Star Wars Visions: Volume 2
- Creator: Multiple
- Starring: Eva Whitaker, Daveed Diggs, Cynthia Erivo, Ashley Park, Maxine Peake, Charithra Chandran
- Nine episodes watched for review
Star Wars has been in a state of flux since the Disney takeover; its Skywalker trilogy was a mixed bag, ending in disappointment, and the spin-off/origin story films were breezy but forgettable. On the small screen it’s been similarly divisive, with The Mandalorian being the expected heavy hitter, but besides the great first season of Andor, it’s been mostly forgettable. So when the first volume/season of its anthology program Star Wars Visions released in fall 2021 with little fanfare, it understandably flew under the radar for casual fans. But for Star Wars and animation fans, the gambit proved to be a welcome change.
For the uninitiated, the show introduced a simple but quietly revolutionary concept: each episode would be conceived and created by different animation directors. The first volume was all filmmakers from Japan, and the second expanded to various animation studios from around the world. Disney’s Star Wars gambits have been all about control, a carefully crafted experiment to expand George Lucas’s original vision, so to see the company essentially let its creators take over is a bigger deal than you’d think. Without any parameters or larger mythology to work within, filmmakers can mold their stories however they see fit.
Volume two continues what was started in volume one, and the result is more breathtaking animation with more varied styles. Whereas most of the episodes in volume one were mostly in the anime style, here we see stop-motion and 3D and hand-drawn visuals. The first episode, simply titled Sith from Rodrigo Blaas’ studio El Guiri in Spain, is one of the most breathtaking animated experiences I’ve seen in quite some time, feature-length or otherwise. (In fact, the next closest would be the first episode from volume one, The Duel, which was nominated for an Emmy.) Baas uses light and color in an expressive way that demands to be seen on a big screen.
The visual splendor continues throughout all nine episodes, with offerings from Cartoon Saloon, Aardman, and Punkrobot, among others. The animation style is uniformly great – with one exception, which I’ll get to in a moment – but the stories match them in ways the Star Wars universe has rarely seen. Some episodes deal directly with the Jedi fighting against the Sith, but some simply deal with universal problems that just happen to be within the galaxy far, far away.
The Pit, directed by LeAndre Thomas of D’ART Shtajio, crafts a story that feels like a direct response to the George Floyd protests. Magdalena Osinska of Aardman focuses on a coming of age story between a mother and daughter, where the daughter enrolls in the starfighter academy. The weakest of the bunch is The Bandits of Golak, directed by Milind Shinde of India’s 88 Pictures. Sporting a kind of low-grade Pixar animation style, the episode deals with a pair of slumdog siblings, one of which happens to be in tune with the Force. The story is good enough, and carries a solid bit of emotional weight, but the look doesn’t measure up to the rest of the series.
Though none of their stories were planned together, there is a thematic element that shows up in a few episodes. It’s a theme that’s fundamental to the Star Wars universe, which is the constant struggle between the Dark Side and the Light, both within the universe and within ourselves. From Sith to Journey to the Dark Head and The Spy Dancer, it’s an idea that comes up in fresh, nuanced ways. In addition, the episodes come back to a theme touched on in The Last Jedi of the Force being accessible to anyone across the galaxy. Not once do the names of Luke, Leia, Vader, Han Solo, Rey, or Palpatine, etc. come up throughout the entirety of volume two. In fact, it’s as if none of them ever existed, and the show is all the better for it.
To me, the best Star Wars stories are ones where almost anything could happen. The stories of Luke Skywalker are iconic and will never not inspire me, but in a limitless galaxy, sometimes it’s refreshing to see something new. Star Wars Visions embodies that ideal, and does so in a way that gives its creators a unique voice. Animation may inherently be among my favorite genres, so to see fresh ideas visualized in ways that you don’t typically see outside of the arthouse is an encouraging trend. As Disney continues to return to George Lucas’s well and mine as much as possible from the Skywalkers, with Star Wars Visions it’s exciting to consider a limitless potential of stories, told in personal and unique ways.
Star Wars Visions volume 2 will be available to stream on Disney+ on May 4.