While it might be controversial to some, it seems like Star Wars as a property has felt somewhat stagnant for a few years. Even with the fun and sense of adventure brought forth by The Mandalorian, that show has recently fallen back on old characters and nostalgia to sell its larger plot beats. And the less said about The Rise of Skywalker the better (despite the somewhat positive review I gave it when it released, on which my feelings have changed).
All of this is to say, with the dearth of spin-offs on the horizon for the galaxy far, far away, Star Wars Visions feels like a breath of fresh air. The change in medium and incorporating of new perspectives is immediately gratifying, making for the most exciting thing to happen to the franchise since we first laid eyes on The Child a few years ago.
The mere existence of Star Wars Visions is indicative of the continuously growing prominence of anime in the mainstream. To have a franchise this massive incorporate a medium that has become less niche in the West over the past few years and embrace its Eastern audience more is so exciting, and they have chosen some truly exemplary studios to bring these (ahem) visions to life. Studio Trigger, Science SARU, Kamikaze Douga, Geno Studio, Production IG, Kinema Citrus, and Studio Colorido all bring a unique and distinct flavor to the Star Wars universe—and the animation is routinely top notch.
Every episode in this season clocks in at under 20 minutes—with most hovering around the 15 minute mark—making these episodes perfect for quick viewing and telling short, self-contained stories. Like most short format media, the best of the bunch tell a satisfying story while hinting at more, teasing the audience with details and plot beats that leave us craving more time with them. Of these nine episodes, the most successful in that regard are Studio Trigger’s masterful “The Twins” and “The Elder.”
“The Twins,” which features Trigger’s signature blasts of color and angular designs, tells the story of a brother and sister created through the Dark Side of the Force for reasons unknown to them. It’s story feels both classic and fresh, featuring parallels to Luke and Leia as well as familiar locales but casting them in an entirely new light. Combined with staggeringly beautiful visuals and one of the best fights in Star Wars history (you read that right), Studio Trigger’s first episode is worth watching the series for on its own. It’s second episode, “The Elder,” features a completely different visual style from “The Twins” but retains the excitement, and features a brilliant duel and some fascinating meditations on power and time.
Speaking of lightsaber fights, Star Wars Visions excels in the realm of battle—in large part due to its medium. Anime (and animation in general) allow creators to bypass the limits of real people, stunt work, and CGI to create kinetic, visually splendid fight scenes that routinely leave your jaw on the floor. Nearly every episode has a battle or duel that is sure to take your breath away; the first episode, “The Duel,” builds its entire plot around it. Visions leans into the awesome nature of the Force and the signature weapons of the Star Wars universe with thrilling results. Production IG’s “The Ninth Jedi” is really all about lightsabers and the power they hold. If you like lightsabers, this show will make you very, very happy.
But beyond the badass fights and unique visual styles, Star Wars Visions’ biggest success is injecting variety, history, and weirdness into the franchise’s universe again. After nine films full of Skywalkers and Palpatines—and spin-offs in service of them—Visions lets its creators run wild and take the franchise to some surprising and beautiful places.
“The Duel” is told as a classic samurai story, complete with a small village in need of defending, that is invaded by the Empire; the clash of traditional setting and high-tech invaders creates an interesting dichotomy. “Tatooine Rhapsody” is one of the most delightfully odd entries in the entire Star Wars canon, focusing on the connective powers of rock ‘n roll. “The Village Bride” taps into the mystical and natural elements of the Force, focusing on the environment and how people in this galaxy tie their faith to this mysterious power. And “Lop and Ocho” tells a story about sisterhood and found family, while also presenting a family split between the Empire and the Rebellion. These stories are original and refreshing in a way that many Star Wars stories haven’t been recently, and as a longtime fan it’s heartening to see that there’s still room for creativity in a franchise this lived-in.
Now, not every episode is a winner. While none are complete duds, a few don’t quite come together in satisfying ways. The first of these is “TO-B1” from Science SARU, which tells the story of a young robot boy created by a lonely, wise inventor. With animation that feels the most similar to a Disney product of old (it doesn’t look bad by any stretch, the painterly backgrounds are quite lovely), it feels the most familiar of the bunch. It ends up watching a bit like Pinocchio with a lightsaber—it’s quirky and cutesy before suddenly veering into an incredibly detailed and tense lightsaber duel, with explosions of color and effects that feel totally at odds with the rest of the episode, despite how cool it is.
Science SARU’s second episode, “Akakiri,” also misses the mark a bit. Its plot feels surprisingly threadbare before its shocking ending pulls things into focus a bit, but it doesn’t quite make up for its meandering first two acts. Likewise, the animation is emotive and has its moments, but otherwise it feels lacking in detail in a way no other episode is. While some may enjoy this style, it wasn’t for me.
Viewed as a complete package, Star Wars Visions is a total triumph, standing as one of the best, most original concepts to emerge from the Disney era of the series. It successfully taps into the franchise’s more whimsical and imaginative roots, while also paying homage to some key inspirations for the films that started it all (it’s no secret that lightsaber duels were initially based on samurai showdowns). With seven brilliant animation studios all bringing their own unique voice to the series, Visions is a must-watch for anyone who loves Star Wars and wants to see just how much room there is for creativity, excitement, and heart there is left in that galaxy far, far away.