James Gunn has used the 'Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special' as a "trojan horse" to introduce some elements of the upcoming third film in the series.

The 40-minute holiday special features Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis’ (Pom Klementieff) bid to help Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) rediscover his love of the festive season, but the director admitted the one-off Disney+ feature has saved some time setting up various plot points for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3', which is due for release in May 2023.

He told Deadline: “I used the holiday special as an opportunity to introduce some elements into 'Guardians of the Galaxy', so I didn’t have to explain them at the beginning of 'Volume 3'. It was a trojan horse.

“I don’t have to talk about where they got [the new Guardians HQ] Nowhere from, or Cosmo being around Nowhere.

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

“We see all these changes since we’ve seen them last."

The special was shot at the same time as the third movie, which James admitted was "insane" because they are so different in tone.

He said: "[It was] an insane experience because Vol. 3 is a serious movie, it deals with these characters’ emotional lives.

“[Vol. 3] has a lot of heaviness in it. So shooting that for a few days, and then shooting this goofy thing — these were like my recess days.

The 56-year-old director also teased some of what fans can expect from the third movie.

He said: “When you see 'Guardians 3', you’ll see, yes, there’s a bad guy, but it’s not about that.

“It’s about this family of rejects who have found each other, and have come to love each other, and together with the support of each other, maybe come to accept who they are because they all hate themselves, and that’s really what this journey is about.”