Review by Sean Boelman
The Star Wars fandom is unique in that, for every deep dive into unofficial lore, there can also be a near-revolt when someone even thinks about messing with canon (see the polarizing response to The Last Jedi). As such, one would be within reason to approach Star Wars: Visions, a set of nine distinctly-crafted anime shorts set in the universe, with caution, when in actuality, it’s just a pleasant, largely inconsequential watch.
The series is comprised of nine shorts from seven anime studios (two studios made two contributions) bringing their own unique styles to the table, telling stories that could fit within the greater Star Wars universe. It’s an interesting experiment, making it one of the more ambitious projects of Disney+ so far from an artistic standpoint, but the result is predictably uneven.
Each episode clocks in anywhere from thirteen to twenty-two minutes and consists of an action sequence with enough characterization to meet the bare minimum requirement. Sometimes that action takes an unorthodox form (a musical performance) and in other entries, it’s a lovingly-animated lightsaber battle.
The best of the shorts in the series are those which stick more to the saga’s roots, with samurai-inspired battles. The anime style of the series obviously lends itself to this type of action sequence, although the limitations put on it by a family-friendly rating are obvious, as it’s entirely bloodless.
Other episodes see the worst tendencies of both anime and the Star Wars universe come together. There are always cutesy elements to the Star Wars movies and shows (Ewoks, R2-D2, BB-8) but one episode sees a merchandise-ready cyborg character take charge in what feels like a clear attempt at appealing to younger audiences and their consumerist minds.
That said, the series is consistently pleasing artistically. These are some of the best animation studios working today, and seeing the way they get to play with this world is awe-inspiring. As the series implies, the filmmakers were seemingly given a great deal of freedom and room to explore what they chose, so each short feels individual.
Still, this is Disney, so if one thinks that this daring work will have any real impact on the greater property, they are mistaken. Although the shorts are set during the war between the Resistance and the Empire, no canon characters are featured. That isn’t to say that these characters couldn’t be introduced if embraced by audiences (Ashoka Tano was brought into the fold via The Mandalorian), but for now, expect these to be mostly stand-alone.
Star Wars: Visions is a genuinely good time, and while it may not be essential viewing like the streamer’s other Lucasfilm shows, it’s still worth watching. At the very least, it’s a nice return to a galaxy far, far away to hold fans over until The Book of Boba Fett.
Star Wars: Visions streams on Disney+ beginning September 23. All nine episodes reviewed.