‘Star Wars: Visions’ Review – Interesting and Diverse Anime Shorts are Hit and Miss

An anthology series of anime short films, Star Wars: Visions immediately sets itself apart by taking the franchise into completely new territory – not just because it’s anime, but because it allows groups of new artists and creators to take the reins. Produced by seven Japanese animation studios, the films each tell diverse stories and are presented in the studio’s distinct artistic style. No two films are the same, yet all are drawn in eye-catching, graphic styles. The diverse nature of the series is refreshing, especially considering that the creative side of Star Wars has long been under the control of a select few. 

From grand duels between Sith to a Jedi saving a kidnapped bride from bandits, each story is completely unique. Some lean into typical franchise themes, like the bond between family. Others tell stand-alone stories that just happen to be set in a galaxy far, far away. The catch to these shorts is that they are merely inspired by Star Wars, and when it comes to capturing the feeling of the series, some are more successful than others. The best of the short films are the ones that lean into the themes, inspirations, and iconography of the franchise. 

No episode does this better than the premiere, The Duel. Drawn in black and white, the film accentuates its violence – the lightsabers, the blaster fire – with bright pops of colour. The narrative focuses on a deadly battle between Jedi and Sith, fighting over the future of a village under threat from the Empire. This basic narrative has been seen time and again in both the films and TV series of Star Wars. Countless planets have been threatened by evil forces and saved by a Jedi Knight. The Duel sets itself apart by making this more of a samurai story, which is evident in the set design and costumes. This differentiates it from classic Star Wars while leaning into one of the franchise’s key influences. 

Many of the shorts also use classic iconography to tie themselves into the series, such as using familiar starship designs. This is sometimes successful but can come off as a crutch – a simple method of tieing the shorts into the wider Star Wars universe. This is especially true of Tatooine Rhapsody, which is about a rock band being forced to perform a concert for Jabba the Hutt. The very presence of traditional characters such as Jabba and Boba Fett is really the only thing to ground this short in the galaxy far, far away. It is otherwise a largely unrelated story that happens to be in a sci-fi setting. 

As such, the very best of these films are the ones that capture the essence of Star Wars but also bring something new to the table. Several of the films take the lightsaber and put a new, unique spin on the weapon. The Duel features a Sith wielding a cool lightsaber-umbrella hybrid that makes for really exciting combat. All in all, there are enough shorts that pull this off to make the series worth a watch, but it is definitely a mixed bag. 

For those who enjoy anime and Star Wars, this will be a perfect combination. It also shows the potential of the franchise to succeed in other mediums, and the sort of creative, unique stories that could be told if it was opened up to a diverse bunch of writers and directors. It takes the series in a whole new direction, and the tales told are certainly interesting and visually captivating, even if they don’t always succeed in feeling like part of the Star Wars universe.

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