Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
So this week I put on Disney+ to watch the latest episode of Marvel’s What If…? (it was that weird party Thor one, but that’s another story) and to my surprise the new Star Wars anime anthology series Visions had been dropped. And I was like, “Already?!”
So I checked out all nine episodes and it was pretty good if just short of stellar. Get it? Star Wars? Star? Stellar? You get it. With a Death Star-sized SPOILER ALERT here’s my review in four saber slices:
Slice #1 Animation and Voice Cast
You can’t spell “animation” without “anime” (just forgot about the “e”) and one of the highlights of Visions is the gorgeous animation. Produced by seven Japanese animation studios, the visuals here range from the cute and whimsical to the dark and intense. Some of my favourite animation were in the gritty black and white/colour look of The Duel, the bright, old school anime feel of The Twins, the vibrancy of Lop & Ochō, and the saturated palette of The Elder.
Most of the character designs go for a relatively realistic look except for Tatooine Rhapsody (you’ll be hearing about that story a lot) which gives the characters a shrunken, Funko Pop-esque look. It’s a bit odd seeing Boba Fett trying to be all menacing when he’s knee high to a grasshopper. You will also notice some of the lightsabers have a curved blade like real swords and they are drawn and sheathed like samurai swords. It fits with the Japanese motif but takes a little getting used to. And George Lucas himself was inspired by the works of Akira Kurosawa so Visions is art coming full circle. And speaking of inspirations, the music and sound effects are mostly original with a few callbacks to the franchise. I really enjoyed the score of The Village Bride with its haunting, ethereal voices and primal beats. But overall I found the music to just be okay.
Staying in the auditory realm, the voice cast (I listened to it in English btw) is very good. And I didn’t realise it was so star-studded. Temuera Morrison returned to voice Boba Fett in Tatooine Rhapsody and we also have the talents of Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels, Elementary), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception), Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), Alison Brie (Community), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat), Simu Liu (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings), David Harbour (Stranger Things, Black Widow), George Takei (Star Trek), and Jamie Chung (The Gifted, Lovecraft Country).
And it’s good to be bad as two of the best performances are Lorraine Toussaint (Orange is the New Black, Into the Badlands) as merciless Sith Masago in Akakiri, and the legendary James Hong (Chinatown, Blade Runner, Big Trouble in Little China and way too many other films to name) as the titular former Sith in The Elder.
Slice #2 All About That Action
If you came into Visions hoping for lots of lightsaber battles then you will not be disappointed. Well, let me rephrase that. You may not be disappointed. Because while there are many lightsaber duels they are mostly pretty tame, and are more A New Hope than Revenge of the Sith.
There are a couple of exceptions though, as we have the over-the-top fight in The Twins, which did feel quite “anime”, and an emotionally charged dust-up in The Elder. But with the combination of lightsabers, Force powers and anime I was expecting some truly out of this world, full throttle action. Most of these felt kinda safe.
And I was also looking forward to seeing some Jedi-versus-multiple foes and saber-on-droid action a la the prequel trilogy/The Clone Warsl. We get a little of the former in Akakiri but The Village Bride, which features the B1 Battle Droids, wastes the opportunity for the latter. And speaking of wasted opportunities, while I do love me some Jedi Knights versus Sith I also enjoy ship battles, blaster shoot-outs, vehicle and ground combat. And in Visions there is barely any of this to talk about. I think Genndy Tartakovsky did a much better job of embracing the action potential of Star Wars than the new anthology did.
And just a side note, the creators seem to be fans of that scene in The Force Awakens where Kylo Ren stopped a blaster bolt mid-air using the Force as we see it not once but twice in two separate stories by two separate studios (The Twins and The Village Bride). It looked cool and did put a smile on my face.
Slice #3 A Jedi. Like the story before me
In terms of the stories I am happy to report that overall the quality is quite high. Sure, there a couple of clunkers. Tatooine Rhapsody, where a former Padawan joins a rock band with a Hutt and has to save him from his relative, THE Jabba the Hutt, with the power of rock is just weird. I did like the design of the three-headed, red-skinned drummer and it was cool seeing Boba Fett and Jabba (t’s the only appearances of canon characters in Visions as far as I know) but it all just feels kind of pointless. And while Tatooine Rhapsody struck a sour tune, I think T0-B1 (Get it? Obi-Wan? You get it) is an even weaker story. The titular droid’s master tells him the Force inhabits all things but he forgot to include that it is an energy field created by all LIVING things. That means no droids! So yeah, the whole concept of him becoming a Jedi makes no sense whatsoever. I was expecting either the twist that he was part human or the much overused “it was all a dream” trope. But no. Jedi droid it is. Nope. Not having it.
On the medium quality side we have The Duel and The Twins. The Duel had good action and strong animation but the story was somewhat formulaic. The Twins had the awesome concept of twins raised to be tools of the Dark Side and Neil Patrick Harris and Alison Brie put in very good voice work. But the main weapon was just another Death Star rip-off (we’ve had quite enough of that) and I don’t think they did enough with the tantalising premise. And seeing them “breathing” in the vacuum of space just took me out of what was happening. I know it’s their own vision (hehe) but if you are playing the Star Wars sandbox then stick to the rules. And as far as I know Jedi can’t hold their breath for that long, especially when engaged in a vigorous battle. Feel free to @ me in the comments.
I know what you’re thinking (Jedi mind reading is one of my many Force powers)—was there anything you actually liked? Glad you asked/thought. I found the other stories pretty dang great. Though I would have liked some more variety outside of Jedi-centric tales (a couple of bounty hunter, smuggler, dogfights or war stories would have been welcome) what we did get was most entertaining. I loved the look and music of The Village Bride. I loved the stripped-down story of The Elder, though I thought the Padawan should have died. I loved the bleak ending of Akakiri, which felt like an homage to the Anakin/Padme tragedy in Revenge of the Sith. And I loved the family conflict in Lop and Ochō between the brave, rabbit like-alien (Lop) and her misguided, Empire-pandering sister Ochō. And when Ochō destroyed the family droid I felt that one.
But the one story to rule them all (Wait. That’s Lord of the Rings. I’ll allow it) is The Ninth Jedi. This one features not one but TWO twists: almost all of the Jedi gathered are actually Sith and the mysterious Jedi ruler Margrave Juro was actually hiding in that giant droid. I was like dang! And then I was like DANG! And then we get treated to some solid Jedi versus Sith action. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I would love to see the story continued in a potential Visions Season 2.
So in conclusion, I thought Visions was very well done, if a bit too heavy on the Jedi side. And if it does get a second season all I would ask for is bigger action and storytelling that explores more aspects of the franchise.
Editor Jules’s Score: 7 out of 10
So which of Visions episodes was your favourite? Which was your least favourite? And you can check out reviews of other Star Wars animated content below.
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.