By Din visualartbydin
Star Wars: Visions launched on Disney+ on September 22, 2021, and presents quite a different take on Star Wars. The series consists of nine short films (13-20 minutes each) produced by seven different Japanese animation studios. Each tell original stories inspired by the Star Wars universe, and all are free from any Star Wars canon restrictions.
I was expecting the new Disney+ Japanese-inspired Star Wars: Visions to offer fresh new visuals and ideas, but WOW, I was not expecting this much to wrap my mind around! The nine original short films were created by various Japanese animation studios, further detailed in this article. It is very clear that these studios are well-versed in the Star Wars lore, but the major appeal for me is how they express that lore with an authentically Japanese feel and tone. Now, let’s get into each exciting story…
Episode 1: “The Duel”
A wandering stranger with a mysterious past defends a village from powerful bandits.
Studio: Kamikaze Douga
“The Duel” presents an absolutely stunning visual animated take on Akira Kurosawa Samurai films (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Rashomon etc.) and the ending made me think outside the box, which is what truly great Star Wars stories do. I have always wanted a re-evaluation of the symbolism of the colour red in Star Wars, and what they do in this episode with the colour of lightsaber blades makes for a very compelling and thought provoking ending.
The black and white style looked like classic hand drawn pencil animation. The hints of colour really popped in contrast to the black and white, and was used only for elements that were a source of technology and light. This created a nice balance between organic village scenery and modern sci-fi elements.
A detail I enjoyed was the umbrella-like sabers of the female antagonist (identified as Sith Bandit Leader), which were also used like helicopter blades to fly. I’ve always loved that concept from the Star Wars Rebels episode, “Twilight of the Apprentice,” as it gives me a feeling of a winged demon. Umbrella use and creative design is a big thing in Japan, it’s used ubiquitously, not just for rain, but also to block the sun. In a culture which has such a cool sense of beautiful design, this is often carried over to one’s umbrella. It was also really cool to see a Sith in high heels!
What I love most about all these shorts is plain and simply the authentic Japanese elements, which consistently offer me something new in my favourite franchise. “The Duel” had that Kurosawa tone, but with a fresh visual and textured style all of its own. Tone is my favourite word in art, and like poetry, indefinable yet utterly clear in its feel. Mind absolutely blown!
Episode 2: “Tatooine Rhapsody”
A band with big dreams must save one of their own from Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett.
Studio: Studio Colorido
We’re introduced to a band called Star Waver, with a galactic tour ship called “The Rolling Gales” (ahem, The Rolling Stones). Conflict ensues when the bass player Geezer is tracked down by a famous Bounty Hunter, and the band has to figure out how to save him because they won’t give up on their family.
The animated style was vibrant, also childlike (in the best way) lighthearted and fun. The 3D modeled Boonta Eve classic concert was gorgeous. There’s even a fun Kenner easter egg to find in this short.
I’ve always wondered if there are musical acts in our own galaxy who tour the stars. As a touring musician myself, this episode was such a joy for me in a personal way. I also loved the backstory hinted at for the lead singer, and the pathos I felt, as familiar tragic circumstances in Star Wars lore force him to trade his lightsaber for a microphone. As a musician myself, I have always viewed my microphone as a lightsaber hilt!
Many musicians, including myself, used music as a way to process our childhood trauma. This is a story about a found family, and is essentially what my bands have always been for me since I was 16 years old. This is pure Star Wars, in that it’s made for kids, to inspire kids. Almost Harry Potterish in its message of being there for your friends. Having toured for two decades with seven albums, this is what bands are all about.
Episode 3: “The Twins”
Twins born into the dark side clash aboard a massive Star Destroyer.
Studio: Studio Trigger
The opening shot was such a unique take on a Star Wars intro: we see the familiar starscape, but part of it is blacked out. This is in the shape of a Star Destroyer that could not be seen in shadow. As the visual zooms out, it’s further revealed that the ship contains two Star Destroyers in one, connected by a massive weapon (a hyper canon). This unique and interesting opening shot really commanded my attention.
We then learn that two twins occupy and command this massive ship – one female (named Am), one male (named Karre), who are created experimentally through the use of a Kyber crystal, the Force and some kind of biological manipulation. We don’t yet know why someone created them, or for what purpose, but this will set up a future story between the twins full of emotion and depth.
The intensity and emotion reminded me of Japanese animated films like Gundam Unicorn, and it lends an intensity not previously seen in any Star Wars media, except perhaps for the final duel of Revenge of The Sith. Like that film, there is an incendiary and emo quality here which is sure to connect well with younger audiences. Karre and Am duel in space, and we’re left with questions as to her fate.
As a visual artist, I appreciated the framing and composition of the shots. Dynamic angles and framing with an abstract art composition sensibility is very George Lucas, and is used well in this episode (like the image above). George once said that if he didn’t become a filmmaker he would have pursued abstract art. The final shot of Karre’s crashed X-Wing is an instant classic Star Wars shot, and the faith and hope Karre has for his sister Am is the very building blocks of Star Wars.
Episode 4: “The Village Bride”
A Jedi on the run takes in the unique customs of a remote village under threat by a warlord.
Studio: Kinema Citrus
This is my favourite episode of the bunch. The visuals, the pacing, the tone, the music and the message all combine to create something new and special! “We are the sky, we are the forest, we are the river. We are one.” This message adds more Eastern-toned nuances to the philosophy of The Force.
Several elements reminded me of Star Wars Rebels: Kanan’s teaching to Ezra about the oneness of the Force. Even the way the saber duel went down was very similar to another legendary duel in Rebels (Kenobi vs Maul) with a quick end. Like that Star Wars Rebels “Twin Suns” episode, it’s the emotional story that happens before and during a fight that’s compelling, not excessive action. Dave Filoni even said he was influenced by that minimal style from that Japanese film “Seven Samurai”. It’s fantastic seeing that influence come full circle here.
“The Village Bride” also featured one of the coolest new saber designs I’ve seen since Kylo’s unstable crossguard lightsaber, and the Darksaber before that. While I love all the Katana style lightsabers in the series, there was something elegant about this one, and the way it lit up on the hilt guard. It was subtle.
The Jedi is mysterious, known here only as “F”, and the meditative feel of the entire episode helps to give you a sense of F’s perspective on the world and its unfolding events. The entire episode gives the viewer a calm feeling of that meditative connection to the environment around you in The Force. I’ll leave you with a Lucas quote, “The role of the artist is to find the common threads that make all people’s one”, and this is the type of Star Wars that conveys that essential Lucasian Star Wars message.
Episode 5: “The Ninth Jedi”
The daughter of a lightsaber-smith is pursued by dark forces while on a dangerous mission.
Studio: Kenji Kamiyama
We begin with a Lord of The Rings style prologue, briefly placing us in an era generations “since the light of the Jedi protected the galaxy”. This could have even been after the events of the Jedi rebirth in the Sequel Trilogy era. The ruler of a planet, Margrave Juro, has a plan to mine kyber crystals to power lightsabers for prospective Jedi. However, in this period of war, ancient dark forces are hatching a secret plan to hunt suspected Jedi and subjugate the galaxy to a new era of Sith rule.
We’re quickly introduced to a cone-shaped asteroid station which appears to be a temple, hanging upside down in orbit above the planet. Another great new image! A character arrives named Ethan, who is strong in the Force but without a Master. He is greeted by a group who received the same summons from mysterious “Juro” to meet there. Juro appears wearing a mask that looks more Dark Side in nature, and this touches on something I have always loved from Asian fantasy, war and martial art films – that there is a grey quality to heroes and villains – one is often not quite sure if a character is good or bad. The hopefuls are not sure if they can trust Juro. This felt very different from the Star Wars I am used to, and I was very delighted to experience Star Wars in this fresh way.
On the planet below, we’re introduced to our heroine, Kara. She jumps on a speeder, reminding me of Rey on Jakku. The music swells in an absolutely uplifting and wonderful theme reminiscent of John Williams’ Star Wars music we know and love. Kara returns to her humble home where her father is restoring lightsabers. She is given one, but the blade is dim and lacks colour. Her father tells her that he made the sabers so that they grow brighter as a user’s connection to The Force gets stronger. I love this new concept, as it reinforces the idea of oneness of all things in The Force. Her father then gives her the task of taking the sabers to the temple, and her adventure ensues. She leaves as her Father’s home is being destroyed, which brings to mind the attack on Lars homestead in A New Hope.
Kara then is involved in a stunning speeder chase through a forest, over a marvelous frozen lake, where she then has to convince a droid to fly her to the Aerial Temple. It’s tea time, so it’s an uphill battle! Such a cool take on the Threshold Guardian concept from the Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
When Kare arrives at the Aerial Temple, a climax full of mind-blowing twists and riveting lightsaber action ensues! Like the first episode “The Duel”, sabers change colours, even for one person, in an out-of-the-box way. Another reference to “grey” characters, not all good, not all bad, not black and white.
The camera then reveals a gorgeous establishing shot of the Aerial Temple, and gradually turns 180 degrees so that the Temple eventually faces up, not down – symbolizing things being set right in this episode (and maybe even the intent of this short – to flip our expectations of what a Star Wars story can be). I can’t wait to watch this episode 500 more times!
Episode 6: “T0-B1”
A cybernetic boy, who dreams of being a Jedi, discovers a dangerous truth about his creator.
Studio: Science SARU
T0-B1 (“Tobi One”) is drawing scenes of becoming a Jedi on walls, and is an A.I. character created by a benevolent old man trying to restore life to a planet. As I’m also a visual artist, who drew stories as a kid, I really related to this episode.
Tobi is playing Jedi and sends out a message to the galaxy, and an Inquisitor hears it. This brings the inquisitor to the planet, and the old man hides Tobi in a cupboard. Tobi, like any scared child, gives him a quick loving hug, and this really moved me. The master’s work is destroyed, and Tobi sees his mission to protect and continue this work of restoring planets in the galaxy. Turns out that Tobi One has a connection to The Force, and his connection to it grows in the episode. I love this concept, as I personally believe that if the Force is in all things, then it would also have potential to be in an AI being who has consciousness. Consciousness is life, and The Force is in all living things.
What a wonderful episode which quintessentially expresses that sense of childlike Star Wars wonder that has always made it so special to children’s hearts, including mine. The art was lush, textured and vibrant in such a delicious way, seemingly making a comment on the beauty of nature which would be quite at home in a Miyazaki film (the legendary Japanese animated film creator of classic’s like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke).
Episode 7: “The Elder”
A Jedi and his Padawan pursue a dark and powerful presence.
Studio: Studio Trigger
At the beginning of “The Elder” there was something very familiar about this Master/Padawan duo. It felt very “prequel trilogy,” but also something more, something personal. I realized I now felt akin to the middle-aged Master, where I used to be more like the Padawan.
This was a cool, slow-paced episode that had a certain tone of nobility and authenticity – a perfect balance between the tone of Japanese Samurai film. I loved the old man dark side user – certainly a take we have never seen in this franchise.
Again, I’m really having a hard time digesting everything new in these shorts. I’ve been feeling as if Star Wars had become too predictable in its rehash of Original Trilogy nostalgia over the past half decade, and I’ve been desperately wanting something new and fresh. This series is it! These episodes remind me of how I felt watching Star Wars expand with Gennedy Tartakovsky’s original Clone Wars shorts – which in my opinion, are the key moment when the prequel trilogy started to expand into something fresh and unknown. Without it, we would have no 3D animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and we wouldn’t be here today. I feel like Star Wars Visions could expand into something we can’t even imagine now.
“The Elder” ends with some truly wise and memorable pieces of dialogue. The first was the Master teaching his Padawan that “Power will not last forever.” The Padawan then asks, “So power is meaningless?” The Master answers, “Not at all, with power you can protect those without it. However, like everything else, it is impermanent.” It then ends with the Master telling his Padawan that as his power grows stronger, “Do not forget your training, and your kindness”.
I have come to realize, in my middle-age, that kindness is the best thing you can hope to achieve in this life. In the Star Wars philosophy of all being one in the Force, there is no better way to make that oneness real then being kind to others.
Episode 8: Lop and Ochō
A family is torn about what to do when the Empire encroaches on their planet.
Studio: Geno Studio
“Lop and Ocho” begins with a cool opening shot through the city under Imperial occupation, and ending in a close-up of Lop – a female rabbit-like species character (Lepus Carnivorus). Star Wars Visions continues to give us new fresh imagery. George Lucas would very likely love these shorts – not only does he admire Japanese film, but he’s stated several times how Star Wars always needs to be pushing the envelope to show something new.
I enjoyed the theme of Imperial industry negatively affecting nature, which feels very Hayao Miyazaki. Every shot is utterly lush with detail to help you feel the environment.
Our protagonist Lop escapes Imperial servitude of some kind and is taken in by a caring family, and the story fast-forwards seven years to tensions around the father resisting Imperial presence. The father mentions that Imperial help is another way to say “taking over”. We’re really into the heavy Star Wars themes now, with the older sister, Ochō, wanting to ally with the Empire to help the family, and the Father being accused of terrorist plans. This all leads to a very surprising and unique ending, a new kind of pathos for Star Wars. I really empathized with the father, as he not only felt the hurt from his conflict with his blood daughter Ochō, but also seeing his adopted daughter Lop in conflict with Ochō as well. My heart broke for the father.
It is utterly astonishing that all these episodes can tell a whole film’s worth of story and emotion, making me really feel for these characters in such a short amount of time.
Episode 9: “Akakiri”
A Jedi returns to his forbidden love to help defend her kingdom from a Sith-like Shogun.
Studio: Science SARU
Just as I was blown away by the intro sequence of the last episode, “Akakiri” turns the amp up to eleven with some intense rhythmic drums and frantic visuals – not the American action cinema stuff that overwhelms, but with an emotional purpose. If you have a good surround sound system, the drums occupy the space of the room in a way that makes this episode very immersive. Another brilliant and new take on a Star Wars intro!
Next we’re quickly introduced to a Jedi, a princess, two goofy characters and a Sith threat. This is all very much influenced by the Kurosawa film “The Hidden Fortress” (which is famously known as a huge inspiration for A New Hope). We are treated to a shot of our heroes riding big bird-like creatures through a stunning forest shot – foreground, mid and background movement was mesmerizing. See image above. Every shot in this episode has stunning use of light and colour.
The Jedi confronts the Sith, the King’s sister. She has a very interesting look, and once again we are treated to a fresh perspective on a Dark Side villain. The climax is such a wild take on a key theme from Revenge of the Sith, underscored with a truly bizarre and poignant musical moment to end the episode.
Akakiri is perhaps the weirdest episode, and was a bold choice to end on. It leaves you wanting more. I’m ready for season two!
Star Wars Visions – New and Different
For me, Visions is some of the best Star Wars in a long time. I need my favourite saga to challenge me with new perspectives, new stories, new visuals, new sounds and new ideas. Each of these episodes is so jam-packed with new stuff, that it’s going to require many, many viewings to fully enjoy, digest and process it all.
The mark of great Star Wars to me is whether it demands I rewatch it for the rest of my life or not, and I have a feeling I will return to these compelling and wondrous shorts for a long, long time! I watched these in both the English and Japanese versions, and while the English voice work is perfect, there is something about the Japanese version which makes the whole experience more authentic, as only Japanese actors can express their cultural nuances. It’s also new and different for Star Wars – which (Not unlike Star Wars creator George Lucas) is what I have been craving the most from Star Wars in recent years.
Star Wars: Visions launched on Disney+ on September 22, 2021, and is available right now! For more on Star Wars Visions, including a Roundtable with the creators, check out this interview from our friends at Fangirls Going Rogue.
About the Guest Author
Din is lead singer and frontman of two musical acts (F-105 and The Soles) known around Star Wars fandom. His newest album ‘F-105 II: Side B’ can be heard on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and www.f105music.com. He is also an established visual artist and all his work can be seen at his instagram visualartbydin