Inside the Heart of the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special

Lucasfilm’s James Waugh and Josh Rimes talk to StarWars.com about the upcoming Disney+ release -- which may become a new holiday viewing tradition for fans of LEGO bricks and blasters.

Star Wars has always been a genre mashup. Samurai films, Westerns, and Saturday matinee serials are all part of the magic mix of the saga. And over the years, Star Wars has infused everything from monster movies (Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ “The Zillo Beast”) to straight-up gothic horror (IDW Publishing’s Tales from Vader’s Castle series). But now, something new — and definitely unexpected — is inspiring the galaxy far, far away.

“We found ourselves talking about holiday specials,” James Waugh, vice president, franchise content and strategy at Lucasfilm, tells StarWars.com, “and the heritage of sitting down and watching holiday specials every year, and how beloved and timeless those things are. When looking at what to do next with LEGO Star Wars, it kind of went from there.”

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special key art

That brainstorm eventually led to the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, coming to Disney+ on November 17 — the day our galaxy observes the now-canonical Star Wars holiday of Life Day. The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special picks up post-Episode IX and finds Rey continuing her Jedi training. She comes upon something mystical in a Jedi temple that sends her hurtling through time, meeting Star Wars legends and visiting places of the past — but still, she must get back home for Life Day. The cast features many returning fan favorites, including Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico, Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, as well as several Star Wars: The Clone Wars vets: Matt Lanter (Anakin Skywalker), Tom Kane (Yoda, along with Qui-Gon Jinn), James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), and Dee Bradley Baker (clone troopers) are all back. “We’re particularly thrilled that these great actors from the Star Wars family chose to reprise their roles and came to play in this LEGO sandbox,” Josh Rimes, director of animation development at Lucasfilm, says.

A scene from The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special

The creative team looked at their own favorite holiday classics, from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, for inspiration. And what they found was that that kind of storytelling was a surprisingly good fit for Star Wars. “I think what aligns so much about these specials with Star Wars is that, at the end of the day, you don’t have a good Star Wars story if you don’t have heart. If you don’t have soul,” Waugh says. “And I think the reason those holiday stories are timeless is because there are lessons. Whether all of those specials are great or not, they are trying to warm you with a theme about being with your family, caring, loving others, being selfless. These are things that are automatically inherent to Star Wars. So we really wanted to anchor this with the idea of, ‘What is Rey missing right now?’ She is so focused on the burden of being the only Jedi in this new era and the duty of potentially passing on that knowledge. She’s missing the point that there still needs to be time to be with your friends and the family you’ve made.”

“She has a nice It’s a Wonderful Life moment,” says Rimes, “as she reflects on her own mistakes, her own teachings, and what it means to be a mentor.”

A scene from The LEGO Star Wars Holiday SpecialA scene from The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special

This kind of story and timeline crossover is uniquely suited to LEGO Star Wars, which has become something of a sub-brand, or sub-galaxy, all its own, proving to be a huge gateway into Star Wars for kids, but also popular with adults. It’s not hard to see why: Building sets are creative exercises, and LEGO Star Wars series and specials are routinely filled with jokes and gags, breaking of the fourth wall, and exciting action, but also respect for the source material.

“We were looking for new creative approaches now that Disney+ was out in the marketplace. We’ve done LEGO shorts and series before so we pushed ourselves to think more broadly,” says Rimes. “And the fact that we’re operating in the LEGO galaxy gave us license to lean into the fun and playfulness that’s critical when it came to thinking about exploring a new take on a Star Wars holiday special.”

A scene from The LEGO Star Wars Holiday SpecialA scene from The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special

“LEGO Star Wars has its own sense of humor, its own style, and creates a special opportunity to share something you love with your kids no matter the age,” Waugh says. “One thing that helped define how we approached this special was actually looking at how kids are playing with LEGO Star Wars. [In the Story Group], we’re in our canonical sense of building stories, which delineates certain characters and vehicles sets across different points of time. And when I’m watching my son play with them, and watching other kids play with them, that’s not the case. It’s more like, ‘I’m dumping all my LEGO Star Wars out, and I’m going to have the AT-AT fight battle droids from the prequels.’ It’s one of the cool things about bringing LEGO sets home. We were talking a lot about that, Josh and I, early on. ‘How do we craft a story that allows for that?’”

The goal became to bring over 40 years of Star Wars history together; or, dump all the toys on the floor.

“And there’s a moment,” Rimes adds. “We call it the ‘bucket dump’ moment.”

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar

LEGO Star Wars, as fans know, has its own holiday tradition: the LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar. In the spirit of LEGO Star Wars play and cleverness, Waugh and Rimes were determined to have it intertwine with their special. “We suddenly started thinking, ‘Well, this all makes sense.’ From there, we worked with LEGO to make sure that the Advent Calendar was truly integrated with the show. Both companies worked hard to create a connection and influence the other in the special and the product,” says Waugh. Indeed, the figures and trinkets included in the release will come straight from the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special. So kids and adults can experience the show through play, or create their own holiday story. Star Wars proper, of course, has its own history with holiday content — even though that history is somewhat checkered.

No discussion about the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special could happen without addressing the bantha in the room: 1978’s widely maligned The Star Wars Holiday Special. To put it simply, it is not good. It has never been officially released after its one-time airing on television. But the new special clearly borrows not just from the name of the original, but story elements it introduced, as well, including Life Day. Ever since its release, Lucasfilm seemed to have no interest in revisiting or even acknowledging The Star Wars Holiday Special. But time heals all lightsaber wounds, it seems.

“It was completely anathema to talk about doing a holiday special within the halls of Lucasfilm for years,” Waugh says. “But the truth is, it’s part of our tapestry. It’s part of our story. And fans have embraced it in a kind of ironic, fun way. And we’re not doing THE Holiday Special. It’s more honoring the elements of that holiday special that have lingered with the franchise. The truth is, Life Day is now in The Mandalorian. Life Day is celebrated at [Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge]. So, it’s part of our DNA and it was something to look back to.”

A scene from The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special

For people who love holiday specials, there’s no understating their importance. We watch them with family and friends as part of shared experiences and traditions. They teach us. And they form memories around holidays that we carry with us forever. Considering all this, Waugh and Rimes have high hopes for the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special.

“I hope that it becomes a family tradition and that it becomes part of the rotation,” says Rimes. “You know, you have Rudolph, Frosty, everything else. And you have the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special.”

“I want it to be timeless,” Waugh says. “That was always our hope. ‘Let’s try to make something that is as timeless and everlasting as those holiday specials we love.’ LEGO and Star Wars mean a lot to people’s lives. They mean a lot to my life. They’ve been woven into my life with my son. And so, hopefully, this becomes something like all those classic specials that people who love Star Wars, people who love LEGO, people who just enjoy holiday specials will sit down and watch every year. And it becomes part of their lives.”

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Epic Stories. Tons of TV. Live Sports.

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special arrives November 17 on Disney+.

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

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