"Star Wars: Visions" is the new anthology series from Lucasfilm. A bold experiment, Lucasfilm produced nine shorts from seven of the top animation studios in Japan. Freeing the filmmakers from the requirements of fitting in the "Star Wars" canon, these storytellers were able to reformulate "Star Wars" through the lens of their art and culture in an authentic way. The result: these nine short films, each one a self-contained expression of creativity. On full display in each short is a deep love of "Star Wars," storytelling, and the animation medium.
I had the unenviable task of having to rank each of these shorts in order from best to… least best? There is something fun and wonderful in each short, but a list has to go in a linear fashion. We did our best, but taste is subjective. You're going to find you love different things about "Star Wars" than anyone else, but this is my list and I ranked them this way, according to my own tastes and preferences.
Naturally, there are spoilers here.
"The Twins" – Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, Animation by Studio Trigger
Saying something is the "least good 'Star Wars'" is like saying it's the "least excellent brand of your favorite ice cream flavor." It's still terrific, but it's got to fit on the list somewhere. "The Twins" is a cool, impossibly stylish short that brings to mind all of the Japanese animation I loved watching as a kid in the '80s. With its old-school flair and over-the-top nature, there's nothing about it that isn't fun. Seeing a version of the Holdo maneuver recreated with a lightsaber-wielding Jedi riding atop an X-Wing is nothing short of breathtaking. As you watch the duel between the twins get increasingly more powerful and exaggerated, it's hard to keep a smile from your face. It looks back at "Star Wars," the history of anime, and still manages to formulate it into something new.
Lop And Ocho
"Lop and Ocho" – Directed by Yuki Igarashi, Animation by Geno Studio
This delightful entry into the lore of "Star Wars: Visions" centers around a found family, even if that family is a crime family. Lop is a bunny-like Lepi, enslaved by the Empire and brought into a powerful family by her adoptive sister Ocho. As the Empire comes to their beautiful planet and destroys its natural spaces to extract materials for war, their father rebels against them. In order to save her world, Ocho joins the Empire, turning her back on the family. It's a powerful tale of sisterhood and found family, told in a distinctly Japanese/"Star Wars" blend. With bright animation, delightful characters, and such cool moments and lore, Lop and Ocho is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
"TO-B1" – Directed by Abel Góngora, Animation by Studio SARU
At first glance, this short might be the most out of place against the other eight. It draws as much inspiration from "Star Wars" as it does the work of Jean "Moebius" Giraud, Disney's 1940 iteration of "Pinocchio," "Mega Man," and the '50s futuristic stylings of "Astro Boy." It's such a rich playground of dreams and fairytales mashed together that it's hard to resist. It creeps up on you, though. As you move through the life of TO-B1 and feel the heartbreak of his lost master, you want him to achieve his dreams and defeat the Inquisitor, leaving the audience with one of the most emotionally satisfying fights in the series.
The Village Bride
"The Village Bride" – Directed by Hitoshi Haga, Animation by Kinema Citrus
With a steady heartbeat of nature-worship and existential themes, "The Village Bride" feels like the Clone Wars-era Jedi adventures I'd love to see more of. The story feels very classic in its sensibilities. Western audiences will recognize the classic fairy-tale themes of the young woman sacrificed to the proverbial dragon. In a Kurosawa-like twist, the bandits serve as the dragon here, with a Force-wielding character watching over everything, learning a local culture they know little about. Themes of rebellion, family, unyielding love, and reverence for nature permeate the piece. With such gorgeous animation, haunting music, and lush subtext, this installment demands multiple watches. And it has B1 battle droids voiced by Matthew Wood, so you can never go wrong there.
"The Duel" – Directed by Takanobu Mizuno, Animation by Kamikaze Douga
This stylish "Star Wars" take from Kamikaze Douga pushed all of the Kurosawa elements that inspired George Lucas to the forefront, telling the story of a wandering Sith, doing good for reasons that still remain unclear. The nameless ronin is reminiscent of Toshiro Mifune's "Yojimbo," as the film transitions into a more "Seven Samurai"-like setup. The film damage, shutter speed, and shake truly bring the active stillness of Kurosawa to bear. With its homages to the classic trilogy on display, but its nods to "The Phantom Menace" and "Revenge of the Sith," this short is a natural selection for the first episode of the show.
"Tatooine Rhapsody" – Directed by Taku Kimura, Animation by Studio Colorido
The Mos Espa Grand Arena, a chibi Boba Fett on the hunt, and a tragic Order 66 backstory, all wrapped up in a punk rock opera. What more could you really ask for in a "Star Wars" short? Aside from being infectiously fun with a Ramones-style song that could rival any of the in-universe music we've seen in "Star Wars", the voice work from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bobby Moynihan, Temuera Morrison, and Shelby Young put it over the top as one of the best offerings from "Star Wars: Visions." It's going to be a fan-favorite for years to come.
The Ninth Jedi
"The Ninth Jedi" – Directed by Kenji Kamiyama, Animation by Production I.G
As the longest entry in "Star Wars: Visions," "The Ninth Jedi" tells the most ambitious story and has some of the most satisfying moments across the entire project. It tells the tale of a galaxy where the Jedi wander without lightsabers and a lone blacksmith helps forge them anew. An encoded transmission beckons masterless Jedi to the planet of Hen Jin, seeking a lightsaber. But the entire thing is a trap. The moment that gives me chills every time I've watched is when all of the offered lightsabers are ignited. The sabers in this shot change color to reflect the heart of the Jedi who ignites them, and this creates a brilliant moment where we realize the Sith were trying to trap the Jedi. The titular Ninth Jedi is a young girl who loses her father and finds her own saber blade transparent until she finds her confidence in the Force. It's a beautifully told tale with all the hallmarks of "Star Wars" and the beauty of some of the best 2D animation I've ever seen. The lore created with this short is definitely worth further exploration; 21 minutes was simply not enough for this alternate iteration of "Star Wars."
"Akakiri" – Directed by Eunyoung Choi, Animation by Science SARU
Taking cues from Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress," one of the initial inspirations behind "A New Hope" (and more directly, "The Phantom Menace"), "Akakiri" takes a much more direct route with the inspiration. The peasants, the Princess, and the aging Jedi mirror the cast of "The Hidden Fortress." The animation style is one of the more distinctive of the series, bringing the neon palate of Coruscant to the soft-lit, deep-focus, black-and-white sensibilities of Kurosawa's work. The use of the colors in the story and symbolism adds to the subtext of the short; the use of gold, for instance, both as a reference back to "Hidden Fortress" and representative of the greed of the peasants and the Dark Side user. Red is much more prevalent in the color story, though, and vital for the arc of the short.
The story itself hearkens back thematically to the stories hinted at by Obi-Wan Kenobi, his time on Mandalore, and his time with the Duchess Satine, giving us a fascinating window into how those stories could feel. But it also distills the impossible choices that Jedi with powers like Anakin are forced to make in the face of temptation. The animation is nothing short of stunning and the feeling that it leaves the viewer with is heartbreaking in all the right ways.
"The Elder" – Directed by Masahiko Otsuka, Animation by Studio Trigger
"The Elder" tells the story of a Jedi Master and Padawan who encounter an aging Sith on a distant world. There's a stillness to the story, dialogue, and animation that make this the most mature entry. It deals with existentialism in theme that makes it feel as much a philosophy text that hearkens back to the exchanges between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in "The Phantom Menace." One thing that puts this short over the top, especially in the English dubbed version, is the voice of the Master Jedi, Taijin. The voice of the character has a haunting lyricism that sticks in the brain. I spent a week with David Harbor's Jedi wisdom rattling around in my head, such was the impact of casting the exact right voice for the part. This story is the anime equivalent of the final fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul, itself an homage to Kyuzo's first duel in "Seven Samurai." Masahiko Otsuka offers the spare grace of a master storyteller, like Obi-Wan as a Jedi, and some of the other stories opt for the flashier moves of Maul. But one is vastly superior and wins against all comers. In the case of "Star Wars: Visions," the winner is "The Elder."
I'd be surprised if we didn't see more stories of these characters specifically, in this media or others. They're that compelling.
The common element of each of these tales is how well it blends each era of "Star Wars" storytelling into something cohesive and new. It's not just a reformulation, it's a reexamination and re-contextualization of what "Star Wars" means. There are two things that I'd love to see come from this. First is a comprehensive soundtrack that contains scores from each of these shorts. Second, I hope this is popular enough to allow Lucasfilm to make feature-length releases under the "Visions" banner. Can you imagine any of these studios or even a Studio Ghibli bringing this take on "Star Wars" in a more expanded iteration? It would be nothing short of incredible.
"Star Wars: Visions" is currently streaming on Disney+. There is no word yet on a second season.
Read this next: Star Wars: Visions Review: A Refreshing And Gorgeous Spin On A Galaxy Far, Far Away
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