If you were flipping through however many TV channels there were in 1978, when the Star Wars Holiday Special had its first and only airing, what would you have thought? Would you be confused by the celebrity cameos and musical numbers, wondering why people were so obsessed with that sci-fi movie if this is what it was like? Would you be annoyed by a production using the Star Wars name that bore so little resemblance to it?
Maybe you’d just delight in the absurdity of it, impressed by the confidence it takes to create something so audaciously silly. Odds are, no one will ever make something that bizarre with such well-known IP again, if only because every property as massive as Star Wars has to be a tightly controlled corporate franchise these days. But The CW and the producers of its Arrowverse (which has been rebranded as the CWverse, though that name has yet to really take) superhero shows have come closer than anyone ever has with the new TV special, Beebo Saves Christmas. Where the Star Wars special prompted the question “Why was this made?”, Beebo Saves Christmas makes you wonder how it was made it and just who let the creative team get away with it.
For those who aren’t invested in Arrowverse lore, Beebo Saves Christmas was spun out of a running joke on DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow, the show about loser superheroes traveling through time and trying to save the day without making anything worse. In one episode—arguably the show’s best—a talking Tickle Me Elmo-style toy called Beebo is sent back in time and ends up in the possession of Leif Erikson and a group of Vikings who worship the talking toy as their new god of war.
Beebo later returned in an episode where the Legends used magical gems to Voltron themselves into something strong enough to fight a giant demon, with the cuddly blue character somehow being their idea of the ultimate warrior. Since then, he’s just been an occasional Easter egg or reference point for the series.
Beebo Saves Christmas both assumes that you know all of that and couldn’t care less about it. The special exists entirely within the universe of Legends Of Tomorrow and never really breaks from that reality by referencing the Legends or characters from Arrow or The Flash. It never even stops to explain who Beebo is, because nobody in that universe would need an explanation—much like how a Sesame Street special would never bother introducing anyone to Elmo. It’s an hour-long advertisement for a toy that does not really exist, and it’s so committed to that bit that it doesn’t even bother promoting Legends Of Tomorrow.
At the same time, Beebo Saves Christmas is well made and holds its own as a legitimate holiday special. It has a message, songs, Santa Claus, funny new characters, and animation that is surprisingly good for how narrow its audience is likely to be. If you saw the episode while flipping through the channels in 2021 and had never seen Legends Of Tomorrow, you might believe Beebo is a popular new character with a whole line of cuddly toys.
As for how something like Beebo Saves Christmas can get made, veteran Arrowverse producer Keto Shimizu tells The A.V. Club that it was actually pretty easy to sell. She says the team pitched the higher-ups at The CW on a concept that had “universal” appeal, akin to a Peanuts special (a more thematically appropriate reference point than Star Wars, to be fair), and the only real pushback they got was a request for something “much more meta.” They ended up dropping that idea, though, because it “just felt wrong.”
Shimizu says writers Kevin Shinick and Matthew Maala are big fans of the holiday special genre, and they wanted to capture the “sweet, sentimental, but not overly syrupy” tone in something like A Charlie Brown Christmas or Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, which Beebo Saves Christmas handles really well—and, again—in a surprisingly clever way. Without giving away the entire plot, the episode opens with Beebo completely consumed with the correct or traditional way for Christmas to work, and while his faith in the holiday season is eventually rewarded, the special lands on a lesson that is a bit more thoughtful and honest than “Christmas sure is nice.”
Beebo Saves Christmas also manages to do that without every really throwing in “and watch DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow” as a back-up lesson or plug. Shimizu says it was “generally accepted” by everyone involved that the right thing to do was make a special that doesn’t “rely on the Arrowverse” but still builds off of it, which cleverly plays into the lightly interconnected nature of all of the Arrowverse shows.
You don’t really need to keep up with The Flash to follow Legends even if they’re part of the same TV universe, and that’s also now true for Beebo Saves Christmas. Each production stands on its own, unlike the more interdependent machinery of, say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which is doing a Guardians Of The Galaxy holiday special next year). Beebo Saves Christmas is meant to be something that the Arrowverse characters would watch, and it never cheapens that by explicitly referencing Arrow or Supergirl or the other shows.
Well, it mostly doesn’t. There is one obvious meta nod, which is that Victor Garber—who played Martin Stein on Legends’ first two seasons and whose character’s then-recent death drove the plot of “Beebo The God Of War”—serves as the special’s narrator. Shimizu, though, insists that this is just a tribute to how excellent Garber is and not a universe-breaking gag, which is to say that he’s not playing Martin Stein as the narrator. He’s just Victor Garber narrating a TV special, and Shimizu wouldn’t bite on whether or not there are some larger implications to that—like, say, if Victor Garber and Martin Stein exist as separate people in the Arrowverse, the way the demon Mallus and his voice actor John Noble do.
That would start to break the reality of Beebo Saves Christmas, which is explicitly designed not to be a meta joke about Legends Of Tomorrow; it’s just a regular Christmas special about a toy that exists in the interconnected universe of a few TV shows on The CW, and the special is something for the people in that universe to view. Also, the special never spells that out, which means unfamiliar viewers might not realize that Beebo is a fake toy from a superhero TV show that, let’s be honest, is barely about superheroes at this point.
The Star Wars Holiday Special may have been nonsense, but at least it did its audience the favor of acknowledging its connection to Star Wars. It may not be a canonical adventure on par with the movies, but if you went in expecting Star Wars, you’d at least see a bunch of familiar characters and concepts. Beebo Saves Christmas refuses to hold the viewer’s hand at all, making it a thoroughly strange holiday special that won’t even admit just how strange it is. But Beebo has the Star Wars Holiday Special beat on another level: Whether you’re new to Beebo or you’ve already embraced him as your new god of war, it’s actually fun to watch.