Who says a lightsaber blade has to be round? If you ask the right hardcore Star Wars fan, they’ll explain it’s because lightsabers were historically used to deflect blaster fire, so the more surface area the better. But if you ask a bunch of Japanese animators, the answer is simple: it doesn’t.
With a bit of imagination, lightsabers can look like samurai swords. They can act like whips. They can bend and reflect like light passing through a prism.
This is the crux of Star Wars: Visions, an animated anthology coming to Disney+ on September 22 and featuring a vibrant mix of visual and storytelling styles from seven of Japan’s biggest anime studios. The result is the type of awe-inspiring storytelling we always knew was possible but has been largely lacking from the franchise in recent memory.
Beyond the fact that each episode is Star Wars anime, there’s little that connects these nine stories, and executive producer James Waugh tells Inverse that’s entirely by design.
“The only guiding light was it had to be something that was authentically from the heart,” Waugh says. “It was a human story that you can strip out the Star Wars and would work anywhere. That's when Star Wars works best.”
“That's when Star Wars works best.”
The stories — But it’s not entirely true that Star Wars: Visions would work without Star Wars. Each episode directly references the franchise in one way or another and relies on the fandom’s shared language to breeze through exposition and tell each story in under 20 minutes.
Star Wars: Visions is full of clever storytelling shortcuts. Need an organized crime element to your story? There’s no need to explain who Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt are before introducing them in Episode 2, “Tatooine Rhapsody.” Meanwhile, Episode 7, “The Elder,” relies on Star Wars fans to implicitly understand the relationship between Jedi master and padawan.
Episode 3, “The Twins” (my personal favorite but one I expect plenty of fans to hate), reimagines Luke and Leia as creations of the Dark side. The short retells the original trilogy with countless perversions to the point where it feels like you’re watching George Lucas’ fever-induced nightmares.
Star Wars: Visions only suffers when it fails to tell a story at all. Several episodes are so invested in simply portraying this galaxy that they forget to include a strong narrative, but even then, there’s plenty to love in the way the series looks.
The visuals — Despite some heated fan arguments and Lucas’ over-reliance on CGI in the prequels, most Star Wars movies look pretty similar. But here, every episode looks so different that if they weren't clumped together on Disney+, you’d assume they were from nine different shows. Arguably, the best part of Visions is its visual variety.
Again, “The Twins” is an easy standout, remixing the best visual ideas from the entire Star Wars franchise while giving everything the epic scale of a Dragon Ball Z fight scene. “The Duel” mixes CGI with hand-drawn black-and-white sketches to create something both robotic and analog at once.
I’m just scratching the surface, but Star Wars: Visions is better experienced for yourself. And with all nine episodes arriving at once, fans will finally have something to binge on Disney+ for once. Whether the series gets renewed for a Season 2 remains to be seen, but there’s no use rationing out these episodes. Experiencing them side-by-side only makes their unique stories and animation that much better.
The Inverse analysis — Star Wars: Visions is a revelation, telling some of the most original stories in this galaxy far, far away that we’ve seen in, well, ever.
It’s also long overdue. For a franchise that stole most of its original ideas from Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, it’s refreshing to see Lucasfilm finally return the favor by tossing the keys to the Millenium Falcon to some of Japan’s most creative modern storytellers. Hopefully, this is the start of something even bigger, but at the very least, these nine episodes should provide Star Wars and anime fans alike with something special they can revisit for years to come.
Star Wars: Visions arrives on Disney+ on September 22.