Star Wars Visions Previewby Todd King, contributing writer
Coming in September to Disney Plus is Star Wars Visions, a mini series of animated short films that will be set in the Star Wars galaxy. Seven Japanese anime studios are producing these works, which will give each episode unique designs, characters, and stories. The films aren't linked in a single continuity and each will take place at different points in the Star Wars timeline. The animators were given freedom to choose what kind of stories they wanted to tell within the galaxy far, far away.
We could see tales from ancient times, from times after the main saga to events in between, or anywhere. It will be the vision of each studio to create the films from their imaginations. The result will finally be a marriage between Star Wars an anime that to me always seemed inevitable. Here is a sneak preview from Anime Expo Lite and its accompanying video presentation:
Star Wars: Visions | Special Look | Disney+. Star Wars Official YouTube Channel.
Animation and Star Wars have a long history all the way back to the Holiday Special and to the recent Clone Wars spinoff, The Bad Batch. In the not-too-distant past, two series of animated shorts released on YouTube that are easy watches: Galaxy of Adventures and Forces of Destiny. There's also plenty of older cartoons already on Disney Plus that I covered here. But Visions is different. With the varied styles of anime and the no-boundaries of approach of this project, we'll truly be seeing things in Star Wars we've never seen before. I don't know what to expect, which makes the prospect of these short films so intriguing.
Influence of Japanese Storytelling
The original stories of Star Wars drew from many influences, including movies from Japan. George Lucas studied the works of Akira Kurosawa in film school and has acknowledged that Star Wars was heavily influenced by Kurosawa's 1958 The Hidden Fortress.
"I was very intrigued by a lot of [Kurosawa's] movies because they were samurai movies, feudal Japan. The look of them was very exotic… and I found it very interesting that nothing was explained. You are thrown into this world... it's like you're watching this very exotic, strange thing with strange customs and a strange look. And I think that influenced me a great deal in working in science fiction because I was able to get around the idea that you have to explain everything or understand what everything is… You just put yourself into this environment." – George Lucas
Other aspects of the production saw impressions from Japanese culture. Jedi robes are similar in style to the Japanese kimono. Darth Vader's mask and helmet are similar in appearance to a mempo mask and kabuto helmet from feudal Japan (a period that spans the 12th to 19th centuries). Lucas mixed these ingredients with inspiration from many familiar influences of Western culture as well. Sci-fi, fantasy, and Western movies were also all part of the Star Wars stew from the beginning so it is pretty fascinating to see the influence come full circle in Visions.
A Look at the Imagery
The video at the top of this article goes by pretty fast. I've snapped a few shots from it to take a closer look and offer my reactions.
The following looks like a casting call for one episode, perhaps unfinished, where they are drawn together for composition and sizing comparisons. I see an amalgam of gong droids, stormtrooper helmet pieces, an R2 droid in a straw hat (they always have attitudes), figures in mysterious cloaks, and wild hair. It looks very pieced-together and mismatched which makes me believe these characters are far from the center of the galaxy and are a bit on the Mad Max side of things:
The following looks like Jabba was a regular at the Mos Espa pod races--at least that's what this image invokes. He's at his box seat, dancing girl by his side, drink in hand, it's all familiar territory on Tatooine. I hope Jabba gives some characters a hard time since he's best when he's maniacal and gross:
In the following, we see the familiar Jedi robes and know immediately there is a lightsaber duel going on but the smaller, more-ragged character is wielding dual katana-style sabers definitely influenced by real Japanese weaponry. With the Darksaber we know from Clone Wars and Mandalorian, we know lightsabers of old can take on various forms so it will be interesting to see what the story is behind these blades. Swords and fighting styles are a big part of fantasy anime as well as Star Wars:
In the next video, a fight seems to be breaking out at the wrong time; there are TIE Fighters in the background already causing havoc. The central character in this image is quickly featured in the video as one studio seeks to create a primary hero that isn't human. These hairstyles and braids look both earthlike and far-out at the same time. It reminds me of Phantom Menace with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan sporting master and padawan hairstyles respectively.
Our favorite bounty hunter is part of the series, too! Boba Fett remains a very popular character after all these years and it will be great to see what he will bring here. It's good he's included here since Lucasfilm will be wanting to promote The Book of Boba Fett series coming later this year to Disney+. Boba and animation just always go together.
Glad to see a location featured in the video, not just characters. Weird and exotic places are a big part of the world of Star Wars. This place resembles Jabba's palace but with this one being on a high mountain, with an extremely bright beacon of light, I wonder if this is some kind of Jedi temple where padawan pilgrims must reach. This would make a nice addition to Galaxy's Edge.
In the following, the expression of this character seems both whimsical and sad, a testament to anime's ability to not remain simple. It explores complex emotions across all kinds of experience and I look forward to seeing what this young person will be involved with in the conflicts in space.
The following shot reminds me of Luke and Vader's battle in front of the Emperor when father and son crossed blades. But this time, these blades are both read and could be wielded by the sinister-looking character behind them (complete with Sith-like eyes). This is certainly an image of uneasiness and danger. Anime doesn't shy from violence and bloodshed.
Finally, we get a classic Jedi pose with a lightsaber, wielded by a confident Force-wielder deflecting lasers. This one makes me think of Luke Skywalker. The lightsaber emitter is unique, as it should be for each Jedi, the blade of which looks silver. Yes I want some deep stories, some meaningful discoveries, some psychological exploration, some creative problem-solving that are all parts of anime I've been watching recently (Demon Slayer, for example), but I want some cool lightsaber fight scenes, too!
What will follow?
I'm looking forward to watching every Visions film when they launch on Disney+ in September but I also wonder what will happen next. If these are wildly successful, what would Lucasfilm and Disney consider as a follow-up? Could we see more and longer anime Star Wars films? Could we see something like Galaxy of Adventures and witness new takes on already-established stories? Could an entire new series take the world by storm like Mandalorian did? Until we know more these will be enthralling to watch and to discover what fans will think and take inspiration from for their own creative pursuits.