It’s no secret that in creating the original Star Wars film (not to mention its sequels and prequels), George Lucas drew on all sorts of inspiration from his favorite genres of cinema, most notably the pulp sci-fi serials he saw in his youth, the American Western, and the classic Japanese Samurai pictures of the 1950s and 60s.
Now, almost 45 years later, the currently Disney-owned Lucasfilm has put the Star Wars franchise into the hands of some of the most talented filmmakers working in contemporary Japanese animation (what many in the English-speaking world would call “anime”) via a limited special-event series entitled Star Wars: Visions, which premieres this week exclusively on the streaming service Disney+.
Star Wars: Visions once again bridges the gap between Western and Eastern storytelling by taking the iconography and tropes of the Lucas-created Star Wars universe and generating short films using that language in a variety of anime styles. There are nine shorts overall, each running somewhere between 13 and 22 minutes in length, and having just finished a screener of the entire season I can happily report that they are all at the very least worth watching. The visuals are uniformly gorgeous, and many of the animated vistas will likely be considered suitable for framing among appreciative fans. And while purists will likely want to stick with the original Japanese audio track, Lucasfilm has gone the double distance by casting the English dub with a collection of ringers like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lucy Liu, Neil Patrick Harris, Alison Brie, Simu Liu, David Harbour, and recent Star Wars regular Bobby Moynihan. Attack of the Clones actor Temuera Morrison even reprises his The Mandalorian role as fearsome bounty hunter Boba Fett in one episode set on Tatooine, but by and large these stories are about new characters and locations.
Think Marvel Studios’ What If…? but with fewer familiar faces and an emphasis on reimagining A Galaxy Far, Far Away through the lens of Japanese culture and history. Visions exists outside of the main Star Wars canon, and though that may turn off some devotees of the saga’s ever-expanding continuity, I think it’s a great thing that Lucasfilm has decided it can occasionally step away from worrying about who begat who and which events took place between others. There are echoes of what we’ve seen before here, with Jedi battling Sith in hand-to-hand lightsaber combat, X-wings, droids, Hutts, and that mixture of ancient mysticism intermingled with futuristic but lived-in technology we all love so much. But everything else feels fresh, as if new creators were given the basic building blocks of what we believe Star Wars is intended to be and told to construct something else with them.
It’s an incredibly interesting experiment, and something I’d love to see explored more as Lucasfilm continues to calculate just what exactly the future holds for Star Wars in this post-Skywalker Saga period. Above all else, Star Wars: Visions is an entertaining and energetic reinforcement that not everything has to tie together in one sacred timeline (thanks for the reminder, Loki) in order to be worthy of carrying on the narrative traditions and straightforward good-vs.-evil values we’ve grown accustomed to from this particular franchise. My only real complaint is that such a large percentage of these stories focus on the Jedi, when (as fans of any level of investment can tell you) there’s so much more to this fictional universe than just Force users. I would have loved to see more Visions tales set in the underworld or military spheres of Star Wars, but maybe that minor shortcoming will add up to a good excuse to produce another batch of episodes sometime in the near future.
After this season is released on Wednesday, I’ll be writing individual reviews for all nine installments of Star Wars: Visions, but until then suffice it to say that I highly recommend checking it out. And as someone who is ashamed to admit my own lack of knowledge about Japanese animation, I hope this opens the door for me (and others like me) to consume more from that medium. And at the same time, maybe anime addicts who aren’t as into Star Wars as I am will find themselves inspired to take their first steps into a larger world.
The entire nine-episode anthology series of Star Wars: Visions premieres Wednesday, September 22, exclusively on Disney+.