Star Wars Visions has so many different styles that every viewer is going to rate the individual stories based on their personal preference. Somebody might dislike the exaggerated style of The Twins, somebody might love the soft style of T0-B1. Some might find some of the stories are lacking plot, others might care chiefly about the visuals.
The stories are mostly limited by their 13- to 20-minute length. Surprisingly, they all managed to use that space perfectly – or, near-perfectly. That not each of the stories forms a compact whole with no loose ends is one of the shortcomings of Star Wars Visions. Still, overall the project has brought a set of unique animations, sometimes with very interesting stories and characters.
Let’s now take a look at the individual episodes. This review will endeavour to be as objective as possible, but it inevitably will highlight those elements I am the most attentive to. Note: the category “Star Wars feel” mostly pertains to how well have the authors managed to evoke the feeling “I am watching Star Wars”. That means both keeping an active “oh yes, this has everything a Star Wars story should have” feel and equally importantly minimising elements that would make it feel like “not Star Wars” (including e.g. if the Japanese culture element overshadows the Star Wars element too much). Even if this score is low, it may not necessarily mean anything negative: just that you may forget that you are watching Star Wars.
1. The Duel
Star Wars feel: 6/10
The Duel is first and foremost a homage to Akira Kurosawa’s films. Even the style is intentionally black-and-white with added noise. This is complimented by amazing use of colours for lightsabers, blaster bolts and droid lights which creates wonderful contrast and shifts the focus to these elements.
The plot, on the other hand, is simple. A village plagued by bandits and a silent stranger who stands against them. The overall atmosphere is much more Kurosawa than Star Wars. There is also no deep characterisation besides the “cool mysterious protagonist/cool antagonist” effect. They are epic fighters but we are left to imagine whatever we want about their personality from their silence. The Duel does not run deeper than the visuals.
The union of Kurosawa style and Star Wars is seamless, it looks great. But there is really nothing added to what we have seen already in the trailer. In terms of story – one remarkable plot twist, that’s about it. It could be a series of paintings and it would work just as well. Perhaps that is the reason why this was put up as the first episode. It introduces the audience into this alternative Star Wars setting and does not need much plot while the impression of new style is still fresh.
2. Tatooine Rhapsody
Star Wars feel: 5/10
Tatooine Rhapsody is second possibly for the same reason. The idea of focussing on a music band is unique and the authors deserve the credit for originality. I imagine when the studios got invited into the Visions project, all started brainstorming “what iconic elements are there in Star Wars that we could base our story on?” All the other creators (as one can see) came up with “Jedi, lightsabers, droids and family”. Studio Colorido were the only ones who remembered that everyone also knows the Mos Eisley cantina band and that music is an iconic part of Star Wars.
The story itself is again simple, this time a tale of friendship many cynic will just wave off as something we have seen a million times. There is a lot more characterisation than in The Duel even though some of it is weird (a Hutt who ran away to play in a rock band is certainly a novel concept; he also does not look exactly like a Hutt). Bonus in the English-dubbed version is Temuera Morrison as Boba Fett (but then again, the band’s song may be better in the original).
3. The Twins
Star Wars feel: 7/10
Here we get to the weird part of anime (for those uninitiated) but also to a more original plot. The Twins subverts the Luke-Leia concept by showing two siblings as “chosen ones of the Dark Side”. Accompanied by a nice subverted “evil C3PO”.
What inevitably must catch everybody’s attention is the use of the cartoon medium to its full extent. The Twins is making the best of that in anime one can draw dozens of meters long lightsaber blades that twist and turn, people jumping in space, shooting lightsabers from their high-heeled boots… anything goes. And that is good. The creators of Visions had the freedom to do anything – so Studio Trigger did it. They came up with really cool designs. You can sense that it is all a little tongue-in-cheek, there are completely ridiculous effects (like someone holding six lightsabers) right next to things that were in canon films but make you raise your eyebrows as well (the “Kylo Ren feat” of preventing a spaceship to fly away by Force pulling it). There is something to the idea of being free to do such things without worrying about them being “canon” which is something “serious” projects have to deal with and find where to draw the line, which is both limiting and hard (I am looking at you, Star Wars Rebels with lightsaber-helicopters).
Each Visions episode contains at least a few easter eggs and references to the original. The Twins contains the most by far, perhaps even too many. Saying “I have a bad feeling about this” would not even require mentioning, but the protagonists quote some classic lines or visually reference something (anything from the twin sunset to the Holdo maneuver) on average more than once per minute.
4. The Village Bride
Star Wars feel: 6/10
This is finally a tale with some more nuanced characters who have a backstory and an agenda. It also has a really cool representation of the Force. Even though at its core this is a tale about the Jedi, and it mentions the Empire and the Separatists, its rural setting feels almost un-Star Wars-y. I am not saying that it is necessarily wrong. The focus on the folklore element and the wedding rituals just adds to the atmosphere.
Another way to speak about this would be that it is The Duel with much more plot (the core idea, villagers versus bandits, is still present).
The only flaw of the episode is that it has a lot of depth on all levels, but eventually fails short of delivering it. The story opens with hinting at much – F’s master, his fate, the planet’s history, F’s relationship with the smuggler… But then they never get properly addressed again. Sure: the story has a restrictive time limit. Still, part of a writer’s job is that if you know you have a limit, you need to come up with a way to make your story conclude all its loose ends within the limit. You can leave them intentionally hanging, but then you must make it a point. Here, it mostly felt like saying “we kind of had an idea about these things, but we later found we did not have the time to speak about them in depth”.