Two years ago, the first “volume” of Star Wars: Visions proved, to stunning effect, that what mattered most about the enduring iconography and thematic heart of the galaxy far, far away could shine through the lens of visionary Japanese animation studios. This week, its sophomore outing proves much the same—with a canvas spread across the whole world.
While Visions’ debut outing leaned on the strength of Star Wars’ history with Japanese culture and media—and the great debt it owes to the nation in helping shape hallmarks of the franchise, all the way since Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress—by solely offering shorts from Japanese creatives, the second anthology of stories comes from studios all over the world. From South Korea to Great Britain and Ireland, from India to Chile, from South Africa to France, Visions season two broadens its palette to incorporate a significantly more expansive exploration of Star Wars. This is clear in not just the broader themes these nine shorts tackle compared to their predecessors, but even clearer so in how together these films represent a radical, invigorating stylistic interrogation of Star Wars, mutating and evolving its visual language across art forms, styles, and modes of animation, on a level that offers a simply sumptuous treat for the eyes of a willing audience.
And yes, willing is perhaps an important note here. Some ardent fans of Vision’s first season may balk that just a single studio in this outing’s roster—the American-owned D’ART Shtajio, who produced this season’s “The Pit”—is based in Japan, believing that Visions’ sole defining strength was that it was not an international extrapolation of Star Wars as a cultural entity, but simply as “Star Wars But Anime.” But for those with concerns about Visions’ evolution, there is perhaps something very Star Wars in asking viewers to broaden their horizons and put aside expectations—and, as Obi-Wan Kenobi praises Luke Skywalker for doing so in A New Hope, take that first step into a larger world.
That broadness is really what makes Visions volume two dazzle just as brightly as its preceding anthology. The first volume resoundingly proved that both Star Wars’ iconography and its themes could withstand being poked and prodded at, tweaked and interpreted through lenses that proudly defied Star Wars’ established canon to transpose those themes and visual lexicons across everything from jidaigeki films to pop-rock musicals. Visions’ second installment dares to take another key understanding of the galaxy far, far away to its heart: that it is a galaxy, and it is filled to bursting with big, myriad opportunities.
It’s not enough to just say that volume two is bigger, and therefore better. But that instead of finding its strength in exploring a specific medium to show that Star Wars’ ideas and icons can exist beyond their established mode, this new collection of shorts champions that Star Wars’ thematic reach is so encompassing, and so readily understood, that it can stand up to interpretation in tone, medium, and style in ways that speak to its universality. Everything about these nine new shorts pushes this idea to the forefront of your mind.
Narratively, they go beyond the originals in that they are more often than not just simply about Jedi vs Sith—and when they are, more often than not they are about exploring different facets of the Force than simply good, evil, and laser swords, pushing it as an energy of creation, of familial bonds, or strength in the face of environmental and societal persecution. And when they go beyond that mystical dichotomy they explore spies and soldiers, laborers and pilots, the upper echelons of the galaxy to its lowest rungs, reminding us that Star Wars is not always about its fantastical mythos, but about people in general, and the things that connect them beyond a magical energy field.
But while this wide narrative remit is invigorating to experience, where Visions’ second volume truly exhilarates is in its stunning variety of visual styles and very mediums. From 3D CG to 2D art, from stop-motion puppetry to traditionally drawn animation, to shorts that mix and match multiple forms to tell their tales, Visions season two is an incredible visual treat, and uses this vast canvas of styles to cover a whole spectrum of tonal ideas, from tense action to playful comedy, from folk horror to wartime spy thrillers. Even further beyond this variety of form is how this allows each of these shorts to celebrate the mutability of Star Wars’ most enduring imagery, and broaden it artistically to incorporate cultural histories and identities from our own world. Star Wars has always borrowed from real-life cultures from across the planet, but rarely has it in turn been placed in the hands of creatives from those cultures, for them to play with sandbox of its galaxy in the ways Star Wars has played with their own cultural tableau.
If volume one was Star Wars through the lens of its Japanese roots, volume two is our own world played back to us through the lens of what Star Wars can be. It is a reminder of just how at its strongest creatively and visually, Star Wars does not have to be beholden to a strict set of narrative and visual rules to still “be” Star Wars. If we allow it to be, if we expand our own minds in turn, a lightsaber can be a blade of plasma or a paintbrush, a promise of freedom or the gateway to a spiritual identity. A starship can be a tool of violent oppression, or the home of a family, or a pathway to the stars. The heroes of a galaxy far, far away can be divinely powered warrior monks, brothers and sisters, young and old, dancers and artists. They can even be legends, and legends can still occasionally hock merchandise of themselves to a willing audience.
Star Wars can be anything, and is for everyone. Visions’ second outing doesn’t just understand this, but casts its arms open widely and warmly to embrace it in its joyful, soul-stirring totality.
All nine episodes of Star Wars: Visions begin streaming tomorrow, May 4, on Disney+.
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