This review is spoiler-free.
Star Wars Visions is an animated anthology series celebrating Star Wars through the lens of some of the world’s best anime creators and storytellers delivering Star Wars to an audience in a way that has never been seen before.
We all know that George Lucas took a lot of inspiration from Japanese cinema and culture when coming up with Star Wars, especially in regards to the works of Akira Kurosawa, so it’s kind of fitting that six Japanese animation studios are taking what George took and reimaging it once again. As a huge Star Wars, anime and Japanese cinema fan in general, this series was never going to disappoint! I’m happy to say that it doesn’t and I had such a great time with the series, especially with its varying art styles and story tones. As with any anthology series, there are going to be some episodes that stand out more than others. But even the weaker episodes, are still enjoyable and you can appreciate what the storytellers and creators are trying to achieve. There were some art styles I preferred more than others, but it is only natural to have these preferences.
What I enjoyed most of all was that Star Wars Visions is a celebration of Star Wars but in a fresh new way! We know, much like What If…, that these stories and characters are not canon. That is fine! They don’t need to be! I’m just so happy to get them to begin with! We meet a host of characters that we wouldn’t usually get to see in Star Wars and allowing the creators to tell their own and differing stories was vital to the show’s success and appeal. Allowing them to take Star Wars and tell unique and personal stories, from the viewpoint of a completely different culture, but while still feeling like classic Star Wars, was such masterstroke and it succeeds on every level.
In terms of the music, ok so it’s not John Williams, but those classic Star Wars themes are hidden throughout the episodes very subtly and I think it works extremely well. It’s Star Wars music, be it slightly familiar or new, but it is still Star Wars. Great work!
Star Wars Visions showcases some of the best animation talent in the industry today and while all the episodes are unique in their own way, everything from the music to the story and character conventions allows these episodes to fit seamlessly into the Star Wars universe.
Spoiler-free episode reviews:
Episode 1 – The Duel
English Voice Cast: Lucy Liu (Bandit Leader) – Brian Tee (Ronin)
Director: Takanobu Mizuno
I loved the animation style for this first episode! The black and white overtones with a subtle hint of colour just made for a very striking visual. This was a bold choice to kick-start the series, in terms of the animation style at least. It isn’t something widely used these days and has a very old-school feel to it.
In terms of the characters and story, it was pretty much what you’d come to expect from a classic Japanese ‘wanderer’ movie. I loved every second of it. Liu and Tee did a great job with the voice work too.
Episode 2 – Tatooine Rhapsody
Synopsis: A band with big dreams must save one of their own from Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett.
English Voice Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jay) – Temuera Morrison (Boba Fett) – Shelby Young (K-344)
Director: Taku Kimura
Talk about a tonal shift from The Duel! We go from one extreme to the other, in every way imaginable!
This was very much a more modern art style and in terms of the story, action and characters felt very much more like the kind of anime most people think of. It was a very different type of story and I really enjoyed what they did for the most part.
I think hearing Temuera Morrison’s voice coming out of such a small looking Boba Fett was actually rather charming. Although it took a minute or two to adjust to it! This was one of the few episodes that didn’t have a Star Wars-vibe when it came to the music – but when it’s about a galactic rock band, I wouldn’t expect this – so it wasn’t a big deal. Finally, the band’s main song performance? The song was an absolute banger and I hope that Disney make this available for download or streaming!
Episode 3 – The Twins
Synopsis: Twins born into the dark side clash aboard a massive Star Destroyer.
English Voice Cast: Alison Brie (Am), Neil Patrick Harris (Karre)
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi
This episode was simply crazy from the off and I was blown away by the creativity and originality on display. While it shifted towards an animation style that is one of my least favourites, the story and imagination made it an incredible episode overall.
This was loud, over-the-top and absurd – I loved it!
Episode 4 – The Village Bride
Synopsis: A Jedi on the run takes in the unique customs of a remote village under threat.
English Voice Cast: Karen Fukuhara (F), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Valco)
Director: Hitoshi Haga
Musically, this episode blew me away! It features another great song that will hopefully be on an official soundtrack at some point.
There was a lot of suggestion, reflection and philosophy on display here, especially in regards to the characters and story and I really enjoyed the subtle approach. I think in terms of ‘Star Wars’, this is the furthest episode away from what you’d traditionally expect, but it is because of this approach that I think I enjoyed the episode as much as I did. Don’t get me wrong, there is lots of Star Wars in there, but it’s just more subtle.
Episode 5 – The Ninth Jedi
Synopsis: The daughter of a lightsaber-smith is pursued by dark forces while on a dangerous mission.
English Voice Cast: Kimiko Glenn (Kara), Simu Liu (Zhima)
Director: Kenji Kmiyama
Thanks to the use of a narrator, there is a lot of exposition here, and given the scope of the story I think this was a smart move. In contrast to the previous episode, The Village Bride, The Ninth Jedi was very much more traditional and upfront in its approach.
In terms of the animation, this was probably one of my overall favourites given my personal preference. I also think this is one of the strongest episodes in Visions and definitely one I would love to see a full series based around it.
Episode 6 – T0-B1
Synopsis: A cybernetic boy, who dreams of being a Jedi, discovers a dangerous truth about his creator.
English Voice Cast: Kyle Chandler (Mitaka)
Director: Abel Gongora
One of the more distinctive animation styles and another one that pushes the boundaries of creativity, T0-B1 is one of those stand-out episodes that reflects the whole purpose behind Star Wars Visions.
A key focus in this episode is the sound effects and music and these are used as their own storytelling tool as well as making up the unique aesthetic. I also think this episode did a great job from an emotional standpoint and I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did.
Episode 7 – The Elder
Synopsis: A Jedi and his Padawan pursue a dark and powerful presence.
English Voice Cast: David Harbour (Tajin), James Hong (The Elder), Jordan Fisher (Dan)
Director: Masahiko Otsuka
Another animation style that ticked all my boxes! There were a few similarities between this episode and The Duel, but equally, they were just as different as well.
The fight choreography, albeit very short, was perfectly executed and flowed really well as an action scene. Once again, there was a lot of emotion within the fight and this just intensified the sequence as a whole. The sound design on the lightsabers was exceptional!
Episode 8 – Lop & Ocho
Synopsis: A family is torn about what to do when the Empire encroaches on their planet.
English Voice Cast: Anna Cathcart (Lop), Hiromi Dames (Ocho)
Director: Yuki Igarashi
As a big fan of Bucky O’Hare, ‘space rabbits’ isn’t a new concept for me, but I know a lot of people seemed a little unhappy with this when the trailer first arrived. Not sure why this notion seemed so much of a stretch, especially considering Ewoks are walking teddy bears!
I really enjoyed the narrative of industry versus nature, offering arguments from both sides and the conflict differing views has on a family. The animation is bright and vibrant with a nice mixed of both old and new animation styles.
Episode 9 – Akakiri
Synopsis: A Jedi returns to his forbidden love to help defend her kingdom from a Sith-like Shogun.
English Voice Cast: Jamie Chung (Misa), Henry Golding (Tsubaki), George Takei (Senshuu), Keone Young (Kamahachi), Lorraine Toussaint (Masago)
Director: Eunyoung Choi
I think this one will be another favourite with anime fans. From a story and design standpoint, this is a prime example of the medium. Visually striking, the on-screen visuals are enhanced with the traditional musical score and sound design.
This was a great episode to end the series, as The Duel and Akakiri act as perfect bookends.