Star Wars: Visions is an idea that makes so much sense it’s a wonder it took this long to happen. The anthology takes some of the most talented names in anime — including studios like Production I.G. and Studio Trigger — and hands them the keys to the Star Wars universe, with no concerns about continuity or what is or isn’t canon. The results are inventive and thrilling, from a rock opera set on Tatooine to the story of a droid that dreams of being a Jedi. It’s bold and creative — and the most exciting Star Wars has been in a long time.
Visions is a nine-part anthology, with each episode telling a completely original story. They’re all short — the longest is 22 minutes long, and some clock in at just 13 minutes — and, in a rarity for Disney Plus, the entire season is available to stream all at once. The most striking thing about the collection is how different each episode is, both in style and tone. The opening episode, called “The Duel,” is a mostly black-and-white story about dueling Sith warriors, structured like a classic samurai film. Later episodes include “T0-B1,” which looks and feels like a long-lost Astro Boy episode, and “Lop & Echo,” an action-packed fable about a family torn apart by the Empire, featuring betrayal, intense sword combat, and aliens with giant bunny ears.
These episodes play with iconic Star Wars elements in interesting ways. In “The Twins,” a pair of Sith twins pilot a pair of Star Destroyers that are fused together to create a spacefaring behemoth. “The Ninth Jedi” follows a unique perspective, focusing on a sabersmith at a time when lightsabers and the Jedi who wield them are outlawed. And there are so many great twists on those series-defining laser swords, from a classic Japanese umbrella-style saber to ones that are curved and sharp like a metal blade. Visions is a lot of fun just to look at and spot all of the unique details and twists. It takes something many of us know intimately and remixes it in often thrilling and creative ways.
This idea of mashing a galaxy far, far away with lots of different forms of storytelling isn’t exactly new. It’s no secret that George Lucas was heavily inspired by the works of Akira Kurosawa, among others, when he initially conceived of Star Wars. In that way, an anime samurai story featuring Jedi makes a lot of sense.
“It’s this fusion of storytelling inspiring new storytelling,” explains Visions executive producer James Waugh. “Star Wars was already the byproduct of that. I think actually hearing from these studios, what Star Wars meant to them and how it inspired them on their journey to become creators and storytellers, was really interesting. Because many of these creators — like Production I.G. — their work came back to Lucasfilm and inspired a lot of us. It’s been a cool recursive cycle, passing back and forth.”
According to producer Kanako Shirasaki, the goal was to work with a range of creators in order to build an anthology with lots of variety — one that could show the depth possible in anime. “We wanted to showcase different Japanese studios, not just industry giants,” she says. “We wanted to choose studios with different backgrounds, who wanted to tell different stories in different styles.” Once chosen, the studios were then able to pitch a few ideas, and the team at Lucasfilm went through them “to make sure we didn’t have redundant storytelling,” says Waugh. He adds that “We chose the studios for the types of films they made. They have a point of view already that they’re known for.”
One of the defining factors of Visions is that none of the shorts fits into the established timeline. You won’t see familiar faces like Anakin or the Mandalorian — and that’s by design. Instead, the stories play with familiar themes and conventions, like lightsabers and the battle between the light and dark sides of the force. Waugh says the goal was to create shorts that were unlike anything else in the Star Wars canon; he cites the over-the-top action of “The Twins” as a great example. “You wouldn’t get that story if you were trying to fit things into a timeline,” he says.
That said, while the various tales from Visions aren’t part of the established canon right now, that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually make their way in. Waugh says that wasn’t part of the original plan, but he notes that it’s the nature of Star Wars that ideas from one place often end up elsewhere. “There’s no intention currently of that type of transfer of ideas. But I always say this of Star Wars in general: great ideas are always mined,” he says, noting the Dark Troopers as an example; they started out as a video game enemy and eventually turned into a key plot point in The Mandalorian.
“The option will always be on the table,” Waugh says. “And I’m sure video game partners everywhere will want that lightsaber umbrella.”
Star Wars: Visions is streaming on Disney Plus starting on September 22nd.