Disney's Investor Day event brought an onslaught of Star Wars news in ways seldom seen.
The highlights for fans were, of course, the announcements of Ahsoka and Rangers of the New Republic, set to carry on the narrative established by The Mandalorian, and Patty Jenkins' Rogue Squadron, the next theatrical film. Fans were also treated to a title reveals for Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Acolyte, and Andor, along with sizzle reels, the news that Hayden Christensen would reprise his role as Darth Vader in the Ewan McGregor-led series, and a trailer for The Bad Batch.
One announcement that seemed to slide below the radar was the surprise reveal of Star Wars: Visions, an anime series developed by Lucasfilm in conjunction with several of the best Japanese animation studios. The show was announced for a Fall 2021 release, and the time is now upon us.
While not necessarily something that every Star Wars fan would consider their thing, Visions manages to tell unique stories in unexpectedly compelling ways. The anthology is a collection of nine shorts that aspire to do dramatically different things from one another, making the show unlike anything ever done in Star Wars before. For fans of anime, there will be a lot to love... and for those not particularly interested, there are quite a few factors worth giving the series a shot.
The Ultimate Star Wars Influence
Longtime fans of Star Wars are undoubtedly aware of the influence Japanese films had on George Lucas - the works of Akira Kurosawa in particular.
These elements are featured prominently throughout Visions. "The Duel" is completely black and white, save for the red lightsaber blades of the Sith warrior and Ronin, making the episode feel as if it were a Kurosawa piece itself. The Ronin concept is very heavily influenced by samurai works, and the character had a very interesting personal quest in defeating other Sith and laying claim to their kyber crystals. How this story will be expanded upon in the Del Rey novel Ronin will be interesting to see.
The samurai influence is prominent in many of the episodes, especially regarding combat. Like "The Duel," there's something very formal and elegant about the way the Jedi in "The Village Bride" prepared to take on the mercenary. Those who have seen Star Wars Rebels will note the similarities to the duel between Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi almost immediately.
How the concept of the Force is presented is very close to Japanese ideas as well. The local people in "The Village Bride" don't see their connection to the world as something through the Force, but rather a more natural symbiotic relationship to the planet, which itself is very much the idea of what the Force is - an energy field that surrounds all living things and binds the galaxy together.
Touches of New and Old
By and large, the characters presented in the Visions stories are new. Most of them center around individuals or groups of Jedi and Sith, but these aren't adventures for Yoda or Darth Vader.
There are, however, some heavy influences from characters like Vader. "The Twins" makes clear why the Visions anthology was collectively decided to be categorized as non-canon, though some of the stories could be classified as such if further developed in current continuity. The twins in the story are genetically engineered Force users created to bring order to the galaxy with the Empire, and they both don outfits that very much look like the iconic Sith Lords.
While the characters are mostly new, there are some familiar faces as well. "Tatooine Rhapsody" features Boba Fett, voiced by Temuera Morrison, who puts his bounty hunting skills to good use to capture a member of the band. Fett himself isn't the central character of the episode, but he's integral to the plot and the way he's presented is true to the character Star Wars fans have grown to love.
The episode also brings Jabba the Hutt and Bib Fortuna back into the action, albeit briefly, as the band performs at the Mos Espa Podrace event first seen in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. While the appearances are largely inconsequential, it's neat to see some familiar faces that allow the audience to connect to an otherwise bizarre story.
Stories Across The Stars
With Visions being an anthology series that gave the anime studios free rein to tell any kind of stories they desired, stories are scattered all across the timeline as fans know it.
Several episodes do take place during the timeframe of George Lucas' saga, spanning the Clone Wars era through the fall of the Galactic Empire. The Jedi-turned-singer in "Tatooine Rhapsody" was previously fighting in the war himself before abandoning his ways out of fear, and "The Village Bride" takes place shortly after the conflict ends, with the story's mercenary making use of reprogrammed battle droids.
Stormtroopers and Star Destroyers are a big indicator of when any story might take place, and the Imperial era design for the military in "The Twins" makes clear that the tale is an alternate reality where characters based on Luke, Leia, and Vader seek to control the galaxy.
"The Duel" is an interesting situation, as the stormtroopers present appear to be donning First Order armor, but there's little else to indicate when exactly the events are taking place. The helmets could've been a stylistic choice by the studio, or perhaps that story also takes place in an alternate universe where it's the Sith who reign supreme for centuries and the Jedi aren't nearly as prominent.
In an exclusive interview with executive producer James Waugh, it was stated that the goal for Visions was to provide a breath of fresh air for Star Wars fans.
The series succeeds in doing so, as the anthology is different from anything Lucasfilm has ever released. Visions offers the freedom to do pretty much anything within the Star Wars universe, and that comes with its perks and detractions.
"The Duel" was the coolest episode of the bunch, presenting classic Star Wars concepts in ways that are true to both the franchise and its influences. How the series deals with the Force overall is interesting, as each studio brings a different interpretation to the table that may or may not be familiar to people.
Anime is something Star Wars hasn't dipped into before, and as a result there are some weirder moments that fans not generally into that style of storytelling will be puzzled by. The idea of a rock band performing for Jabba the Hutt and winning the crowd's favor to avoid execution is amusing, but odd, and the designs for episodes like "T0-B1" are strange and a bit out of place for the franchise as a whole.
But even if a few of the episodes aren't to one's liking, fans will be surprised by what Visions has to offer. The stories are each unique in their own ways and expand the idea of what Star Wars is and could be, making it worth a watch for anyone already interested or sitting on the fence.