TV Review – “Star Wars: Visions” Episode 1 – “The Duel” Pays Homage to Kurosawa’s Samurai Film Legacy

Yesterday I posted a review of the full season of Lucasfilm’s new animated event series Star Wars: Visions, created by some of the most acclaimed anime studios working in contemporary Japan. And starting today, now that the collection of nine short films has been released on Disney+, I’m going to go through each of them one-by-one and give you my thoughts in addition to a brief recap and my own personal ranking.

The first installment, entitled “The Duel,” was crafted by the Kamikaze Douga studios (creators of Batman Ninja) and pays homage to the iconic samurai film legacy of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, whose work was an obvious influence on the original Star Wars trilogy– not to mention many of its eventual offshoots including the Disney+ live-action series The Mandalorian. A lone warrior known only as “Ronin,” AKA a samurai without a master (voiced by Masaki Terasoma in the Japanese audio track and Brian Tee in the English-language version), finds his way into a small village being terrorized by a gang of local bandits made up of Imperial remnants and a female Sith warrior (Akeno Watanabe / Lucy Liu) intent on terrorizing the villagers for their supplies and money.

Ronin befriends a humble shopkeeper (Cho / Joe Ochman) and watches the village’s eclectic security force make their best effort to deal with the outlaw menace, eventually taking it upon himself to step in and combat the imposing Sith warrior himself while his trusty droid undergoes some much-needed repairs. “The Duel” is mostly presented in gorgeous black-and-white, with hints of vibrant color accentuating the visuals whenever someone fires a blaster or ignites a lightsaber. Right off the bat here in the first episode of Star Wars: Visions I am beyond gobsmacked by the jaw-dropping animation and the creators’ use of familiar iconography to help ground the audience in this somewhat experimental undertaking. A big deal has been made about the Sith’s unique multi-bladed spinning saber weapon, but I got just as much of a kick out of seeing Aurebesh lettering on the signs and banners around town.

I love how the security force is made up of a protocol droid, a Trandoshan, a Gran, a Tusken Raider, and a Dug piloting a salvaged probe droid, among other recognizable denizens of the Star Wars galaxy. Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai has been adapted for use in A Galaxy Far, Far Away several times over already (including in the original Marvel comics, The Clone Wars, and most recently The Mandalorian) but I don’t think it’s ever looked quite as cool as it does here. I also really like the idea of a powerful Force user who doesn’t identify as a Jedi, but does hunt down Sith, collecting their Kyber crystals in an effort to rid the planet of evil. “The Duel” gets Visions off to a great start, setting an appropriate tone and a high bar for the eight episodes that follow.

My ranking so far:

1 – The Duel

Star Wars: Visions is available to stream in its entirety exclusively on Disney+.

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