop for the night, shows a little bit of the danger outside of the Cantina. But, mostly, it's just about who is this woman and what is her relationship to her patrons, right? She made that. That's not in the script (laughter). She made it into that. And I, like, instantly was like, I should know more about this character. What does she do? What happens to her when the Empire does their full invasion? I really enjoy this number, and I should not have (laughter). They did not earn this.
WELDON: Yeah, yeah. Same, same, same. It was, like, such a reward for slogging through so much Wookiee grunts. But it was broadcast one and only one time, November '78. Lucas ordered it wiped from the Jedi archives.
WELDON: It's like Kamino - it's gone. But, of course, it started appearing in bootlegs at cons, which made their way online, and you can now find it online. I won't tell you how, but I'll hint - don't start looking on me-tube (ph).
WELDON: But for a thing that has been so disavowed, so much of this new special's DNA is right there. We get cameos from Chewie's family. The whole concept of Life Day comes from this '78 special. So, I mean, what do you think about how much we're reclaiming of a thing that was so disdained for so long?
MONIQUE: See? This is the beauty of being a Star Wars fan. We will take anything you give us. We don't care how trash it is.
MONIQUE: And we will make it into something. I've been hearing about "The Star Wars Christmas Special" for years. Like, it's a thing of lore. If you're a young Star Wars fan, you've probably heard before, like, oh, it was awful and everyone - such a disappointment after - because this comes out after "A New Hope," which basically means it's leaving you with, like - "A New Hope" is, in my opinion, the third greatest of the original trilogy. Like, it's classic. It's got a lot of movements. But it's kind of slow in spaces. But if you're a kid around this time, it's, like, the best thing ever.
And so then you find out, like, you can just watch TV; you don't have to go back to a theater. Remember, kids - this is before streaming. This is before video stores. So you're really clinging to whatever kind of Star Wars you can get your hands on. Kids, when I tell you it's so bad (laughter) - it's so bad, but I understand the desire to be like, there's something in this, yet - there's, like, Boba Fett is cool and a traitor. And, like, Chewie has a family, so now, like, his fighting for the war becomes something completely different. Before it was, like, two buddies on the road, but now he's doing it to defend his family.
It enriches the universe. And as Star Wars fans, this is all we crave. It's just, please, build out, fill in this glorious universe we have. And so I understand. And I - like, I think there's something - even in the faults of Star Wars, you have to love all of it. It's a prerequisite to being, you know, a fan to this day and age. Like, you have to love every part of it.
WELDON: (Laughter) I mean, I really thought this was going to be more of a riff on the original '78 Star Wars special. I thought was going to be a full-throated reclaiming of it. I was hoping for a Lego Bea Arthur.
WELDON: We don't get it. But what we get - I agree with you, Joelle - is very, very cute. So we want to know what you think about "The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special." Find us on facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Joelle, thanks for being here. May the Force be with you.
MONIQUE: And also with you, Glen.
WELDON: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you all tomorrow.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.