Disney+ released the newest addition to the Star Wars franchise in the form of a non-serialized anthology consisting of nine short episodes, titled Star Wars: Visions, on Sept. 22. The episodes boast storytelling and animation from acclaimed anime studios, bringing in a fresh take on the Star Wars universe.
I’m no big fan of anime — I only have a handful of Attack on Titan episodes and a few Netflix originals under my belt — but I was nonetheless intrigued at the idea of seeing a franchise so inundated with content introducing new stories through a completely different lens. Otherwise unfamiliar with the creators behind this series, I was able to watch the first three episodes with an open mind.
The first episode, “The Duel,” is stunning in its simplicity and purity. In every scene, there is restraint, whether in the animation style, the dialogue or plot, and it creates suspense the viewer will happily ride until the end of the brief episode. It is animated in a pencil-drawn style, which adds aggressiveness to each frame that complements the action. It’s mostly black and gray, but a few select colors are added to give significance to certain elements.
The plot follows a mysterious ronin defending a town from a league of ex-soldiers-turned-bandits. It’s a wonderful infusion of classic storytelling in a science fiction setting. When the runtime is as short as around 13 minutes, every frame counts, and it’s clear each decision in this installment of the series was thoughtful and purposeful. Also, a lightsaber umbrella is undeniably cool.
“Tatooine Rhapsody” displays a significantly more lighthearted take on Star Wars than the first episode, despite being centered on an execution. Following an interstellar band led by an ex-Padawan, viewers are greeted with a few familiar faces — namely Boba Fett and the Hutts — while the band plays their biggest performance on Tatooine, a planet supposedly on the furthest outskirts of a galaxy that seems to frequently host some of the most momentous events in the Star Wars universe.
This episode, further contrasting its predecessor, is vibrantly colored with a more rounded art style. The compelling story of a young Padawan forsaking his religion in the wake of Order 66 for the pursuit of music is dropped in favor of the bassist running away from his criminal family.
I was less impressed with this episode, though I don’t think I was the target audience. Younger viewers will likely find this story more enjoyable, and the decidedly terrible punk music led by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s strained vocals might not be as stomach-turning to them.
The third episode, “The Twins,” is an excellent experiment with the common tropes and themes instilled throughout the decades of the Star Wars saga. It begs the question: What if Luke and Leia were raised not separately under the blanket of the Light side, but together in the cold of the Dark side?
There are parallels to be drawn to Marvel’s What If…? series, also on Disney+, and this is an overall successfully ambitious concept to be realized in just over 16 minutes.
“The Twins” is a thrilling crash course in all that is Star Wars, animated in a vivid angular style befitting of its intensity. At the heart of the story are the same conflicts seen through the Skywalker Saga — freedom versus oppression, hope versus fear, good versus evil.
Though there are endless callbacks to the lore of the greater Star Wars universe, including Tatooine, the story doesn’t bat you over the head with these references. It all still feels like uncharted territory, aided by possible innovations in Star Wars technology (what happens if a lightsaber is powered by a hyperdrive?).
My only qualm is there’s no explanation for how anyone, even Force users, survives the frigid vacuum of space unaided. Regardless, of the first three chapters in this anthology, “The Twins” is without a doubt the one to watch.
Despite minor missteps due to the breakneck pacing required by the short runtimes, Star Wars: Visions seems to have everything I could want in new Star Wars content. Though not a part of the franchise’s canon, this series sets the bar for how Star Wars should be handled for the new generation.
With Star Wars: Visions, novelty and creativity burst at the seams. It inspires pride as a fan of a genre taking a new direction. Most importantly, it leaves me anxiously awaiting my next glimpse of a beloved galaxy far, far away.