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'Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special': Watch These Films First

Guardians of the Galaxy fans are eagerly waiting for the third installment in the film’s series. It will likely be the final Guardians film. Director/writer James Gunn has said that he always envisioned Guardians as a trilogy. But we also know that he’s recently accepted a job to run Marvel’s rival, DC Studios for Warner Brothers. So it’s definitely the end of an era (although surely some of the characters may live on in other film and TV franchises). But before we get to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – due out on May 5, 2023, we have the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. It drops on Disney+ Friday, November 25. Inspired by the infamous (and awful) 1978 Star Wars holiday special, Gunn apparently suggested the idea while shooting Guardians Vol. 2. MCU head Kevin Feige said that this was the first Marvel program conceived for Disney+, and it appears that it will be canon. In other words, it will advance the Guardians’ story, bridging their last appearance in Thor: Love and Thunder and Vol. 3. But in case you haven’t seen every single Guardians appearance, we’ll help you get up to speed.

  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

    The first Guardians of the Galaxy film was a huge risk and one that paid off incredibly well. It’s the tenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the previous ones starred iconic characters: Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Thor. Even The Avengers, the only previous team film, combined the aforementioned characters, along with Black Widow, who had been introduced in Iron Man 2, Hawkeye, who was briefly introduced in Thor, and Nick Fury, who had popped up in a few films.

    The Guardians of the Galaxy, by contrast, was a team film where we were introduced to all of the characters for the first time. On top of that, they aren’t characters that most of the general public was familiar with. But writer/director James Gunn managed to pull off a story that made us care about all five of them – Peter Quill, aka “Starlord” (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). Underneath all the cosmic effects, Guardians of the Galaxy was a story about family, which is why it resonated. It also had an incredible soundtrack of ‘70s classic hits that topped the Billboard charts. It felt different than any previous Marvel film.

  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

    By now, the Guardians are an established team (for hire) and are more of a family. Groot is now a baby, having been blown up and reborn (or re-planted) at the end of the first film. We learn a bit more about Quill’s origins (including why he was able to hold an Infinity Stone in the first film). Quill and Gamora’s relationship (which Gamora denies *is* a relationship) develops. Gamora’s sister/enemy Nebula (Karen Gillan) joins the team, sort of, as does Mantis (Pom Klementieff).

  • Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

    While flying through space, the Guardians bump into Thor (Chris Hemsworth)… literally. He teams up with Rocket and Groot (who is now a video-game addicted adolescent) and the trio go on their own adventure. They end up back on earth where, by the end of the film, Groot gets “blipped” along with serval other heroes. Quill, Drax, Mantis and Gamora take the battle to Thanos (Josh Brolin), who is also Gamora’s father. Throughout the film, we learn a bit more about Gamora’s origins and her relationship with Thanos.

    He is insanely focused on getting what he wants – all of the Infinity Stones – and he is forced to kill her during his quest. Meanwhile, Quill, Drax and Mantis team up with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for their own battle with Thanos. They’re soon joined by Nebula, and only she and Iron Man survive “the snap,” which “blipped” half of the lives in the universe out of existence. The film ends with all the heroes soundly defeated. Nebula and Rocket are the only surviving Guardians. On a positive note, directors the Russo Brothers really were able to capture Gunn’s world of the Guardians, and their scenes felt like a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, down to the scene with the Spinners’ “Rubberband Man.”

  • Avengers: Endgame (2019)

    Rocket and Gamora join forces with the Avengers: Captain America (Chris Evans), the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Iron Man, War Machine (Don Cheadle), Thor, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to kill Thanos. They’re successful. That was the easy part. The hard part was figuring out how to bring their friends back. On a time travel mission, Nebula encounters a version of herself from the past, along with past versions of Thanos and Gamora. The “current” Nebula convinces “past” Gamora to turn on her father. Eventually, the heroes bring everyone back, including Quill, Drax, Mantis and Groot. In the final battle, all of the heroes from all of the Marvel films join forces and save existence. Quill is amazed that Gamora is alive, but she’s not the Gamora that he knew; this is a time-displaced Gamora who never met Quill (or Groot, Drax, Rocket or Mantis). And she lets him know this with a swift knee to his, um, package. She’s stunned that she had any kind of relationship with him. (Nebula tells him, “Your choices were him… or a tree.”) Gamora escapes to parts unknown. After the final battle, the Guardians take to space, joined by Thor. We know that Quill wants to find the “new” (or “old”) Gamora.



  • Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

    It’s not really essential to the Guardians’ story. But Thor hangs with the Guardians for the first few minutes of the film before leaving them for his own adventure. Frankly, it doesn’t seem necessary to have them here, but it’s fun to see them for a bit. We know that after they drop Thor off, Quill is going to lead them to keep searching for Gamora, which seems to lead into the Holiday Special.



  • Bonus: What If…? Episode 2: “What If… T’Challa Became A Star-Lord?” (2021)

    What If…? is an animated anthology series that imagines what the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be like if one moment changed. In this episode, they ponder what would have happened if Yondu (Michael Rooker) kidnapped Wakadna’s Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) instead of Peter Quill. As it turns out, the implications are pretty heavy.  And it’s a heavy episode to watch: it was Chadwick Boseman’s final performance.



  • Bonus: I Am Groot mini-series (2022)

    This series of five short animated Groot stories isn’t necessarily canon, but they’re all really cute.