“Star Wars: Visions,” the new nine-part anime anthology on Disney+, returns the franchise to its Japanese roots even more directly than “The Mandalorian” to expand the universe. What’s exciting is how the seven anime studios (Kamikaze Douga, Geno Studio, Studio Colorido, Trigger, Kinema Citrus, Science Saru, and Production I.G) filter the franchise so comfortably through the prism of Japanese culture. That’s because George Lucas’ original vision for “Star Wars” was an imaginative fusion of Japanese cinema and sci-fi space opera.
“‘Star Wars’ has been so influenced by Japanese culture from Kurosawa films [‘The Hidden Fortress’] to jidaigeki [period samurai] films [from which the Jedi name is derived] to Zen Budhism and its impact on the Force,” said executive producer James Waugh of Lucasfilm. “We’ve been talking about doing [‘Star Wars’ anime] for a long time, but we couldn’t make it happen until the force of nature that’s Disney+.”
On “Visions,” Lucasfilm Animation partnered with Kanako Shirasaki and Justin Leach of Qubic Pictures. They approached the anime studios that they wished to collaborate with, and then allowed the directors of each short to select their own stories and designs within the “Star Wars” universe. The English-language versions on Disney+ contain voice work from Brian Tee, Lucy Liu, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Temuera Morrison (as Boba Fett, who he plays in “The Mandalorian”), Neil Patrick Harris, Alison Brie, and David Harbour.
“The Ninth Jedi” from “Star Wars: Visions”
“All the creators had 40 years of ‘Star Wars’ history to draw on for their inspiration,” said producer Shirasaki, “and I hope this will inspire others to get some ideas and explore their own artistic direction.”
The shorts include “The Duel” (Kamikaze Douga), in which a wandering Sith (patterned after the rōnin) and his droid come to the defense of a village under siege by Sith bandits; “Tatooine Rhapsody” (Studio Colorido) a rock opera about a band trying to save one of its members from Jabba the Hutt; “The Twins” (Studio Trigger), which pits a pair Sith twins against each other in an electrifying lightsaber duel; “T0-B1” (Science Saru), about a cybernetic boy who dreams of becoming a Jedi; “The Elder” (Studio Trigger), about a pacifist Jedi and restless Padawan uncovering a dark secret in a village; and “The Ninth Jedi” (Production I.G), in which a new era of Sith rule calls for the return of the Jedi.
The two standouts are “The Duel” (directed by Takanobu Mizuno) and “The Ninth Jedi” (directed by Kenji Kamiyama). “The Duel” is a minimalistic gem, done mostly in manga-style black-and-white, with the mysterious rōnin (Tee) facing off with the leader of the Sith bandits (Liu). “The Ninth Jedi,” by contrast, is a colorful tour de force that takes place after “The Rise of Skywalker.”
“The Duel” from “Star Wars: Visions”
“‘The Duel’ feels like a coming home for ‘Star Wars’ in many ways,” said Waugh. “It’s very clearly an unabashed ‘Yojimbo,’ ‘Seven Samurai’ love letter, but also a love letter from designer Takashi Okazaki to the world building of ‘Star Wars’ in its attention to detail. It’s a fusion of these two cultural things that are feeding back into each other.” And when they were looking to expand one of the stories from “Visions” into a novel, “The Duel” was adapted into “Ronin: A Visions Novel” (Del Rey Books) by Emma Mieko Cando.
In “The Ninth Jedi,” Kara (Kimiko Glenn), the daughter of a legendary lightsaber-smith, unknowingly possesses a connection to the Jedi with a very special weapon, and assists the former allies to fight a dangerous Sith leader. “It’s a wonderful ‘Star Wars’ story with a vision of the future that’s pretty indeterminate,” Waugh said. “It’s full of so many imaginative things, with the droid that drinks tea and the pilot droid that drinks oil, and a Luke Skywalker-like character that fulfills her destiny.”
“The 2D animation that Production I.G achieved in ‘The Ninth Jedi’ with the speeder bike chase in the forest is [visually stunning],” Shirasaki said. “I hope people enjoy what the anime animation can do.”
“Star Wars: Visions” Season 1 premieres Wednesday, September 22 on Disney+.
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