Continuing Laughing Place’s reviews of each individual episode of Lucasfilm’s animated event series Star Wars: Visions, the seventh installment is entitled “The Elder” and is the second of these shorts crafted by Studio Trigger, who also made the very different-looking “The Twins.”
If I were judging these episodes of Star Wars: Visions by sheer mood-setting ability alone, “The Elder” would shoot immediately up to the top of my list. Yes, it’s yet another story about Jedi knights facing of against an agent of the dark side, but the sense of dread that builds steadily as Master Tajin (voiced by Takaya Hashi in the Japanese audio track and David Harbour in the English dub) and his Padawan Dan (Yuichi Nakamura / Jordan Fisher) pursue their adversary could be taught as a master class in suspense.
“The Elder” follows these two Jedi as they make their way down from their ship to a small village on the planet Habo, investigating a disturbance in the Force. I really like how this short takes its time in establishing the relationship between master and apprentice before the action begins, and I wish live-action Star Wars storytelling would borrow the sense of deliberate pacing that Studio Trigger utilizes here. The villagers warn the Jedi about a mysterious old man who came through earlier, so they split up to follow him into the mountains, even though they’re becoming wary of his origins and loyalties. When Tajn notices that the old man’s ship resembles the designs of the ancient Sith and Dan finds a slaughtered creature called a Vamga, both Jedi must face off against this powerful being. It’s an effective,, atmospheric, and genuinely thrilling climax to a well-told tale of two warriors confronting an entity of pure evil.
My only real reservation here is in regards to the animation on display, which comes across as significantly less sophisticated than what I’ve seen in the rest of Star Wars: Visions. Maybe it’s an anime thing, but there are some very long shots with little or no movement in the frame. I remember once seeing a Q&A session with Disney animator Andreas Deja where he talked about why he couldn’t get into the style of some Japanese animation, and I think the simplicity of the form in “The Elder” is a good example of that. I’m taken out of the story by the characters and their surroundings’ lack of organic motion– they don’t breathe when they’re standing still, the leaves don’t rustle in the breeze behind them… there are moments in this short that almost had me convinced that I had accidentally paused my Disney+ app, if not for the audio playing over it.
But outside of the lackluster animation and my growing lightsaber-duel fatigue in regards to Visions’ narrative choices, I have a feeling this entry is going to wind up in my top three just for successfully injecting sheer tension and even a few elements of the horror genre into my favorite franchise.
My ranking so far:
1 – The Ninth Jedi
2 – The Duel
3 – The Elder
4 – Tatooine Rhapsody
5 – The Twins
6 – T0-B1
7 – The Village Bride
Star Wars: Visions is available to stream in its entirety exclusively on Disney+.