The first volume of Star Wars: Visions offered fans some of the most original and exciting visions of the galaxy far, far away that we’d seen in a long time. The nine shorts by seven anime studios took audiences across the galaxy with various stories that not only opened up the franchise’s universe but also introduced gorgeous new animation styles to the franchise.
With volume two, Visions leaves behind Japan as the only producer of these animated shorts and opens up to distinct visions of the galaxy from all across the globe, and it’s all the better for it. While the first volume offered a wide variety of art styles and some fascinating mixes of three and two-dimensional animation, a full third of the second volume shorts are variations of stop-motion animation, which was absent from the first collection.
Beyond introducing new forms of animation and pushing boundaries for what computer animation can look like, the second group of Visions shorts is distinctly international. Most shorts are in English, whether they were made in countries where English is the dominant language or not. So we’re treated to Spanish, French, and Indian accents as well as Irish, English (like the nation), and American accents across the nine shorts.
A Celebration of International Fandom
It’s not just the characters’ accents that mark the shorts as global, though. Cultural and character design elements emphasize that these shorts also come from Star Wars lovers worldwide.
“The Bandits of Golak” includes bright, distinctly Indian costumes that look as though they were colored by watercolor paint imbued into the three-dimensional computer animation. The characters in “The Bandits of Golak” and “Screecher’s Reach” are ethnically Indian and Irish, respectively. “The Spy Dancer” heavily features the French art of aerial silks in a way that highlights its cultural origin and delivers several stunning images and sequences.
A Dream Come True for Animation Fans
Those images and sequences are just some of the many throughout the shorts. The most exciting development from the first volume of Visions is the inclusion of stop-motion. “In the Stars” presents characters made from plastic and wood, “I Am Your Mother” offers Aardman’s classic claymation, and “Aau’s Song” introduces us to characters made of felt. The sets for “In the Stars” and “Aau’s Song” are also especially beautiful. The creators have brought distinct and incredibly detailed worlds to life. An almost post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the Empire in “In the Stars” and a sun-drenched mountain community overflowing with various flora in “Aau’s Song.”
To be clear, the awesomeness of the stop-motion shorts does not take away from the hand-drawn and computer-created animation on display here.
Hand-drawn shorts “Screecher’s Reach,” “Journey to the Dark Head,” and “The Spy Dancer” all feature jaw-dropping action scenes and gorgeously realized worlds. “Screecher’s Reach” uses a cave setting for an encounter with a Sith to deliver some surprisingly scary and indelible images of an antagonist that’s a mass of swirling and sketched blacks with a similarly chaotically sketched lightsaber. On the other hand, “Journey to the Dark Head” is crisply animated, with crystal backgrounds reflecting dueling lightsabers’ light. And scenes of aerial silk dancing and combat in “The Spy Dancer” are breathtaking.
“Sith” and “The Bandits of Golak” are the only computer-animated shorts. But neither looks like what you would see in a Hollywood computer-animated feature. The costumes in “The Bandits of Golak” are accompanied by an entire world of watercolors and piercing multicolored neon lights. “Sith” goes so far as to combine its story and form directly, telling the story of a painter who wanders her mostly white home and seeks to add color to it while struggling not to let darkness take over her paintings.
The only disappointment among the nine is “The Pit” which looks like any anime that might have ended up as a Saturday morning cartoon for American kids in the 2000s. But even that doesn’t look bad; it’s just not on par with its peers, which are almost all equally amazing.
Nothing New Narratively, But That’s Ok
Many of the shorts center on young characters who discover that they have some relationship to the Force, many focus on resistance to the Empire, and some tell stories about Force-sensitive characters struggling with the temptation of the Dark Side. Of course, none of these are especially new narratives for Star Wars, but just because a story has been told before doesn’t mean it can’t be told well.
Overwhelmingly, the stories told throughout the shorts that make up volume 2 of Visions are well told, maintaining tension and excitement even though we all know the beats of these stories by now. What’s more interesting is the unexpected thematic parallels between several of the shorts. There’s a real emphasis on the importance of art and stories as methods for record-keeping and remembering those who came before us in a number of the shorts that lend some weight to these short stories.
This second volume of Visions shorts delivers on the promise of the first and only makes me hope that we will continue to see more of these shorts for the foreseeable future. Visions uses the cultural cache of Star Wars as intellectual property to invite fans of the galaxy far, far away to discover creators whose work might be seen otherwise, and that’s the best thing IP can do. In a Star Wars landscape that often feels like it’s simply mining pre-existing characters for new stories, Visions shows that new stories can be told in new and exciting ways.
Rating: 9/10 SPECS
Star Wars: Visions – Volume 2 will be streaming on Disney+ beginning May 4th.
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.