Here’s every way ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ set up ‘Vol. 3’

the guardians of the galaxy holiday special
Image via Marvel Studios

Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.

When it comes to The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, the 40-minute TV movie not only serves as a light-hearted side-mission with everyone’s favorite spacefaring team, but it also sets up a number of plot elements for the upcoming theatrical release Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

Both the Holiday Special and Vol. 3 were filmed simultaneously in Atlanta, with the Disney Plus Marvel Special Presentation serving as a  “trojan horse” for introducing certain elements into the franchise, director James Gunn explained in a recent interview

Knowhere is the new HQ for the Guardians

So what are some of these plot elements that were introduced? Let’s first take a lot at the setting. The Guardians of the Galaxy’s new headquarters is located in Knowhere, the space station that was created in the head of a deceased Celestial, the gigantic god-like cosmic beings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Gunn himself took the time to explain in a Twitter post how the Guardians came to acquire Knowhere, revealing that they purchased the demolished space station from Benecio del Toro’s Collector in the aftermath of the destruction brought by Josh Brolin’s Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.

Cosmo the Spacedog becomes an honorary Guardian

The Guardians’ purchase of Knowhere came with it a former prisoner of the Collector, Cosmo the Spacedog. We first saw the labrador that took to the heavens as part of the Soviet space program in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film in 2014, where she exchanged growls with Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon. 

By the end of that movie, Cosmo was able to escape her individual cell in the Collector’s museum — located on Knowhere —when Ophelia Lovibond’s Carina used the Power Stone to destroy much of the facility. However, Cosmo stayed by the Collector’s side and didn’t leave the museum. Cosmo also later survived Thanos’ attack on Knowhere, in which the majority of the space station was destroyed.    

In the Holiday Special, we see Cosmo as a fully indoctrinated member of the Guardians, complete with a collar translator, à la the dog from Up. She’s even voiced by the Oscar-nominated Borat 2 star Maria Bakalova. It’s also revealed in the dialogue uttered by Rocket in the Holiday Special that Cosmo has telekinesis abilities. Bakalova herself has confirmed in previous interviews and through her appearance at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con that Cosmo will be appearing in Vol. 3.

The Guardians have a new ship named after rock’s original Starman

We also saw in the Holiday Special that the Guardians have a new spaceship called the Bowie, which effectively serves as their replacement for the previous vessel, the Benatar. The ship is named after David Bowie, the rock star who contributed a couple of songs to both volumes of the Awesome Mix that is frequently listened to by Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord. 

Back in 2016, following Bowie’s untimely death from cancer, Gunn revealed in a Facebook post that he once tried to secure the musician for a cameo appearance in Vol. 2 at one point and that it was very close to becoming a reality. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be and the famed rocker passed away shortly after the inquiry. However, his memory now lives on in the form of the Guardians’ new ship.

Nebula is now a higher-ranking Guardians member 

Karen Gillan’s Nebula, the adopted daughter of Thanos, may have started out as an enemy of the Guardians in the first film, but over the course of several movies and a falling out with pops, she’s now a full-blown member of the spacefaring team. In fact, the Holiday Special indicates she is fairly high-ranking in the hierarchy, as some of the dialogue she utters seems to imply she’s the one overseeing the rebuilding of Knowhere and cracking the whip on other members to stay on task. As Gunn explained to Deadline:

“I think you see what Nebula’s role is in the group now: She’s a leader to some degree.”

Groot is now swole

Another aspect of the Guardians that has transformed from when we last saw them is the fact that the tree-like alien Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, looks like he’s been hitting the gym harder than an Ent in a Mr. Universe contest. 

This iteration of the character has been lovingly nick-named Swole Groot by somebody on Twitter, which has since been a moniker adopted by Gunn himself.

Groot’s previous appearance in the MCU was in Thor: Love and Thunder, where he still very much looked like an adolescent stage of the character. Gunn described Groot’s Holiday Special appearance as his “collegiate” stage, indicating he is now a young adult. 

Mantis is Peter Quill’s sister

One of the biggest reveals in the Holiday Special is that Pom Klementieff’s Mantis is actually the long-lost sister of Peter Quill since they both share the same father, Kurt Russell’s Ego. This familial connection has precedent in the comics but it was only hinted at in the previous film, 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with Mantis instead being presented as Ego’s servant. 

However, the cat has come out of the bag and by the end of the Holiday Special, Mantis revealed to Peter that she is his sister. Peter’s response was that he believed it to be the best Christmas present he could have received and the two shared an embrace. Their blooming relationship as reunited siblings will surely continue to be explored in Vol. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3., which Gunn has stated is the final adventure with this current configuration of the spacefaring team, comes to theaters on May 5, 2023.