As a Star Wars fan, I’ve grown accustomed to a certain style of storytelling. Not necessarily because I wanted to… but because I knew that that was just how things were going to be.
Disney bought Star Wars and they had a formula that they wanted to maintain.
This was most evident when Disney first purchased Lucasfilm back in 2014. While the excitement was high for fans about the return of the franchise, the fallout was swift. With the House of Mouse’s desire to control its properties, any books, video games, and comics that were released under the Star Wars label (other than the six films) were no longer considered ‘canon’ and disappeared. (Sigh. Where did you go Dark Forces?) With a single blast from their proverbial Death Star, Disney vaporized such beloved characters as Mara Jade, Grand Admiral Thrawn and more from the Star Wars universe. While some of those characters have been reintroduced over the years, fans were left angered as their favourite tales were deemed unworthy of the next generation of stories. Admittedly, there’s certainly an argument for this decision (after all, Disney couldn’t possible may all these conflicting stories work within their continuity). However, it also limited the space for any real originality to the universe.
Then, along came Star Wars: Visions.
Now available on Disney+, Star Wars: Visions is a 9-episode series of shorts produced by six different Japanese animation studios. Directed in differing styles of anime by different directors, each episode feels like a completely new and exciting interpretation of the galaxy far, far away.
What’s most impressive though is that, with the release of these shorts, Disney has injected a breath of fresh bacta into the Star Wars tank. Unhampered by the burden of ‘canon’, these visions rely on something much more important: creativity. Like a bolt of lightning, these simple stories have energized a world which had become a little stale. (Aside from Baby Yoda, of course.) For once, Disney allowed their storytellers to develop their own… well… vision for their closely guarded universe, create unique characters and styles that showcase the talents of their artists. Though it’s safe to say that there were certain boundaries given, every short differs wildly from one another and challenges our assumptions about the Star Wars universe.
A samurai protects a small village from a Sith Lord.
A band of youth embark on a dangerous mission to rescue their friend from Jabba the Hutt.
Two twin siblings battle to redeem (or recruit) the other.
Each individual narrative is fully enclosed with no reliance on the other episodes. That gives each storyteller the freedom to simply dip their toe into the sands of Tatooine without being burdened by larger narratives or story arcs. Most importantly though, they allow the animators to tell their stories in their own voice in their own way. From Solo to Rogue One, there are multiple stories in recent years that site Disney’s penchant to control their IP and has resulted in the firing of numerous directors. However, with Visions, the House of Mouse has turned off the targeting computer and let their animators have the freedom that they need.
And the results are stunning.
Featuring some truly eye-popping animation, it is refreshing to see the universe stretched with its interpretations. From their use of colour and style to their philosophical conversations, every individual episode feels like a masterclass in anime storytelling. (In addition, the voice cast features some impressive talent as well, including Shang Chi‘s Simu Liu, Henry Golding, George Takei, Alison Brie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and, of course, Tamuera Morrison returning as Boba Fett.)
In this way, although not quite the restoration of what was lost, these new visions of the Star Wars universe feel like Disney has given a gift to the fans.
And not just the animators either.
Star Wars: Visions feels like a long overdue gift to those who have been clamouring to hear their own voice represented in the Star Wars universe. Frankly, this begs the question of what could be next? Could there be Star Wars stories told from an African perspective? Indian? Middle-Eastern? The possibilities are endless… and every one of them has the potential to bridge the cultural gap in storytelling as well. No, Visions hasn’t changed the game—but it has provided an opportunity for the world to share in a property that had previously only been told from one perspective.
So, maybe something old really can be new again.
Star Wars: Visions is available on Disney+ on Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021