Not every franchise can find ways to feel fresh after more than 40 years. But that’s part of the magic of Star Wars, which has frequently reinvented itself in one way or another over four decades. The anime-inspired anthology series Star Wars: Visions is the latest experiment in filtering the sci-fi franchise through a new lens, and it offers up a vision of Star Wars that feels fresh, innovative, and original while remaining faithful to the tone and themes of Lucasfilm’s beloved saga.
Scheduled to premiere on the Disney+ streaming service on September 22, Star Wars: Visions is a series of nine animated short films produced by six Japanese animation studios. The anime-style films are set throughout the Star Wars timeline and feature original stories based on characters and events from the franchise. The films are voiced by a cast of both Japanese- and English-speaking actors.
Star Wars: Visions packs a lot into each brief film, with the longest installment of the series, The Ninth Jedi, clocking in at an efficient 22 minutes. Most episodes average around 15 minute, and each tells a satisfying, complete story positioned at various points in the saga’s fictional timeline. While some feel like the sort of canonical adventures that would have a comfortable place in the official Star Wars lore, others present themselves as alternate-history fare, offering a new perspective on familiar characters, events, and iconic locations.
The series gets off to a great start with the first film, The Duel, which channels the aesthetic of legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa in all the right ways for its tale of a mysterious, lightsaber-wielding stranger who’s recruited to defend a village on a remote planet from bloodthirsty raiders. Its monochrome palette pushes the samurai-film feel of The Duel even further. The first entry in Star Wars: Visions is easily one of the series’ best.
The studios’ varied, distinct approaches to each Star Wars stories only add to the colorful tapestry of Visions. The series delivers a playful spin on a childlike robot’s Jedi aspirations in the episode T0-B1, which takes plenty of cues from the work of Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka, as well as a darker tale about aging and old grudges in the episode The Elder. Although all of the short films are aimed at the general audience of Star Wars fans, some are edgier than others, giving each entry a unique, stand-alone quality within the anthology.
As with most anthologies, not all of the entries stand on even ground, and some films within the Visions series are better than others. The Village Bride and Lop & Ocho, for example, both take ambitious swings at the Star Wars lore but fall short of hitting the high marks set by the episodes around them. Lop & Ocho in particular is brimming with potential, and its story of a family divided by the Galactic Empire’s presence on their planet occasionally shares some visual and narrative elements with Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it never quite sticks the landing with the multigenerational tale it tries to tell.
The successes in Star Wars: Visions far outnumber the less-satisfying entries in the series, though. The musical Tatooine Rhapsody delivers an adorably cute adventure that puts a long list of familiar characters through some fun, funny moments likely to elicit a smile from both younger and older fans, while The Twins offers up the most Dragon Ball-esque entry in the series thanks to its wild, larger-than-life battle scenes bursting with bright colors and frantic action. And for Star Wars fans craving a story that feels firmly set within the saga’s timeline, The Ninth Jedi provides a brief — but surprisingly epic — story about some of the remaining Jedi Knights after the events of 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Japanese animation encompasses a wide range of visual and dramatic styles, and Star Wars: Visions serves as a reminder of that fact, while also demonstrating the tremendous flexibility of the franchise to exist within a wide range of storytelling formats. The reasons for the enduring appeal of Star Wars are as varied as the franchise’s fan base, but one thing Star Wars: Visions makes abundantly clear is that there’s no fixed format for telling a Star Wars story, and no limit to what that story can be if there’s a great storyteller (or storytelling team) behind it.
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