I firmly believe that Visions is the best thing coming out of the Star Wars franchise. The shorts allow us to see new stories unrelated to the major events and characters in Star Wars history while also showing off some of the best the animation world offers.
But not all Visions are created equal, and here, in what is primarily a celebration of the short films, I’d like to compare them with each other and crown one the best of them all, so far at least.
18. Tatooine Rhapsody
“Tatooine Rhapsody” is the only short that feels bad. The chibi-style art mixed with an intense brightness that isn’t so much colorful as it is flat makes it one of the least interesting looking of the bunch.
While its story about a band playing a show feels inconsequential and the inclusion of Boba Fett (voiced by Temuera Morrison) and Jabba the Hutt in that story register as uninspired and leaning on existing plots and characters fans know and love.
17. The Pit
Unlike “Tatooine Rhapsody,” “The Pit” isn’t exactly bad; it’s just disappointing compared with the other Visions. The art style looks like your average Shonen anime without any sense of personality, and its overwhelmingly beige color palette doesn’t do anything to help that.
The story, about workers abandoned in a mining pit, is mostly fine but doesn’t have a sense of narrative momentum and ends on a note that feels more schmaltzy than compelling.
The best thing about “T0-B1” is its concept: that a droid may become a Jedi. It’s an exciting idea that I wish had been better executed and is revisited in other Star Wars stories.
“T0-B1” is interesting conceptually, but when there are two montages in a short, it feels like filler, and the clunky dialogue mixed with overly cute and almost entirely soft-edged character designs leaves the short feeling like a great idea with mediocre execution.
15. The Village Bride
Many Star Wars stories engage with environmentalism as the Empire regularly robs planets of their resources to the point of ecological devastation. But perhaps none of those stories are as on the nose with their message as “The Village Bride,” which includes lines like “this world has been terribly exploited.”
It’s a bit overly preachy, and its story, about a girl giving herself up as collateral to raiders who have been abusing her village, is overly emotional in a way that tries too hard to get you to feel something and leaves you feeling annoyed instead. But it looks phenomenal, as any anime with an environmental message must.
14. The Bandits of Golak
“The Bandits of Golak” looks amazing, the watercolor fill on the three-dimensional characters and costumes is stunning, and its partial setting on a train makes for a great action set piece early on in the short. The story, about a girl with force powers and her brother attempting to survive an Empire conquered planet, isn’t unique, but it’s also solid bones for any Star Wars story.
The issue arises with its close-quarters action scenes late in the short. These scenes look choppy and weightless, and the overreliance on slow-motion doesn’t help.
13. I Am Your Mother
Aardman’s contribution to Visions is very clearly from the studio that brought us Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. It’s cute, and their classic claymation style adapts well to the world of Star Wars.
But the story about a young Twi’lek who’s embarrassed by her mom only for her mom to show that she’s cool by winning a family race at the girl’s flight academy feels like fluff in a universe that can tackle more.
An almost meta short about the relationship between the making of Star Wars art and Star Wars philosophy, “Sith” centers on a painter trying to keep darkness out of her art.
The three-dimensionally animated short shows the painter in a primarily white space with splashes of paint on the walls that she seeks to form into something beautiful. It looks wonderfully unique and sets the stage for a story about accepting that darkness and light are both necessary.
11. The Twins
It’s obvious to anyone who has seen Studio Trigger’s Promare that they’re responsible for “The Twins.” The short tells the story of force-using twins (who could have guessed?) who come into conflict when one of them decides to leave the Empire and uses that premise to deliver a stunning visual feast.
The short is the same mixture of two and three-dimensional animation as Promare to bring to life a massive conflict on the exterior of a Star Destroyer featuring some of the most over-the-top kinetic and eye-popping action among the eighteen Visions. Sadly it’s held back by clunky exposition and dialogue that isn’t up to the level of its visual splendor.
10. Spy Dancer
Part of what makes Visions so special is the inclusion of culturally specific art and design in the animated shorts, and “Spy Dancer” does a gorgeous job of translating the French art of aerial silks to animation. The story centers on a performance venue where Empire soldiers go to see a show, but they don’t know that a rebel spy runs it. Of course, that gets found out, and an action sequence ensues.
It’s unlike anything else in the way it mixes flowing aerial silks with combat to deliver an action sequence that’s just as beautiful as it is exciting.
9. The Duel
One of the most formally inventive of the Visions, “The Duel” is a three-dimensional computer-animated short with a film grain filter almost entirely black and white with flashes of color for neon lights, blaster fire, and, of course, lightsabers. But it’s not just the form that makes it unique. It’s also the most directly indebted to old samurai films narratively and design-wise.
The village where the story takes place is modeled on a feudal Japanese town, and the story itself centers on a wandering, seemingly unaligned force-user who comes into conflict with bandits who raid the village. It’s a quintessential samurai and Western movie premise beautifully brought into the Star Wars world while heavily drawing on Star Wars’ cinematic past.
8. Journey to the Dark Head
“Journey to the Dark Head” deals with classic Star Wars themes of a Jedi being tempted by the dark side and the always intertwined nature of light and dark. It does so in a gorgeous animation style while offering a fight scene that, like the battle in “Spy Dancer,” is equally thrilling and dazzling. Here that battle occurs among crystals that reflect the light of the lightsabers in the fight.
But there’s more! The short also features one of the few vehicular combat sequences among the log, showing that even the fights in Star Wars that aren’t beguiling feats of acrobatics can still be a joy to watch.
7. The Elder
“The Elder” may be the only Visions short to introduce a new philosophical idea to Star Wars, and that’s worth a lot. The short centers on a Jedi master and padawan who encounter a mysterious elder while patrolling the Outer Rim, only to come into conflict and ultimately defeat the old man. But, as the master says, it is not the Jedi who defeat the elder, but time.
He argues that his young padawan must learn the lesson that no matter how powerful you become, like all things, it is impermanent. It’s an interesting idea that’s fleshed out a bit more in the short and one that elevates the exciting short, which features two fantastic lightsaber duels, to one of the best.
6. Lop & Ochō
“Lop & Ochō” may be the only environmentally-minded short that offers at least some discussion of the issue, and that’s valuable. The short centers on a family of three, a clan boss father and his two daughters, one biological and one adopted, and offers some scenes of conversation between them about whether the Empire’s industrialization on their planet is more helpful or harmful as it economically benefits the planet, while also draining its resources. Of course, there’s a clear bad guy, but it makes the short more interesting than several others with environmental messages.
It’s also one of the few shorts that packs an emotional punch in its exploration of family and how blood is not the only thing that makes a family. Add to those victories that it looks incredible, stars a non-human protagonist, and features one of the most unique and frankly just cool-looking lightsabers shaped like a katana and includes an inscription, and you’ve got a fantastic short.
5. Screecher’s Reach
Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon has been making features like no one else, which holds for their Visions short. The lovingly hand-drawn short features gorgeous watercolor and pastel backgrounds for the action that make even a dingy factory and dark cave look beautiful simply because of how perfect the shading is. The story follows a group of child factory workers who escape to the eponymous Screecher’s Reach cave, where one of them has been told to go by a mysterious mentor.
Once there, the central child enters the cave and encounters a ghost that attacks. The spirit is never solid, drawn instead with frantically sketched lines and ever-fluctuating boundaries, and is genuinely scary because of it. “Screecher’s Reach” is undoubtedly the scariest of the shorts. But it isn’t so horrifying that it’s inappropriate for children, and that’s a fine line to walk. The fact that it’s also emotionally impactful makes it one of the best.
If “The Duel” points toward and draws from Star Wars’ samurai cinema inspiration, “Akakiri” does the same for high fantasy. The short follows a Jedi, a princess, and two guides on a journey through various landscapes to return to the princess’s palace, where a Sith lord, who just so happens to be her aunt, has taken control. The journey through the different landscapes allows the animators to offer us stunning views of watercolor deserts, forests, and mountains before the finale at the palace.
That finale features a battle that feels Shakespearean as the Jedi, who has a possibly romantic history with the princes, takes on the villainous aunt who murdered her brother to take the throne. It also looks fantastic as the battle adds light trails to the fast-moving lightsabers along with the usual light pollution and motion blur.
3. The Ninth Jedi
“The Ninth Jedi” is the only short that feels like it could be a mainline Star Wars movie. There’s a genuinely epic feel to the whole thing from the start, with a score that successfully evokes John Williams’s work for the series, voiceover narration explaining when and where we are in the galaxy, and the “camera” moving through space before following a ship as it lands.
The story begins on two parallel tracks. The first is a meeting of surviving Jedi who have been mysteriously called together decades after the dissolution of the Jedi Order. While the second centers on a teenage girl whose father is a lightsabersmith and must transport the sabers to the meeting of the Jedi. It gives the same sense of a normal kid and a vast adventure that we get from the start of A New Hope and brings the two together perfectly while setting up a larger narrative.
Add to that two incredible action scenes, one a speeder chase, the other a multi-combatant lightsaber battle, and you’ve got the best (mostly) two-dimensional short of the bunch; one that I hope gets a sequel.
2. Aau’s Song
This is the point in the list where I have to come clean about my deep affection for stop-motion. I genuinely think that “Aau’s Song” and (spoiler for a moment from now) “In the Stars” are the best of the Visions shorts we’ve received thus far, but that cannot be untangled from the fact that they are stop-motion. To be clear, I don’t say that to undercut how perfect they are.
“Aau’s Song” introduces viewers to a brightly lit mountain community full of colorful plants and flowers. The settings are awe-inspiring, combining vast miniature sets with beautiful matte painting-style backgrounds. Our characters are made of felt and look almost like plush toys but are animated so well that we can see every piece of emotion on their faces. And that’s key to a story about a young girl, the eponymous Aau (Mpilo Jantjie) whose relationship with her father is tested by her force abilities.
1. In the Stars
“In the Stars” uses wood and plastic figures and sets to tell the story of two sisters living on an almost post-apocalyptic planet that’s been ravaged by the Empire. The elder of the two sisters is interested only in surviving, while the younger dreams of taking down the Empire’s massive water filtration plant that has turned the planet into a barren wasteland.
Instead of coming into conflict with one another, the sisters end up in an unwanted battle through the industrial plant. The set is one of the most stunningly intricate miniature sets I’ve ever seen, and the action is thrilling while also functioning narratively to develop the relationship between the sisters. It’s also got a bit of a twist that made me smile.
It’s the best Visions short thus far because it succeeds on every level. It delivers an emotionally resonant story and thrilling action, all while looking amazing and like nothing else.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Kyle Logan is a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Alternative Press, Cultured Vultures, Film Stories, Looper, and more. Kyle is particularly interested in horror and animation, as well as genre films written and directed by queer people and women. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.