Go inside the making of the spine-tingling special, streaming now on Disney+.
The galaxy far, far away is getting a little scarier this Halloween. Lucasfilm and The LEGO® Group have just unleashed LEGO Star Wars Terrifying Tales on Disney+, a Halloween-themed special in the tradition of frighteningly fun animated celebrations of the past. But in a way, its origins stem from a different holiday season and special altogether.
“The idea to do a Halloween special sprung directly from the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special and all the success that came of that on Disney+,” executive producer Josh Rimes of Lucasfilm tells StarWars.com. “Much like holiday specials of the past, we started thinking about, ‘What else from our childhoods do we remember?’ And it was very natural to go to Halloween.”
Ken Cunningham returned to helm Terrifying Tales, having directed last year’s Holiday Special. For Cunningham, it was a chance to blend two things he loves. “I was 10 when Star Wars came out. I probably saw it in the theater 20 times,” Cunningham says. “I was a huge Star Wars geek as a kid. Still am. But that was really seminal for me. So when the opportunity came up to do the Holiday Special, it was kind of a dream come true. And then in terms of horror films, I was like, a teenager in the ‘80s. At that point in my life, I was watching a lot of that stuff. Lost Boys was big for me, Poltergeist. A lot of these films. And then, from a filmmaking standpoint, to be able to open that up and play with it was really cool.”
The creative team looked at influences as wide-ranging as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown to The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror” specials to Tales from the Crypt, as well as IDW Publishing’s Tales from Vader’s Castle all-ages comics. This witches’ brew led to what would become LEGO Star Wars Terrifying Tales, set after the sequel trilogy, in which Poe Dameron and BB-8 crash land on the lava planet of Mustafar and make their way to Darth Vader’s former fortress. There they encounter Graballa the Hutt, who’s trying to turn the castle into a not-quite upscale resort, the good-hearted but impressionable Dean, and Vaneé, Vader’s old servant who’s clearly not secretly evil at all. As they explore Vader’s castle, Vaneé treats our heroes to three scary stories, though Poe, BB-8, and Dean soon learn they’re in the middle of their own terrifying tale. The special has just the right amount of creepy atmosphere, but also tons of in-jokes and LEGO Star Wars’ hallmark irreverent humor. The team made it a priority to strike that balance of frights and fun, making sure parents and their children could enjoy Terrifying Tales together.
“As an employee of The LEGO Group I always have my ‘LEGO hat’ on for any piece of content I’m involved in to make sure things don’t go too far, and you know it when you see it,” says executive producer Jason Cosler. “Our core audience will always be kids. But I think kids are also smarter and more sophisticated than we give them credit for, too. All that said, I think kids like to be scared a little bit! Once they realize there’s nothing to be scared of, it becomes kind of fun.”
“It’s just always paying attention to that, not pushing too far with it, and always trying to look at it from an audience point of view,” says Cunningham. “And I’ve got an 11-year-old daughter who’s sensitive to stuff, so for me, that’s kind of always my gauge. I try to put myself in her point of view and filter stuff through that.”
Vaneé’s yarns cover all eras of the Star Wars films, an intentional move by the producers so that there’s something for everyone, no matter which Star Wars is their favorite. Every story comes from known lore, but Vaneé takes some liberties with the facts: There’s “The Lost Boy,” a tale of Ben Solo’s induction into the Knights of Ren; General Grievous and Maul in competition to recover an ancient lightsaber in “Duel of the Monstrosities”; and Luke Skywalker joining the Empire in “The Wookiee’s Paw.” And in what will surely please longtime genre fans, each takes its cue from a classic horror film or TV show, while dropping many more horror references throughout.
“It was a lot of fun!” says Cosler. “It didn’t take long for us to agree on what each of the three sub-stories should pay homage to given the characters we are using. The first story with the Knights of Ren fits perfectly with The Lost Boys given the group dynamic, the second story with Maul and Grievous is an homage to Frankenstein, and the last story with Luke and Vader is an homage to The Monkey’s Paw and a little Twilight Zone.”
“All those tones really add up to something special,” adds Rimes. “To something that really affects our characters in Vader’s castle in an interesting way.” And key to fitting those tones was the casting, exemplified in the actor bringing one particular villain to life.
The beloved Christian Slater plays Ren, leader of a dark-side gang who tries to seduce Ben Solo to his ranks in “The Lost Boy.” With the story taking clear inspiration from The Lost Boys, the creators of Terrifying Tales wanted someone to play Ren that brings the weight of that era with them. Slater fit the bill, but there was also some mutual admiration. “We knew Christian has always been a big Star Wars fan and has loved what we do in animation. This was the perfect opportunity to bring him in and let him have some fun,” says Rimes. “Ken did such a great job stylizing “The Lost Boy” that you really feel the appreciation for movies like The Lost Boys and other ‘80s horror movies, synth-pop training montage and all. So we asked ourselves, ‘Who’s a great ‘80s icon?’ And Christian has such an amazing voice, that it felt so right for someone intoxicating and scary, but also just really cool, for Ren.”
And then there’s Vaneé, the big bad of the entire special. Voicing the dark-side devotee is Tony Hale, forever immortal to a generation of comedy nerds thanks to his turn as Buster on Arrested Development. But you won’t find a trace of the youngest Bluth brother here, as Hale’s Vaneé oozes evil and loves it. From the sound of it, Hale truly inhabited the role with abandon. “Watching him in the record, the way he physicalizes things, that really informed a lot of the way we approached [Vaneé] in animation,” says Cunningham. “It was great.”
Generations of Star Wars fans grew up with Halloween specials but never had one of their own for the galaxy far, far away. Finally, that’s changed. “This is very special for us,” says Rimes. “We hope this becomes a perennial event on Disney+, where families can get together every Halloween and watch this.”
“Back when I was a kid, that was the thing. They had these holiday specials and you grew up with that. That seems to have fallen away at a certain point, I’m not really sure why,” adds Cunningham. “It’s pretty cool to be able to give that to a younger generation.”
“It means the world to me,” says Cosler. “Knowing that this is out now and it has the possibility of becoming part of someone’s, or part of a family’s yearly Halloween tradition is something very special. When the Holiday Special came out last year, I had several friends text me pictures of their kids in front of the TV watching it, telling me that it was their first introduction to Star Wars. That’s pretty cool, that’s special. Maybe that happens with this one, too.”