The galaxy far, far away returns in a dazzling anthology that opens exciting new frontiers in a beloved universe. Star Wars: Visions is a collection of nine anime short films from seven Japanese studios. They take place in different time periods with mostly new characters, but a few familiar faces do pop up. The shorts tackle themes of fighting oppression, light versus dark, sibling rivalries, and the corruption of power. The battle between the Jedi and Sith lies at the heart of each vignette. Where lightsabers clash ferociously and those strongest in the Force reign supreme.
Star Wars: Visions hearkens back to samurai culture stylistically and philosophically. Episode one, “The Duel”, has a mysterious Ronin (Brian Tee) facing a swashbuckling bandit (Lucy Liu) and her minions threatening a village. Your eyes will turn to saucers with her spectacular use of a lightsaber. The flash of Sith red marks a vivid, crimson contrast to the stark brown backgrounds. Produced by Kamikaze Douga, “The Duel” sets a creative high bar with muted colors and crisp animation.
The Star Wars series has a somber tone. Two exceptions have a lighter touch with a more whimsical approach. Episode two, “Tatooine Rhapsody”, has cool Funko Pop anime with a rocking soundtrack. A struggling Jedi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) led punk band can’t seem to finish a show without some kind of disaster. Episode six, “TO-B1”, is shown from the perspective of a curious droid (Jaden Waldman) who dreams of becoming a Jedi. The character reminded me of Mega Man from my Capcom playing days. This story is probably the weakest overall, but is still very well done.
The dark side of the Force is a seductive path. Star Wars: Visions continues the exploration of family conflicts. Episode three, “The Twins”, and eight, “Lop & Och&ō”, focuses on the existential divide between siblings over power and control. Some see the Empire as the true manifestation of order. While a brother (Neil Patrick Harris) and adopted sister (Anna Cathcart) recognize an evil storm of destruction. Luke and Leia were innately good with a common cause. Star Wars: Visions introduces characters whose love for each other turns bitter and vengeful.
The plots aren’t sophisticated. There are a couple of twists. But the majority behave like a samurai attack, straightforward and to the point. Antagonists wield red lightsabers and do harm. My favorite of the series is “The Ninth Jedi”. The fifth episode takes place furthest in the future where Kyber Crystals are a scarce commodity. A voice beckons through the Force. Drawing out those hiding from Sith hunters with the lure of a lightsaber. The potential of this narrative is highly intriguing. Production I.G., the filmmakers, takes Star Wars in a truly uncharted direction.
Every story in the series is open to further installments. Several have cliffhanger endings where there’s not a resolve. I hope there’s a second season with longer runtimes. You don’t have to be an anime fan to appreciate Star Wars: Visions. It’s a decidedly Japanese take, but chock full of every element that makes Star Wars exciting. Lucasfilm deserves credit for allowing these bold and artistic interpretations of the franchise. Star Wars: Visions premieres in its entirety September 22nd on Disney+.