Title: Star Wars: Visions
Stars: Simu Liu, Alison Brie, Karen Fukuhara, David Harbour, Temuera Morrison, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Tee, Neil Patrick Harris, Jordan Fisher
FilmLore is a Disney+ affiliate program member, but this does in no way affect the contents of the following review.
From the beginning, even before George Lucas first set pen to paper to write his script for the first Star Wars film, Japanese culture and legend had already provided him with significant inspiration for his galaxy far, far away. The legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and his films such as Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress greatly influenced Lucas’s work on 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope and the following films.
The Star Wars universe even has its own samurai. The Jedi themselves face trials and tribulations very similar to these honor-bound warriors from Japan’s history. Wielding swords of energy and light and following strict codes inspired by the Bushido, they seek to defend peace and justice in the galaxy. Zen Buddhism can be seen in The Force. Even Darth Vader’s mask closely resembles the samurai’s karuta, the traditional helmet and mask worn by these warriors in battle.
It is almost a wonder that it would take such a long time before someone got to combine the Japanese art form of anime with the Star Wars universe. True enough, fans have been drawing their own Star Wars art using anime and manga for decades, and there have been several comic books in this style. And I’ve seen impressive fan-made short films using anime to tell stories set in the Star Wars universe.
Jedi and Rabbits and… Jedi Rabbits?
It is here Star Wars Visions comes in. This new animated series, created by Lucasfilm in cooperation with several Japanese anime studios, has produced nine different tales set in the Star Wars universe. The studios have had a great deal of freedom to follow their artistic visions, telling stories in wildly different styles and themes. Some of the episodes are meant for younger audiences, being innocent and playful, while others aim towards older Star Wars and anime fans, with bloody tales of honor, revenge, and rage.
The nine episodes are all in all very good, with anime art and animation that in some cases can be compared to the best in the genre. But when Star Wars Visions is at its best, it is pure art! The studios that worked with Lucasfilm on this anthology series have given their episodes their own in-house styles. The result was that some episodes appealed to me more than others, but it will all depend on how you like your Star Wars and your Japanese animation.
If someone asked me to pick out my three favorite episodes from the nine included in the first season, I would go with The Duel by Kamikaze Douga, The Elder by Trigger, and The Village Bride Kinema Citrus. Even though these and the other episodes are set in the Star Wars universe, they are only inspired by George Lucas’ stories, not beholden to any canon. So if you’re a hard-core Star Wars fan and scholar, you might want to go into this with an open mind. Some episodes might fly in the face of established Star Wars lore or just feel downright strange. Examples here would be the one about the Pinocchio-like, Force-sensitive droid who wants to be a Jedi. And how about the one with the Jedi Padawan who joins a rock band to play for Jabba the Hutt? Or the one about the Rabbit-alien who inherits a lightsaber?
Star Wars Themes – And Lots of Jedi
The various themes in Star Wars Visions are those that we can expect from stories set in this universe. As an anthology series, they are wide-ranging, covering family, friendship, loyalty, and the dangers of having too much power. There are some good tidbits of lore for the Star Wars scholars here too, and if you’re an anime fan and a Star Wars fan, this should be tailor-made for you.
If I had to point to something I missed, it would be stories about something other than Jedi. These first nine episodes all concerned The Force and Jedi, but there is more to the Star Wars universe than just that. Of course, there are other characters in the series, but I felt that lightsabers and hooded Force wielders were constantly overshadowing them. I love good Jedi-focused stories, but where are the smugglers, the bounty hunters, and the Rebel soldiers?
All in all, Star Wars Visions is an excellent addition to the growing collection of Star Wars animated series filling up Disney+. It is in many ways unique, and the mesh of Star Wars and anime feels very natural.
Star Wars Visions premiers on Disney+ on the 22nd of September. And if you want a completely authentic experience, watch it in Japanese!