‘Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ Is One Goofy Season’s Greetings From the MCU

ptk1570_comp_fra_v0060_r709_a1c0fd53c - Credit: Marvel Studios
ptk1570_comp_fra_v0060_r709_a1c0fd53c - Credit: Marvel Studios

An entire generation was scarred on November 17th, 1978, a date that will live in infamy. That was the Friday evening that CBS pre-empted two hours of its regularly scheduled programming to bring you the following special: A holiday-themed variety show set in the universe of…Star Wars. The following year, George Lucas’ repurposing of spare sci-fi/war movie parts into the most impactful cosmic saga of the 20th century had become pop culture manna. A sequel would still be two years away. People were so hungry for Star Wars-related “content” that they would even give up their weekly fix of Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk. (The irony of serialized superhero stories being paused for a different intellectual property’s “event” is pure, uncut [chef’s kiss]. Say hello to the 21st century, showing up on your television screen 22 years early.)

Those who tuned in that night have since forgiven the creatives responsible for this atrocity, but they have never forgotten. It was as if Star Wars fanatics had wished upon a monkey’s paw: Ok, you wanted more detours through a galaxy far, far away, here you go. An entire 10-minute sequence soundtracked by Wookie grunts. Chewbacca relatives nicknamed “Itchy” and “Lumpy.” Harvey Korman playing not one, not two, but three different roles, including a Julia Child-ish chef with six arms. Future Golden Girl “Beatrice” Arthur bartending in the Mos Eisely cantina, Diahann Carroll as a Solid Gold-dancer-hologram in elderly Wookie VR porn, and a musical number from the Jefferson Starship, because space. Some associated with it have tried to disavow its existence entirely, as if by Jedi mind trick (this is not the huge franchise mistake you’re looking for). The special aired in its entirety exactly once, though a cartoon segment introducing Boba Fett has now become canon and bootlegs have circulated for decades. Its reputation is well-earned.

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Director James Gunn is a sincere, self-confessed fan of that vintage gift from the Lucasfilm magi, however, and while there’s no equivalent of a “Life Day” in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, you can sense the influence of the legendary cult classic all over his season’s greetings from the MCU. (It drops on Disney+ on November 25th.) If anything, you wish he’d leaned even more into the campier aspects of that Wookie-centric misfire, and this subgenre in general. Much like Gunn’s Guardians movies reclaimed classic-rock cheese whiz and recycled those tunes as wink-nudge retro, this goof on old-school specials is one part cheekiness and one part unbridled nostalgia. Remember those silly-as-hell one-offs when your favorite characters got together and discovered the true meaning of Christmas, etc.? Man, those were ridiculous. And also, don’t you kind of miss them?

Set on the remote spaceport known as Knowhere, the GOTGHS kicks off with an animated vignette that purposefully calls to mind “The Faithful Wookiee” segment from the ’78 special. It seems that once upon a time, the late ravager Yondu ruined the Christmas spirit for everyone. Ever since then, says his former running buddy Kraglin (Sean Gunn), the holiday season has been just another series of glum days in a row. Personally, his audience — Drax (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Nebula (Karen Gillian) — could care less about yuletide affectations. There’s a lot to do to get this podunk town they inherited from the Collector in shape. Besides, all that deck-the-halls shit is so mushy!

But Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), is still bummed out about the whole thing with his dad (long story) and is still missing Gamora (even longer story), and Mantis is worried that this impending December 25th is just going to make their earthling friend even sadder. So she and Drax decide to cheer him up with a special gift. What do you get the cosmos-hopping do-gooder who has everything? The answer, according to Drax, is “a legendary hero who’s saved countless lives!” He is referring, of course, to Footloose actor and movie star Kevin Bacon. It just requires a little bit of last-minute space travel, some mind control and a tiny bit of intergalactic kidnapping.

What, you expected A Charlie Brown Christmas 2.0? The Guardians movies have always operated in the more absurd corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — irreverence was built into the group’s onscreen existence from Day One — which gives Gunn a sort of anything-goes hall pass when it comes to the proceedings. You want the Old 97s (?!?) to show up in heavy alien make-up and sing original, alt-country ditties about Santa being a “a furry freak with crazy superpowers”? Boom. How about subjecting an extremely game Bacon to a host of insults about how horrible and useless actors are? Sold. Would you care to have Drax and Mantis battling a host of LAPD cops in a miniature MCU action sequence, in between doing their dumb-and-dumber double act? Take a look under the tree, it’s right there!

What you get, in other words, is more or less what you’d think a holiday special from Gunn and the Guardians would be. Even the special’s soundtrack is on-brand, forgoing the usual standards for a playlist that kicks off with the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” and arguably peaks with Julian Casablancas covering this deadpan SNL carol. Sure, you’ll miss Pratt’s minimal contributions if you blink, and the small bits with Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Racoon, Vin Diesel’s surly teen Groot and Maria Baklova’s Cosmos the Telepathic Soviet Spacedog feel more like contractural contributions than anything else. Ten bucks and a tiny tinsel-strewn tree says that Bacon agreed to do it only if they let him sing, which explains why he and an extraterrestrial Rhett Miller get a climactic duet. But if the sight of Drax grinning like an idiot while wearing a garish sweater featuring a bear shooting lasers out of its eyes, then it seems your Christmas came early this year.

It all ends happily, sappily ever after, as such things should. And if you wish it had upped the outrageous ante a tad, pushed a few more Christmas-card envelopes, had a little more of the gonzo spirit that’s made the Guardians of the Galaxy movies a breath of fresh franchise air, look on the bright side. No one grunts a single word in Wookie. Not once.

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