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What Critics Are Saying About Marvel's New Holiday Special

James Gunn has a present for 'Guardians of the Galaxy' fans.

If you subscribe to Disney+, you can get all the “Star Wars” programming you could possibly ever want, including the full first full season of the acclaimed series “Andor.” 

You can get all of the movies, event TV series like “Obi-Wan Kenobi” and countless cartoons and other ancillary shows. 

But there’s one thing you won’t find on Disney+  (DIS) - Get Free Report: the “Star Wars Holiday Special.” 

Broadcast one time on CBS in 1978, a year after the film (now retroactively titled “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope”) was released, the special is a notoriously strange affair. The plot, as such, centers on Han Solo’s attempts to get Chewbacca back home to his family to celebrate Life Day. Large swaths of the story is told completely via Wookie grunts. Art Carney is in it, for some reason. 

Jefferson Starship appears in hologram form to do a song, There’s juggling, for some reason, and Bea Arthur shows up to sing. So does Carrie Fisher, who sings the "Happy Life Day" song over the “Star Wars” theme. There’s also a holographic phone sex scene. The ‘70s were a wild time.

It’s an infamously ramshackle affair, one that Star Wars creator George Lucas was reportedly barely involved with, beyond his insistence that it focus on the Wookie culture. He later expressed deep embarrassment at the special’s existence. "If I had the time and a sledgehammer," Lucas has said, "I would track down every copy of that show and smash it."

The special was never rebroadcast, but was passed around as an object of curiosity amongst Star Wars fans, first via dubbed video cassettes at comic conventions, and later via BitTorrent. It’s unknown if, as a condition of Disney’s $4 billion purchase of the “Star Wars” franchise, whether Lucas insisted that the holiday special never be officially released. Though who would be surprised if that were the case?

But nevertheless, the specials’ deep strangeness and beyond corny belief in the power of Life Day left an impression on fans, one of whom was James Gunn, the director of Marvel’s “Guardian of the Galaxy” films, who was recently hired to oversee Warner’s DC Comics films. 

Gunn has said that the upcoming “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special,” which will premiere on Disney+ the day after Thanksgiving, is heavily inspired by the “Star Wars Holiday Special.” So that’s a sign that things are about to get wild, even by Gunn’s standards.

James Gunn Is Marvel’s Comedic Secret Weapon

Before Gunn was hired by Marvel, he had written the script for the live-action “Scooby-Doo” film and wrote and directed the 2005 horror comedy “Slither” and the 2010 indie superhero parody “Super.” 

The 2014 “Guardians of the Galaxy,” co-written and directed by Gunn, was a surprise hit, and proof that Marvel could turn characters unknown outside of comic fan circles into household names, with the right creative team at the helm. 

A mixture of humor, character development and action has been the core approach of Marvel Comics since Stan Lee created “Spider-Man” in 1963, and it’s an approach that carried over the movies. (Though some fans complain that the films get a bit too quippy.) Gunn pushed that approach to the max, as “Guardians” featured several running jokes and near vaudeville-esque comic set pieces, while still delivering the pathos and thrills required of these films.

Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special Lead KL 112222

The 44-minute “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special,” is set to be the closest thing the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made to a straight comedy, with a plot line revolving around Chris Pratt’s character Peter Quill’s obsession with Kevin Bacon. The special was filmed alongside next year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” and is said to be the culmination of Marvel’s current Phase Four.

What Are Critics Saying About The ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’?

While a holiday special isn’t designed to be one of the more pivotal entrees in the ongoing Marvel franchise, critics have noted that it does introduce a few plot elements and characters that will likely be explored in the third “Guardians” installment, and that once again Gunn has shown a flair for combining comedy with swashbuckling, space opera action that Lucas, for all his genius, could never match.

Variety calls the special an "instant classic" and "one of the best pieces of content Marvel Studios has released in years."

The Mary Sue writer Rachel Leishman loved the special, deeming it a great showcase for the character Mantis, played by Pom Klementieff.

I09 calls it a "a heartwarming and entertaining but slightly superfluous experience."

Consequence respects that the film pays off a running gag from the "Guardians" films that's been eight years in the making.

Rolling Stone says special is worth it for the image of Drax the Destroyer in a Christmas sweater.

Screenrant liked it well enough, but calls it a bit slight.