If we’re gonna be saturated in Star Wars, at least mix it up like intoxicating series Visions
The Star Wars universe collides – again – with the world’s best animators for season two of anthology series Star Wars: Visions. The intoxicating variety of styles represents one of the (few) upsides of Star Wars’ hyper-exploitation, writes Dominic Corry.
The spirit of Broom Boy is alive and well in season two of animated anthology series Star Wars: Visions, in which the sense that anyone can be a Jedi is thematically strewn through nine otherwise remarkably varied shorts from international animators.
Where season one of Star Wars: Visions was all anime from Japanese creators, season two features nine shorts from studios based in India, South Korea, Spain, Chile, France, Ireland, South Africa, the UK (Aardman, natch) and more. It’s an intoxicating variety of styles that represents one of the (few) upsides of the property’s recent tendency for hyper-exploitation.
If we’re gonna be saturated in Star Wars content, at least they’re finding room to mix it up like they do here. The variety of perspectives and aesthetics makes a fine case for the unifying power of Star Wars itself, even if this appears to be non-canonical.
The representative power is also undeniable. Although Broom Boy (from The Last Jedi) was a little white kid, he represented the idea that power in the Star Wars universe shouldn’t be centered around a couple of families. Seeing and hearing protagonists from a wide variety of ethnicities in season two of Star Wars: Visions, especially the young ones, only deepens the resonance of these stories.
Mainstream (western) audiences often struggle with aspirational, not-overtly-comedic animation—amazing shows like Love Death + Robots are relatively ignored. The Star Wars association here may help bridge that gap, as Visions is as true to the expressive purity of animation as anything. I found it invigorating and often moving. Many of the shorts present an unfamiliar visual style that may initially destabilise a casual viewer, which only makes the subsequent big chunky Star Wars-iness all the more powerful when it inevitably arrives.
For a long time, the best work being done in the Star Wars space could be seen in Dave Filoni’s animated shows Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, which set a new benchmark for how animation could test waters never ventured in live action. That delirious potential is further explored in Visions, which, like Filoni’s shows, deserves to inform the live action projects and hopefully inspire the powers-that-be to give the filmmakers a little more leeway. There’s a lot of cool weird shit in these shorts. And many qualify as actual “war” stories more than the movies and shows, a natural result of the (presumably) parameter-free brief.
Some of the nine got me in the gut more than others, but the overall experience was an aesthetic and emotional journey well worth taking. Here are some notes on the individual shorts (with animation studio and country listed), which can be viewed in any order.
Sith (El Guiri, Spain)
A painterly aesthetic, and painting itself, defines this impressionistic work from Rodrigo Blass, who worked on Guillermo del Toro’s Netflix Trollhunters shows. It follows a former Sith apprentice living in solitude who is confronted by her former master. There’s a cool three-legged droid, a “rolling wheel” transport much better than the one Obi-Wan drove in Attack of the Clones, a fantastic pursuit scene and bad-ass final showdown where the visual/painting motif reaches a nice crescendo. Fantastic stuff.
Screecher’s Reach (Cartoon Saloon, Ireland)
The haunting nature of old European animation greatly informs this deceptively cute-looking short about some kids encountering a ghoulish Sith witch deep in a cave. The storybook aesthetic is overlaid with leaden atmosphere and screeching blasts—like The Babadook, kind of. Also: Angelica Houston voices the Sith crone.
In The Stars (Punkrobot, Chile)
This (apparently—it’s impossible to tell these days) stop-motion animated short takes place in an unfamiliar Star Wars setting, an almost feudal-esque wasteland. Two sisters infiltrate a looming Imperial industrial facility and get in trouble. It’s Jean-Pierre Jeunet meets Phil Tippet’s Mad God and a bunch of other stuff. I dug it.
I Am Your Mother (Aardman, UK)
I never knew I needed a Star Wars short animated in the traditional Aardman aesthetic, but apparently I did. Seeing the studio’s trademark cheery optimism and gift for elaborate physicality applied to this world is an absolute treat. Wookies in particular seem especially well-suited to Aardman’s character design. The plot here follows a young Twi’lek flight academy student who lies about family race day to her mum because she’s so embarrassed by her and their old dinger of a spaceship. It feels very British and very Coruscant at the same time.
Journey to the Dark Head (Studio Mir, South Korea)
Probably the closest to what we saw in season one of Visions, this short sees a young tormented Jedi sent to accompany a spirited pilot girl on mission to destroy a Sith monument. Where, of course, the Jedi runs into the Sith lord that killed his master. This is pure badassery, featuring a Sith with a big sharp chain thing, which makes for one of the best lightsaber battles I’ve ever seen. It also has giant-ass Lord of the Rings-style statues. They are cool.
The Spy Dancer (Studio La Cachette, France)
Drawn in a beautiful style located somewhere between the retro futurism of Darwyn Cooke’s work and the lithe agility of Peter Chung’s Aeon Flux, this takes place in a burlesque club (of sorts, the outfits are big billowing sheets) where the principle dancer executes rebel schemes on the Storm Trooper customers. That is until, someone from her past shows up in the audience. There is incredible motion here—the dancing style is impossible to describe, and evokes The Fifth Element a tad. The melodramatic turns of the story carry weight. Possibly my favourite of the nine.
The Bandits of Golak (88 Pictures, India)
CG-animated adventure follows a force-sensitive young girl on a train as she tries to evade those who would seek to hand her over to the Empire, before a showdown with an Inquisitor. Although there is a great train heist and some cool lightsaber battles, the most fascinating aspect of this short is seeing Star Wars characters and aesthetics filtered through an Indian cultural lens.
The Pit (D’art Shtajio/Lucasfilm, Japan/United States)
This co-production sees Storm Troopers overseeing slave labourers mining for kyber crystals on a desert planet. Once the job is finished, and a nearby city is built from their bounty, the miners are abandoned at the bottom of the pit. Evoking Bane’s journey in The Dark Knight Rises, one hopeful young man attempts to climb out to get help. Directed by Oakland native LeAndre Thomas, a longtime Lucasfilm employee, The Pit is a sombre, affecting tale of hope in the face of hopelessness.
Aau’s Song (Triggerfish, South Africa)
There’s more kyber crystal mining in this almost unbearably cute (emphasis on the bear) stop-motion effort. It centres around a race of panda-like aliens living on a kyber-rich planet, and a little girl whose voice has a strange effect on the crystals. There are beautiful vistas here and the whole thing is rendered in an appealing felt-like aesthetic. Delightful.