Debuting on Friday, November 25, the Holiday Special is the second-to-last Guardians project helmed by writer and director (and new DC Studios co-head) James Gunn.
The final will be the long-awaited Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 which arrives in theaters on May 5, 2023.
Still, this isn't the first time MCU fans have seen the Guardians this year.
The misfit crew briefly appeared in July's Thor: Love and Thunder before Thor Odinson set off on his own personal quest.
However, quite a bit has happened to the Guardians following their Thor 4 cameos; and according to James Gunn, the Holiday Special will acquaint audiences with those changes ahead of Vol. 3.
Three Ways the Guardians of the Galaxy Have Changed
In talking with Comicbook.com's Phase Zero, James Gunn shared how The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special updates audiences on "where the Guardians have been in the past few years," as well as changes to the crew.
When asked just how important the Holiday Special is ahead of Vol. 3, Gunn previewed three of these changes, including the fact that the Guardians now "inhabit Knowhere," have a new ship called "the Bowie," and even gained a new crew member:
"Well, I always try to be balanced with these things. So I think it’s wonderful people should see the Holiday Special a lot about where the Guardians have been in the past few years. So you’re gonna see how they now inhabit Knowhere, they’ve got a new ship called the Bowie…"
The Bowie is likely a reference to artist David Bowie and keeps with Star-Lord's tradition of naming ships after past icons, such as the Milano for actress Alyssa Milano and the Benatar for singer Pat Benatar.
The Knowhere reveal, however, is particularly interesting.
Not only is it the last place where Peter Quill saw his version of Gamora, but Knowhere is also the severed head of a Celestial, beings which were recently explored in 2021's Eternals.
But despite how significant these changes are for the Guardians, neither was mentioned in Thor 4.
They also weren't the only updates the director has made.
In fact, according to Gunn, "a dog" has joined the crew and it has "telekinesis:"
"...a dog is part of their crew now, [and] it has telekinesis, named Cosmo. So, you get to learn all that and then there’s a couple of bigger pieces of spoiler-y lore you’re gonna learn."
The director went on to explain how the Holiday Special serves as exposition or "Trojan horse for me to sneak in stuff" ahead of Vol. 3:
"All of those things, in a way, the Holiday Special was a Trojan horse for me to sneak in stuff that becomes important in Vol. 3 so I don’t have to spend a lot of time at the start of that movie explaining it. It’s also very, very different than Vol. 3."
As for those differences, Gunn notes that the threequel is "very, very emotional." Therefore, getting to shoot the Holiday Special allowed him and the cast the sensation of "snow days" or "recess" from the 2023's film's heavy material:
"Because Vol. 3 is a very, very emotional movie. And it tells this story about Rocket, and where he came from, and where he’s going, and how that ties into everybody else, and the end of this iteration of the Guardians. And so doing this goofy thing like once every four days and going, and shooting four days of Guardians Vol. 3, and then going back. It almost created a lot of whiplash. But it was also almost like the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special days were like snow days. That was recess. That was fun.”
Gunn provided more details about his "whiplash" shoot, and its additional benefits, to The Hollywood Reporter, including the ability to utilize Vol. 3 sets for the Disney+ special:
"I shot them simultaneously. One of the great benefits of the special was being able to introduce elements into the movie that I don’t have to then explain at the beginning of the movie, such as Cosmo the Spacedog [Maria Bakalova] or the fact that they live in the Head of Knowhere, their new residence, or introducing their spaceship, the Bowie, which, in real life, is this four-story set. It’s the most amazing set I’ve ever been on, and so we were able to utilize those sets that we had the money to build for Vol. 3, in the special. We otherwise wouldn’t have had that type of money to build these million-dollar sets."
This isn't the first time the Guardians director has lauded the new set.
In responding to a fan on Twitter, Gunn credited Beth Mickle and her team for the four-story Bowie, calling it the "most magnificent and beautiful set I've ever been on:"
"Yes. Designed by Beth Mickle and her team, the Bowie set (and ship) is four interconnected stories, and was probably the most magnificent and beautiful set I've ever been on in my life. Even up close, it felt like a working ship."
Is The Guardians Holiday Special Required Viewing?
It certainly sounds like it.
Not only was the special filmed in conjunction with Vol. 3, but Gunn said himself that it allowed him to "sneak in stuff that becomes important in Vol. 3."
Knowing about these changes or "stuff" ahead of the threequel is sure to enhance that film's viewing experience.
After all, given how the Guardians were just in Love and Thunder, fans who skip the Disney+ special will surely be confused as to why there's a new ship and a talking dog with telekinetic powers.
Also, it's worth noting that the Holiday Special's role in setting up Vol. 3 is huge for the MCU's newest category on Disney+, Marvel Studios Special Presentations.
While the Guardians Holiday Special is only the second-ever project under this header, its connectivity to a tentpole film is sure to elevate the category in audiences' eyes.
Finally, Gunn's hype over the Bowie sets bodes well for the special's production and its connection to the threequel, especially since both projects were filmed at the same time.
It will be interesting to see how the Disney+ special dovetails into the 2023 film and if the benefits of a simultaneous shoot come across on screen.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special debuts on Disney+ on Friday, November 25.