Monday, November 13, 2023

Star Wars Subjectivities: Star Wars Visions

Star Wars Visions – A niche for fans of short animation

Star Wars Visions is an anthology television series of unrelated, short, animated films with ties to the concepts in Star Wars. The original idea of the series was to capitalize on the popularity of anime by hiring anime studios to create short films set in the Star Wars universe. Unfortunately, the first season was not as much fun as I expected from a union of two things I love: Star Wars and anime. The stories don’t feature any main Star Wars characters, any major events, or any main storylines. Anime is appealing because of the story and the characters, not just because of the actual animation style. In most anime series, we get connected to the characters and their journeys. In the anthology format of Visions, we don’t have time to get the usual anime story arc where we get to know the characters in depth. We also don’t have pre-existing main characters in whom we are already invested. This creates the anime “filler” effect. In many long running anime series, there are episodes which are not part of the main story arc. These episodes (“fillers”) are unrelated side stories use to fill the broadcast gaps while waiting for content from the written manga on which the anime is based. I am pretty tolerant of fillers, but many anime fans find filler episodes to be an annoying waste of time. Despite the high quality of each Star Wars Visions short film, it does feel a bit like watching a season of filler episodes. 

The behind the scenes video for season one, makes it seem that the show concept originated from Disney seeking out anime studios and giving them a playbook of instructions, rather than having the stories come naturally from the artists. The first season suffered from repetitive storytelling that seemed to be limited to a pre-set list of topics: Jedi/Sith conflict, kyber crystals/light sabers, Empire oppression. The episodes are entertaining but definitely not extraordinary. They lack the excitement you feel watching your favorite anime and, at times, the diverse character design choices are questionable.

Among season one, there are a few that stand out. The first episode, The Duel, has an interesting, black and white art design. The animation style feels very retro and other-worldly, but the plot is straight out of the reluctant-gunslinger story trope that appears in multiple other episodes. On the other hand, The Twins is fun as an alternate Luke & Leia story—what if Luke and Leia were raised by the Empire and hated each other? The Elder is enjoyable as a riff on the Obi-Wan and Anakin dynamic—what if Obi-Wan with an apprentice who was calm and kind instead of stressed and murderous? It’s no coincidence that the two episodes I found particularly enjoyable also featured voice actors from two of my favorite anime: Jujustsu Kaisen and Fruits Basket

Star Wars Visions Season Two is a significant shift in storytelling. Instead of using Japanese anime studios, the short films were created by animation studios from around the world. This allowed more diversity in the characters and in the art style. My favorites from season two are The Spy Dancer and The Bandits of Golek, both of which explore family relationships and sacrifice. I also enjoyed Journey to the Dark Head, a traditional Star Wars style of adventure and The Pit, a poignant exploration of the good and bad of humanity. 

Season 1 Overview 

The Duel – The episode is retro-stylized, black & white animation. The first of a recurring theme of reluctant hero ex-Sith (with old western Shane or Lone Ranger vibes). A band of raiders is bad enough, but then an attacking Sith appears. The village leader is a brave child. Passing traveler Ronin steps in to help but he’s not what he seems. Very cool black and white animation. 

Tatooine Rhapsody – In a comic relief episode where members of beleaguered rock band are pursued by Boba Fett working for Jaba the Hutt. 

The Twins - Am & Karre are Sith twins raised by the Empire from infancy but when a new destructive weapon is developed the Karre has a difference of opinion with his sister Am. Karre is played by Junya Enoki who voices Yuji Itadori from Jujutsu Kaisen. The story feels like an alternate multiverse story of familiar Star Wars twins. 

The Village Bride - Another reluctant Jedi and oppressed village episode: In a peaceful nature-centric village, the elder’s granddaughter volunteers to be a hostage for the invaders. A visitor reluctantly considers intervening. 

The Ninth Jedi - A group of force-sensitive potential Jedi are summoned with the promise of receiving a lightsaber. Meanwhile the daughter of the saber-smith is forced to discover her own powers. Slow paced, with visuals reminiscent of 1990s cartoons and is much better in Japanese with subtitles. 

TO-B1 – This is a Pinocchio-esque story of a droid child who dreams of becoming a Jedi. When his hunt for a kyber crystal leads to trouble, he must see if he can rise to challenge. 

The Elder - a Jedi master and his Padawan Dan explore peaceful planet in the outer rim, and discover someone who was up to no good. The whole vibe is very quiet, even peaceful and the focus is on the mentor/student friendship until the fighting begins. If you find Dan’s voice to be particularly calming, it’s because he is voiced by Yuichi Nakamura who voices Shigure Sohma from Fruits Basket and Gojo from Jujutsu Kaisen. 

Lop & Ocho - Lop’s adopted family clash over allying with the Empire. Her father gives her a special gift to fight. This is a similar story concept to the episode The Twins with siblings fighting over whether to support the Empire. 

Akakiri - A Jedi goes to help his long-lost love, a princess whose kingdom has been overthrown. His concern causes him to be manipulated into making a poor decision. An alternate version/riff of the story of Anakin & Padme

Season Two Overview – International Studios

Sith – Spain – El Guiri - A recluse artist’s hideaway is disrupted by an unwanted Sith when they just want to be left alone. This is another episode using the reluctant Sith/Jedi trope which appeared frequently in the first season. The protagonist is an artist, so there are some fun visuals as the artistry is explored. 

Screecher’s Reach – Ireland – Cartoon Saloon studios – On a planet of working class miners, a girl explores a haunted place with three friends she may have to leave behind. 

In the Stars – Chile – Punkrobot - Koten and her little sister Tichina are oppressed orphans, struggling to survive after their homeland is taken. Tichina tries to convince her older sister to use the strength they inherited from their mother to fight the invaders. 

I Am Your Mother – U.K. – Aardman - In an academy family race, a daughter is embarrassed by her energetic pilot mom. 

Journey to the Dark Head – Korea – Studio Mir – In a traditional animation style and with an appealing, traditionally Star Wars plot, spirited pilot Ara works must work with grumpy young Jedi Toul on a mission to behead two prophetic statues but when they encounter Sith Bichan, who killed Toul’s master, the strength of the new duo’s power and friendship is tested. 

The Spy Dancer – France – La Cachette – In a French resistance style story, a seductive nightclub, frequented by Empire officers, is actually a secret rebel base to gather intel. An older rebel spy dancer faces a difficult choice when she notices something interesting about a young imperial officer in her nightclub. 

The Bandits of Golak - India – 88 Pictures - Charuk protects his force sensitive little sister Rani, as they travel by train to a safe haven. This is a standout episode for its India-inspired setting and art design. It also has vibes of Sokka and Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender, where the ordinary older brother protects his secretly gifted younger sister. 

The Pit – US – Lucasfilm and D’Art Shtajio Exploited workers are left to die in a pit but one fights to save them all. This story resonated contemporary concerns about exploitation and oppression in labor. 

Aau’s Song – South Africa – Triggerfish - A girl who voice can cause calamity, finds a new use for her gifts in land rich in kyber crystals.

Overall, Star Wars Visions is the sort of show you didn’t know you needed because you probably don’t actually need it. But if you have time and a pre-existing Disney+ subscription, there are some gems worth exploring.

POSTED BY: Ann Michelle Harris – Multitasking, fiction writing Trekkie and OG Star Wars fan, who still has the original Star Wars trading cards she bought in grade school.