5. The Ninth Jedi
Star Wars feel: 7/10
With The Ninth Jedi, we are fully immersed in the Star Wars universe again. The story set at a time where the Jedi are nearly extinct and the art of lightsabercraft is lost. Then, on the bidding of a mysterious benefactor, several Jedi survivors gather to receive newly-forged sabers. This story uses an element of Japanese culture – the importance of a samurai sword – and applies it on the lightsabers. But otherwise, this is a pure Star Wars story.
Kara, the protagonist, is reminiscent of Rey in particular, as she is an untrained lightsaber-wielder. It is hard to say whether the creators did it intentionally, but it almost seems like Kara is a “fix” of the Rey archetype. The Ninth Jedi underlines the fact that while she can use the lightsaber, she is untrained, the element that received perhaps the strongest criticism from some parts of the sequel trilogy’s audience.
The visuals uniquely connect a certain medieval vibe with the Star Wars setting. A girl haggling with a rusty transport droid is again straight out of Studio Ghibli films. The snow-covered forest both evokes an iconic type of Japanese landscape and calls back to The Force Awakens.
The story has an interesting plot and it does its best to make each of the ~10 characters feel like they have a personality and a backstory. As much as that can be done within twenty minutes. The Ninth Jedi is also a story that begs for a sequel (it is not the only one, but perhaps it asks for one the most).
Star Wars feel: 7/10
T0-B1 is a strange mixture of cheerful visuals and a fairly serious story if one stops to think about it. The tale of a droid who wants to become a Jedi may seem childish on first sight. One must point out however that this is one of the few (along with The Elder) that actually feature a Master-Padawan teaching as a major point. Still, it is wrapped up in such a way that leaves mixed feelings. T0-B1 receives some profound wisdom but at the same time the story balances on the verge of not making sense. Perhaps that is because it is told from a droid’s point of view.
If one looks past the cartoonish faces of the protagonists, there are really beautiful backgrounds. Overall the visuals are pretty and even those who may not like them may find them refreshingly unique.
7. The Elder
Star Wars feel: 8/10
The difference is that the focus lies with a Master and his Padawan. This and T0-B1 are the only stories that tackled this important part of Star Wars lore. The protagonists are clearly modelled after Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan and they are a nice homage. Their mysterious enemy, aside from wielding cool twin swords, professes an interesting form of Sith ideology.
The big downside of the story is that it seems somewhat unfinished. We are never told what the protagonists did with the knowledge they learned, or what was the significance of their enemy turning into a pile of rocks. Nothing wrong with things remaining unsaid, but only as long as there is an indication as to where we might look for the answers.
8. Lop and Ocho
Star Wars feel: 7/10
Many viewers would undoubtedly get stuck on the fact that the protagonist is a space bunny. But Lop and Ocho is actually a rather cool tale, perhaps the second after The Ninth Jedi that low-key asks for a sequel. All protagonists are well characterised and seem alive. The themes of family and personal integrity are accentuated very strongly in this one. The theme of nature vs growth at any cost is a nice bonus that also has strong tradition in Star Wars (that both Lop and Ewoks are hairy creatures probably isn’t an accident).
The story is very economical in its use of time. It uses the 20 minutes to tell exactly what it needs to, no more, no less. It is something that makes the plot flow yet not seem rushed at the same time.
There are some beautiful scenes and clever use of visual elements in this one. One is the use of traditional Japanese iconography when Lop is introduced to the local Jedi legend. The visual melding of the Jedi symbol and the picture of a crane is a genius idea. Another remarkable moment may be Ocho’s “make-up scene” that marks the new beginning for her. Overall the creators use many visual references to Rogue One (Star Destroyer above a city, Krennic cape) or Star Wars Rebels.
Star Wars feel: 9/10
Akakiri is yet another homage to Kurosawa, making a full circle from his The Hidden Fortress that inspired A New Hope back to Hidden Fortress-like setup. There is a Princess, a Jedi and two peasants, and the quest to retake the royal palace from the king’s sister-turned-Sith. The plot may be one of the most well-executed ones of all. It intertwines several of the main Star Wars plots – A New Hope, The Phantom Menace, Revenge of the Sith… while at the same time being somewhat subversive.
It is also narrated in an economic way. And – unlike in e.g. The Village Bride or The Elder – everything we see, like the Jedi’s strange visions, has some significance that is eventually revealed. And the story is concluded. Well, sort of – it also asks for a sequel. But you are not left with a feeling that something is missing.
The visuals are fully reminiscent of classic Star Wars. There is a princess with hair-buns, sneaking inside the palace looking just like Cloud City, a “Padmé terrace” under the stars. The antagonist’s design may be one of the coolest, vaguely Phasma-like and Palpatine-like at the same time, and absolutely menacing. And even the two peasants, the short stocky one and the lean one, are reminiscent of R2 and C-3PO.
Star Wars Visions is overall a great compilation offering a fresh insight into the Star Wars universe. More similar projects could certainly be done. All the stories have pretty visuals while their story quality varies. This being said with full awareness that 13-20 minutes are not much time: but exactly that is yet another reason to use the time economically. Sadly, many of the stories fail at that.
The creators deserve an overall praise for avoiding overspamming the audience with easter eggs and film quotes (perhaps with the exception of The Twins). What somewhat lacked was the variety in themes. “Lightsabers, Jedi and droids” could also be the name of the entire project. Sure, these are major Star Wars elements, but if a few of the stories focussed more on something else (family, nature vs technology, music!) while avoiding these three overshadowing them, it could prevent the feeling of “I am watching the same story for the fifth time today”. The individual studios had free hand in making what they wanted, but perhaps some overarching authority should have said “hey, somebody is already doing X, don’t you want to try something else?”
The same authority should have prevented too many open endings (they are in four out of nine stories, or five, if we count The Elder). The idea of having an open ending (like Akakiri) or straightaway “to be continued” (most strikingly in The Ninth Jedi) is cool, but perhaps if done once. Plus, despite the fact that The Ninth Jedi is really good, it gives the vibe of the creators saying “hey Lucasfilm, just in case you wanted to continue our contract, here we are, wink wink”.
Regardless, Star Wars Visions was a great idea for a project and it is good that it got made. Not everyone will probably like every episode, but everyone will probably find at least a couple like. Most importantly of all, it shows that Star Wars does not need to be limited to just one type of medium and still remain Star Wars.