Look up The Star Wars Holiday Special on Disney+ and you won’t find anything. Less remembered for being the first on-screen appearance of Boba Fett, more for the scene where Chewbacca’s dad watched porn, Disney’s 1978 Christmas cringe-fest is now an embarrassing curio that the studio is trying really hard to bury (thank the Maker for YouTube…)
What it did do, though, is inspire a generation of fans to find the weird and kitsch side of the force – among them James Gunn, whose own Guardians Of The Galaxy films became an alt-Star Wars saga that still holds up the best corner of the MCU. Now finally allowed to make his own holiday special (a few years, pandemics, and studio controversies late), Gunn’s Guardians Christmas Carol is just as odd, fun and ironically tacky as you’d expect it to be.
Peter (Chris Pratt) is sad. It’s December on Earth and he’s thinking about all the Christmases he missed because he was kidnapped by aliens as a boy and forced into a life of space piracy. The Guardians are all family now and they want to make it up to him, so Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) decide to get him the one thing he hasn’t stopped talking about since the ’80s – Footloose star Kevin Bacon. Cue a quick trip down to Hollywood for a bit of old-fashioned Yuletide kidnapping.
As left field as it is, The Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special somehow still manages to walk the line between big-buck blockbuster spectacle and something genuinely sweet and heartwarming. It’s funny – the funniest slice of Marvel since the last GOTG film – but it also wears its heart proudly, which isn’t an easy tone to nail with so many baubles to juggle.
This is, after all, not just any stand-alone Christmas special. Serving as the epilogue to Phase Four as well as the prologue to Phase Five, there’s still a lot of old gaps to fill and new story to prep. Cosmo The Spacedog is now part of the team, Groot is a teenage tree, and the Guardians have a new ship (“The Bowie”) to operate out of Knowhere. None of it will make much sense to anyone who isn’t already a fan, but Gunn keeps the plot just light enough to make sure it’ll still stand up to a rewatch again next year after Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 is out.
And then there’s the soundtrack. Where Star Wars infamously roped Jefferson Starship into playing an awkward hologram set, here Gunn asks alt-country friends Old 97’s to appear as as Knowhere’s resident alien band (with support from Bacon on vocals). Cueing up another ‘Awesome Mix’ that deserves to be played around every family dinner table this year, Gunn fills the film with the best alternative Christmas hits – including LOW, Hanoi Rocks, The Wombats, Fountains Of Wayne, Smashing Pumpkins and Julian Casablancas.
The music is great. Everyone has a laugh. A few people get really hurt. And the person paying for it all gets roasted for something embarrassing they did in the ’70s. What could feel more like Christmas?
- Director: James Gunn
- Starring: Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Kevin Bacon
- Release date: November 25 (Disney+)