'Star Wars: Visions' review: The most refreshing piece of Star Wars media in years
Languages: Japanese, English
Score: Overall - 4/5 stars
There is no need to say this, but the galaxy far far away has a lot of potential for powerful storytelling, beyond the standard Skywalker fare we have seen in cinema. And while the idea of adhering to canon is the go-to for franchises like Star Wars, it is in Visions, an entirely non-canon series, that it manages to relax a little bit.
And that is what Visions does, it takes the classic Star Wars formula, and adapts it across nine distinct and altogether unconnected anime episodes, produced by some of the biggest studios in Japan like Trigger (Kiznaiver) and Production I.G (Psycho-Pass) and Science Saru (Devilman Crybaby). And its non-adherence to established canon is what makes it the most refreshing piece of Star Wars media in years.
The series takes nine creatively unique takes on the Star Wars formula (which incidentally come up to a slightly long movie, making it entirely possible to finish in one sitting), from an episode that wouldn't be out of place for an Akira Kurosawa movie but for the lightsabers, to an explosive high-octane sibling duel aboard a Star Destroyer, to an episode that doubles as an eco-cautionary tale, to smaller and personal stories of hope, sadness and melancholy, and an episode that is so Astro Boy, you would think it was an episode of Astro Boy. Oh, and one episode is a literal musical featuring Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt (at least briefly).
The episodes themselves take place between the early days of the Empire and the days post-The Rise of Skywalker, with the exception of one episode which is more or less an alternate history take with far more heavy Japanese influence on its presentation and storytelling than any of the others.
Star Wars has largely been a distinctly 'Western' piece of media, in both its production and its presentation, and this is what makes Visions such a treat - it is truly unique, even among the countless pieces of Star Wars scattered around. It still has the classic Star Wars flare - the series is far more focussed on lightsabers than you'd think possible - but in becoming an anime, it opens up a new set of wings by blending Eastern sensibilities and Western concepts. People live in straw huts, droid wear hats, Stormtrooper armour is reminiscent of Samurai armour, and there is even a Yakuza family with its own internal ideological clash. This is also reflected in the lightsabers themselves, many of which take the shape of various Japanese swords, and not just regular laser-like blades.
What powers the episodes, more than even the studios, is the voice talent behind them. Visions bundles up some of the actors and voice actors, with talents who have lent their voice to blockbuster anime like Jujutsu Kaisen and Attack on Titan, and high-profile actors like George Takei and Lucy Liu, lending their voice to the characters, providing a sense of dimensionality and personality not often seen in many anime.
Among the nine, four standout episodes would be The Duel, The Elder, The Village Bride and The Ninth Jedi, not only in their presentation but also their storytelling - they are the most polished of the lot. Coming in close would be The Twins, a story about twin siblings made from the Dark Side for the sake of conquering the galaxy, and Akakiri, which, putting it subtly, is a literal retelling of the fall of Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side. The rest, though also good in their own right, suffer from the relatively short runtimes - Lop and Ocho, for instance, could have done with five more minutes of building up the familial dispute that causes the family to drift apart while giving Lop more character for choosing the Empire over her father and adoptive sister, while the other two suffer greatly from the lack of time they get.
Overall, Visions is a fantastic tale, with a little something for every fan of the franchise. It may be non-canon, but it does make me wish that at least some of the shows are brought into the fold in the future (looking at you, The Ninth Jedi).