I’ve spent a lot of the last six months working through my list of 100* favorite movies of all-time, and this is a chance for me to stretch my writing muscles. Instead of focusing on the very best of cinema, let’s explore a mediocre Star Wars holiday special.
First, it’s worth nothing Life Day was an important part of the first holiday special, one that aired 42 years ago on CBS in front of over 40 million people. Audiences struggled through 15 minutes of unsubtitled wookie conversation, Harrison Ford looking like he had no interest in being there, and Bea Arthur** stealing the show by earnestly singing a song in the Mos Eisley Cantina. The people behind this special lowered the stakes quite a bit by making it a lego animated special.
Set around the first celebration of Life Day since whatever version of the empire versus rebel conflict has ended, Rey is training force sensitive Finn and once again is trying to find her way in the world and searches around for a mentor. The special takes us around the world of the franchise and shows other characters preparing to celebrate Life Day on the Millenium Falcon. They even paid Kelly Marie Tran to utter more dialogue here than she did in Rise of Skywalker! Without further adieu, here are my top five takeaways.
5. The Dead Speak!
I can never forgive the people behind Star Wars for starting the final movie in their franchise with this opening line that somehow references a speech Palpatine made in Fortnite. This special chooses to use time travel and resurrect a number of characters for the purpose of making a bunch of inside jokes and continued references to better movies. You’ve got a young Luke Skywalker being treated like a child. There are two Han Solos talking about shooting first. Palpatine is used once again and sounds like Seth McFarlane’s portrayal in Robot Chicken. Oh, and there’s Vader. He doesn’t even do anything cool, which at least marginally justified his presence in Rogue One. This was just a bizarre use of character. There are a ton of callbacks to other movies, and I had a difficult time really engaging with the special because it’s once again Star Wars being self-referential and eating its own tail. It was weird for this special to be so up its own butt, which leads to my next takeaway.
**I’ll commit to many hot takes, but you’ll never read me besmirching the queen Bea Arthur.
4. This special didn’t know who its audience was.
Here’s the thing. If you want to make a straight-up kiddie movie with the characters as legos, that’s fine. I’m 35 and white. I don’t need to be pandered to anymore than I have already have. Are the kids really laughing at the two Han Solos? Do they understand what the Emperor and Vader are babbling about? As goofy as Poe is in this special, I can at least understand how he might entertain the youngsters. Much of this special feels otherwise obtuse. Lucasfilm continues to struggle with what Star Wars is versus what it needs to be moving forward. Finn is revealed to be force sensitive and is even training. This was apparently what Finn wanted to tell Rey about, but it was more important to tease Chewbacca’s death and go after multiple McGuffins instead. The storytelling is all over the place and has been since Disney took over. The most consistent Star Wars has been comes courtesy of the first live action television series in Star Wars history.
3. The Mandolorian is the immediate future of Star Wars.
For better or worse, The Mandalorian is the best place for these stories to incubate. While I cannot pretend the show is high art, Jon Favreau has gone out of his way to make this feel like a really expensive episodic television show, and I mean that a compliment. There have been some fair jokes about the series sometimes feeling like action figures on video game quests , but season two is hinting at some greater lore. They’ve built out the universe with effective guest star casting. Dave Filoni creations such as Ahsoka Tano and Bo Katan are welcome additions to the universe, not just because they’re female, but because they’re easily enveloped in the canonical wars faught in these stars.
This show is certainly not perfectly and at times can fall into the same traps as so many other projects. However, Baby Yoda has legitimately captured the imagination of audiences and Mandalorian’s characterization has improved a great deal. We may see some spin-offs come from this show. Deborah Chow was given a show of her own to direct thanks to the success of her specific episode. There are a lot of positive aspects to discuss when it comes to this show.
2. Disney+ is the best venue for Star Wars the next five years.
Warner Bros. recently announced it was going to put its entire 2021 slate on its streaming site. Disney has announced an emphasis on its own service. We don’t even know what the theater experience will look like by end of the year. Even if AMC is able to open in the spring or summer, will it be able to generate enough revenue to survive. That’s not to mention the numerous other chains and independent theater chains.
A number of other series have already been announced, and I think allowing the most recent trilogy to simply fade from people’s memories will be for the best. I loved The Last Jedi, but after watching Rise of Skywalker, I’m not eager to see Abrams or Star Wars In theaters anytime soon. For the cost of a streaming service, I’ll absolutely watch Star Wars television shows. They’re being budgeted well and generally have the right people behind them. If The Mandalorian is a disappointment, at least my money is going for a service as opposed to a movie.
The future of movie theaters being in question along with no definitive direction for this universe means the best thing to do is let Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni cook for a bit before announcing another full trilogy or any of the other numerous projects are official.
1. The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special was not deserving of an article like this.
Look, I set out to copy Mike Thomas, and this 45 minutes simple wasn’t deserving of five takeaways. It’s a harmless special that I’m sure millions of families and kids have already enjoyed… AND THAT’S FINE! I like when people like things, even if I don’t. At a certain point, I made the choice to discuss other more general Star Wars issues and use the special as a leaping off point. I like The Mandorlian for what it is and think Filoni has a pretty good handle on how to improve the margins of this universe. Favreau seems like a good interim steward, but I don’t know what the long term future of Star Wars is. It feels like we’re back in the mid-1980s or the late 2000s all over again, but instead of RPGs and books, there are television shows and video games.