Watching Star Wars: Visions is experiencing the creative deconstruction of the world’s second-most popular film franchise into its individual thematic and narrative components, which are then reconstructed into various shapes and sizes as a way to examine what exactly can be made from said individual parts. That may seem like an explicitly verbose way of stating: ‘it’s an anthology show that looks at Star Wars from a certain point of view’ — and, in a way, it is, but that idea of deconstruction is vital to understanding the point and purpose of the show. The diversity of perspective, uniqueness of the stories and characters, and visual excellence of basically every episode make it an exciting addition to the franchise, even if some episodes are much more interesting than others.
For the uninitiated, Star Wars: Visions is an anime anthology series consisting of nine episodes that have been produced by seven different Japanese animation studios: Geno Studio, Kamikaze Douga, Kinema Citrus, Production I.G, Science SARU, Studio Colorido, and Studio Trigger. Each episode follows an eccentric set of different characters in a host of settings that are largely unique to the series itself. No episode has any connection to any other episode, and several episodes are explicitly not tied to the current Star Wars canon. This may seem odd to fans both casual and hardcore alike, but what this disconnection from the super-story of the franchise allows is an exploration of the Galaxy through a fascinating set of lenses that bring a new energy, creativity, and perspective to certain aspects of the universe that couldn’t be explored in any other form. While most of the stories connect in some way to the Jedi or explore the power of the force, all of the episodes are animated in a unique visual style, and borrow elements of their narrative from several of Star Wars‘ main influences, primarily ones that originate in Japanese cinema. The first episode, “The Duel,” is the most explicit in this regard: it’s a 15-minute samurai tale that takes place in an alternate version of the Star Wars universe, and it totally rules because of that. The Mandalorian proved that Star Wars works well when it harkens back to the stories that inspired it, and Star Wars: Visions is no different.
Regarding the quality of each episode, it varies. No episode is explicitly bad; some may be more out-there or less interesting than others, but many of the episodes offer fascinating insights into different parts of the franchise, or are so unique and different to what Star Wars usually features that one can’t help but enjoy them. Episode two, “Tatooine Rhapsody,” stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bobby Moynihan as a freshly masterless human padawan, Jay, and an on-the-run hutt-turned punk rockstar, Geezer, as they try to evade Boba Fett’s pursuit of their band after Jabba catches wind of their musical activities. Episode three, “The Twins,” is an over-the-top battle between a pair of siblings created by the dark side of the force, during which one of the characters is somehow able to speak and breathe despite being in the vacuum of space. That episode in particular is a highlight of absurdity, aided greatly by Alison Brie and Neil Patrick Harris hamming it up to the nth degree as the titular pair of twins. These episodes vere towards the lower-end of the show’s quality spectrum, but their fun visual styles and light-hearted senses of humor are dripping with just enough flavor to deserve at least a single viewing.
Some episodes are less goofy, however, and vere into much more thematically interesting territory. Episode eight, “Lop and Ochō,” investigates what the concepts of ‘family’ and ‘legacy’ mean in a Galaxy as vast and complex as the one depicted in Star Wars, and does it while also telling a touching story of adoption that connects wonderfully to those aforementioned themes. The franchise’s thus-far final film entry, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, failed to deliver that same sort of thematic weight in its 142-minute runtime, Lop and Ochō do it in 20. Episodes like this are a blueprint for how to tell an effective story and reinterpret a story-world that is beloved by multiple generations of diehard fans.
The prevalence of disgruntled fan criticism has, sadly, permeated the discussion around Star Wars: Visions — which is really too bad because the series is certainly able to stand on its own as an excellent piece of entertainment. The backlash mostly centers around the fact that Visions is an anime series while Star Wars has traditionally been presented in formats that are more popular in western markets, i.e. novels, films, and so forth. Those who are familiar with the series might realize that this is silly because Star Wars has always been inspired by Japanese culture, but it’s also important to consider the absurdity of the premise in the first place, irregardless of the fact that it applies specifically to Star Wars. The idea that a piece of art, whether a part of a franchise or not, should be restricted from being expressed in a certain form is an excellent way to stifle the creation of unique art. So long as a piece takes particular advantage of whatever medium it exists as, it should be allowed to be presented in that way. If Star Wars wants to be an anime, that’s fine. The Japanese cultural inspiration is already a central part of the franchise’s identity, but, even if it weren’t, there shouldn’t be a problem with a franchise including a unique form of art in its transmedia architecture so long as the content itself is well-made.
Though some fans have lamented the series’ creation, Star Wars: Visions offers a captivating insight into what makes the series so iconic, and how diverse a story can be in a Galaxy far, far away. The quality of the art is consistently excellent despite each episode being so visually different, and though the writing can sway between superb and average, each episode is at least worth watching just to see how much it will differ from the culture’s shared perception of the franchise. Fans of anime will certainly be in for a treat, and those who want a nice dose of Star Wars content before The Book of Boba Fett comes out on Dec. 29 will be delighted to find a unique take on their favorite franchise.
Star Wars: Visions is currently available for streaming on Disney+.
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