When Visions producer Kanako Shirasaki announced Lucasfilm’s intention to let Japanese creators loose upon Star Wars lore, few who’d spent even a cursory amount of time unpicking the interests of creator George Lucas could claim to be surprised. Star Wars universe is a patchwork quilt of Earth’s cultures: the Bedouin influence of Tatooine. Naboo’s nods to Ancient Rome, chariot/pod races and all. What are the Jedi Knights if not a riff on the samurai warriors of feudal Japan?
The Japanese theme doesn’t end there. Lucas has said that Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress helped shape 1977’s A New Hope. It’s believed jidaigeki, the Japanese word for period dramas (the sort of films Kurosawa made), provided the inspiration for Jedi. Long before Sir Alec Guinness (begrudgingly) took the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Lucas had envisioned Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune in the role.
If there’s anything surprising about Visions – nine short non-canon Star Wars stories produced by eight Japanese anime studios (Science SARU pull double duty) – it’s that it may well be the best spin-off yet from the world’s most popular fantasy franchise. Yeah, you heard us Baby Yoda! Because here’s the thing. If The Manadlorian is akin to the best covers band ever, hitting beloved beats consistently, giving the fanbase what they want and often, then Visions is an original artist of some distinction. It’s in the latter’s output that we can learn most about where Star Wars is at – and where the franchise is heading.
Because with respect to John Favreau, what the Star Wars franchise doesn’t need is another ten spin-off productions helmed by him (there are, at the time of writing, three in production: The Mandalorian, Ahsoka, The Rangers of the New Republic). International appeal requires international voices, something Marvel know all too well. We speak often of representation being important in how powerful it is for everyone to see themselves on-screen. A simpler reading of it is that without diversity, things get fucking boring.
Visions is rarely boring. Kinema Citrus’ ‘Village Bride’ sags somewhat, but elsewhere it’s clear that everyone involved in the project is having a ball. We’re shown the answer to the never before asked question ‘what kind of lightsaber would Mary Poppins have?’ in the series best episode, Kamikaze Douga’s stunning ‘The Duel’. Studio Trigger’s remarkable ‘The Twins’ shows us a lightsaber that doubles as a whip. And Visions isn’t afraid to get very, very silly. ‘Tatooine Rhapsody’ is a story about an intergalactic emo band performing in a Tatooine amphitheatre, in the hope it’ll convince Jabba the Hutt not to execute their bassist. The band are called Star Waver and the Cantina Band’s P45s are in the post.
To pair Star Wars off against the MCU once more, it’s unlikely a series like Visions could exist within the increasingly convoluted world of the latter. Maybe they should try giving their properties to new voices more. Few would critique the consistency of Marvel’s world-building since their acquisition by Disney in 2009, but some of their productions feel more like extended trailers than stand-alone works. Everything got very rigid en route to Endgame.
Conversely, when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, they branded the timeline that had been fleshed out by comics, novels and video games as Star Wars: Legends and moved on. There’s a lineage to the films, but elsewhere, if it feels like Stars Wars, it’s Star Wars. The MCU doesn’t have that freedom, or consistency of tone, as demonstrated by the often forced What if…? We know what Star Wars should feel like, what it should sound like, the stylistic parameters the series needs to stay within. The screen wipes between scenes. An abundance of high-tech machinery that looks dusty and used. Soaring strings. Bleep-y droids. Creatures with texture. Its why fans didn’t like the orgy of CGI that came with the prequels – and overlooked the shameless plot rehashing of The Force Awakens.
Visions feels like Star Wars, while also being something completely its own. That’s great news for fans, and nods to a future for that looks boundless in its ambition and… well, vision.
‘Star Wars: Visions’ is streaming now on Disney+