Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Screen capture from the new trailer (Courtesy Disney+)



On Thanksgiving Day, Disney+ released The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, a 44-minute short written and directed (as the Guardian movies have been) by James Gunn. In it, “the Guardians, who are on a mission to make Christmas unforgettable for Quill, head to Earth in search of the perfect present.”

Nearly a year ago I was an extra (“background”) for the third Guardian movie, shot in Atlanta and due to be released in May 2023. When filming for that portion wrapped, producers asked if we wanted to stay on another week or more to shoot the holiday special. I had been away from home most of a month and had chronic sinus issues from dust on the set and the artificial smoke machines. I was sick of lugging a canvas bag the size of a large duffle as part of my costume everywhere I went. It was held together with sharp baling wire and contained nothing more than a collapsing cardboard box and wads of newspaper that gave the bag an ungainly shape, and I grew to hate it. I declined to stay.

Of course, the opening shot of the holiday special features some random guy, dressed in a costume similar to the one I wore, holding my bag. The bag just came from a prop shed filled with hundreds of bits of space junk and other bags assigned at random to extras on the first day. But that was my bag, and once given it, I was responsible for it and was required to have it with me at all times for continuity’s sake.

(In the non-existent backstory for my character, and depending on the chronology of the holiday special within the movie’s events, I apparently bought, was given, or stole the bag from that dude after arriving in Knowhere. I like the idea of stolen, though I regret my character not stealing a better or smaller bag, which would have made easier to lug around for weeks, including to the trailer toilets.)

Another reason I did not stick around for the filming of the special is that I was wary of what weird or unsavory things comic-book violence would make when mixed with a TV sensibility of Christmas. Chris Pratt is outspoken about his faith, and I was not interested in what a young man on the extras bus described as the potential for a holiday special that would bring proselytizers from Earth “to impose their colonizer religion on a camp filled with dirty war refugees.”

I need not have worried. There is only one hint of weirdness in a scene with baby Jesus in his manger. Mostly, it is the characters doing what you would expect those characters to say and do if you are a fan; Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) overplays his repeated gag of laughing at violence and others’ pain and then pretending to be sheepish about it in front of his disapproving friends. The special includes a couple of mild surprises, one of which looks like a rip-off of Star Wars and has to do with two characters who turn out to have the same father and did not know they were related. The guest star meant to bring hope (for added interest in the special) was okay too.

There is some confusion when Kraglin (played by James Gunn’s brother, Sean) calls Quill (Chris Pratt), also known as “Star Lord,” “the most important hero in the galaxy,” which seems a little cross-purpose to something announcing itself as being about the meaning of Christmas. But as usual “Christmas” here means nothing more than strings of multicolored lights and gift-giving. For today’s streaming purposes, that is considered a respectful job well done, especially if there are attempts at semi-positive messages safeguarded with ironies.

The special is better than, say, the Star Wars Holiday Special, infamous for how bad it was, but not as good as Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special. (Pee-wee resurrected the genre from the Osmonds and Star Wars by his signature sincerity, wonder, and kitsch.)

Mostly I enjoyed seeing my mates again from the extras gig, some of whom I got to know pretty well, and to see the set again, decorated differently. My bag’s got a brand-new papa.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.