REVIEW: ‘STAR WARS: VISIONS’ Feels Like A Homecoming For The Franchise

Ronin (voiced by Masaki Terasoma in Japanese and Brian Tee in the English Dub) in a scene from “STAR WARS: VISIONS” short, “THE DUEL”, exclusively on Disney+. © 2021 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

It’s exciting to see Star Wars find new life in interesting ways, 40+ years into its existence. The franchise first found new life in books when the Original Trilogy first ended and then found its way into animated shows once George Lucas did the Prequel Trilogy. Disney upped the ante by canonizing a new line of comic books, video games, and animated shows to coincide with the Sequel Trilogy. With the sequel trilogy over, the franchise now finds new life in an anthology series called Star Wars: Visions. 

The idea behind Star Wars: Visions is simple: have the best animation studios in Japan create whatever stories they want in the Star Wars sandbox. Spread out over 9 tightly crafted episodes, the result is a stunning reimagining of what Star Wars fundamentally could be if divorced from complicated continuity and restrictive lore. This might be the most autonomous Star Wars has been since the Legends Novels.

Visually, the Japanese studios went all out. Each episode boasts its own distinct art style ranging from monochromatic Kurosawa compositions to Osamu Tezuka-inspired Astroboy aesthetics. The series is sprinkled with charming anachronisms: lightsabers resemble katanas, Stormtroopers look like Edo-period warriors, Jedis wear tengais, and settlements don’t look like they’re in a galaxy far, far away. The design liberties they take look jarring at a glance but the way everything comes together makes it a feature, not a bug.

The lightsabers fights are absolutely stunning. They’re executed with the precision and excess that animes have become synonymous with, giving battles a true sense of scale, weight, and personality. There’s never a dull fight in Visions. Every lightsaber swing feels thunderous. Even the goofier designs like the umbrella lightsaber manage to look graceful thanks to how the fights are composed.

Contrasting exuberant aesthetics, Star Wars: Visions breaks down a lot of grand Star Wars concepts into the fundamental ideas that inspired George Lucas in the first place, in particular, the Japanese feudal myths. A chunk of the season depicts Jedis as wandering ronins, looking for their next momentary calling, harkening back to the jidaigeki roots of Star Wars. And then you have the more classic Star Wars motifs such as warring families and the Campbellian monomyths that are also explored throughout the season.  

These episodes are simple in nature but speak volumes through the spaces it allows its ideas to breathe. Plots aren’t complex nor are there dozens of characters. Every story is confined to its own 15-20 minute space but the thematic scope that gets explored is vast and profound.

Siblings and families tethered together by the Force is an idea that is famously explored in the Skywalker Saga. Anakin, Luke, Leia, Kylo Ren, and by proxy, Rey, all figure into this lineage of fate and tragedy that served as the franchise’s core pathos. Star Wars: Visions harnesses that idea and synthesizes it in ways that the films did not. The episode aptly titled The Twins pits two sibling Sith Lords against one another in an over-the-top lightsaber battle in space, an idea remotely reminiscent of the Solo twins in Legends lore. Lop and Ocho is a tale of two sisters who are forced into choosing sides when the Empire takes over their city; both fighting for their city’s protection. 

The true star of the season might be the second episode titled Tattooine Rhapsody. As evidenced by its namesake, Tattoine Rhapsody’s story has an emphasis on music. It’s about rock musicians on the run from bounty hunters, a premise that already stands out in a series that has an emphasis on the feudal inspirations of Star Wars. Tattooine Rhapsody feels the most contemporary of all the episodes yet is the most unique. There’s a surprising weight to the episode as its themes deal with friendship and purpose in a really fun way. The J-rock music sequences add a charm to it as well.

My favorite episodes of the season happen to explore the archetypal commoner-turns-hero myth that made Luke Skywalker’s story so iconic. Visions takes that soaring feeling of watching the Twin Suns set in Tattooine as the hero faces uncertainty, and gives it new life. Whether it’s a droid fending for his home or a humble daughter of a sabersmith forced to vanquish an evil force, these stories are the ones that resonate the most.

Japanese culture has long influenced this grand world and to have Japanese visionaries take a stab at it feels like a homecoming in many ways. That Star Wars can be at its best by having simple stories that celebrate its essence is proof of its lasting legacy.  Give me more of Star Wars: Visions.

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