Star Wars: Visions is a vibrant, artistic showcase that accomplishes something that Disney hasn’t yet been able to do — it makes Star Wars feel fresh again.
This review of Star Wars: Visions season 1 is spoiler-free.
Anthological storytelling is almost always a mixed bag, and Star Wars storytelling has never exactly been consistent either. Both of those things seem like marks in the negative column for Star Wars: Visions, a new anime-inspired collection of short films from seven Japanese studios that is now streaming on Disney+. But fear not. Not only are the nine bite-sized stories in Visions surprisingly consistent, but in their totality, they accomplish something that hasn’t yet been managed since Disney assumed ownership of the franchise – here, Star Wars feels fresh and exciting again.
That isn’t to say anything here’s perfect. A couple of the nine available episodes fail to impress too much and mostly pass by unnoticed. But the others all tell self-contained, original stories in the Star Wars universe, each with distinct and often striking visual styles, and many get right to the heart of what Star Wars is – what it means and to whom. Since almost all of the episodes clock in under 20 minutes, there’s a welcome economy to the storytelling that trusts its audience to figure things out, using either common sense, some cursory franchise knowledge, or familiarity with influences ranging from pop-rock music to classic samurai cinema. The first episode, for instance, titled simply “The Duel”, lets its Kurosawa-esque grainy monochrome visuals and basic story setup speak for themselves, simply adding on-brand flourishes and details to feel of a piece with the rest of the canon.
Co-opting some of the tropes and underlying themes of Star Wars but reworking them in new settings and concepts rather than wheeling out tired old faces is the smartest decision that Visions makes. There are, of course, cameos here and there, but for the most part, these new stories are allowed to exist independently. Many delight in ambiguity, giving the audience the privilege – and it is a privilege, these days – of filling in the blanks for themselves. It’s a refreshing feeling, not being pandered to, so those instances when exposition does become overwhelming, and the dialogue descends into artless, clunky territory are more acutely felt. Luckily, they’re few and far between.
Even when Star Wars: Visions leans against the most simplistic moral underpinnings of the franchise, it at least finds a fresh angle for its saber showdowns and Force battles. Heroes and villains here are often strikingly designed and brought to life by an English-language dub featuring a who’s who of stars. But the most interesting figures are those who exist somewhere in the middle; former Sith who have become disillusioned with the teachings, world-weary Jedi Knights taking desperate last steps. When two characters do collide, the effect is often very striking – there are some showdowns here that rival the franchise’s best in their thrills, energy, and aesthetics.
Star Wars under Disney really needed something like Visions, a smart, fresh-feeling take on the universe that doesn’t feel finely calibrated for fan service above all else (and I say that as someone who loved The Mandalorian’s second season finale.) There really is nothing else like this in the current canon, and that alone should be celebrated.