I’ve been slowly making my way through Star Wars: Visions since the anime anthology dropped on Disney+ a week and a half ago. Slowly because I don’t wanna rush my way through it, but also because there’s a lot of other television to watch (What If…? and Ted Lasso are both wrapping up their seasons, the new season of Sex Education is out, I need to catch up on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, [my fantasy show of choice at the moment], and The Great British Bake-Off is back and that show is wonderful. Plus I’ve heard a lot of good about Squid Game). That lengthy aside aside, I am definitely down for some Star Wars anime.
It’s not a new concept, if you’ve been paying attention. There were manga adaptations of the Original Trilogy released back in the late 90s, followed by one of The Phantom Menace. They translated remarkably well, with the heightened reality of the art style fitting the melodrama of Star Wars like a familiar glove. I tracked down copies of them as a teenager, managing to order them from my local Books-A-Million in South Carolina, and thoroughly enjoyed the take on the movies. Each movie was done in a different style, if I recall correctly, and each one brought different nuances to its adaptation along with it (Return of the Jedi had some particularly striking imagery that really capitalized on its being in black and white). One of these days I’ve gotta track my copies down and enjoy them again.
Fanworks have been dabbling in it for ages too. And I don’t just mean fanart portraits. There’s a particularly well-known short on YouTube, TIE Fighter, that’s, well, a short about TIE Fighter pilots. Inspired by the old video game and animated by one guy over years, it oozes style out of every frame. It’s really neat, too, seeing a Star Wars dogfight filtered through an anime approach. My point is, Star Wars done as an anime/manga isn’t an entirely novel concept.
So of course Star Wars: Visions makes a lot of sense. Why not get a bunch of anime studios to animate shorts in the Star Wars world? The question is, then, where do they go with it?
“The Duel,” animated in a shadowy grayscale except for lights and lasers, has bandits attacking a small very-feudal-Japanese-looking village, and the defenders who fight them off, replete with a mysterious lightsaber-wielding ronin facing off with a Sith warrior. “Tatooine Rhapsody” is about a band with an ex-Jedi lead singer and a Hutt bassist. These are certainly a little odd for Star Wars: though the movies owe a lot to Kurosawa and other classic Japanese movies, there’s never been something that leans all-in on those tropes to the extent that “The Duel” does (heck, file off the lightsabers and it wouldn’t look out of place on a shelf next to The Seven Samurai). Meanwhile, a Star Wars story ending with a band performing a musical number seems a little odd, especially in a universe more known for its epic wars, duels, and Mandalorian bounty hunters. But “Tatooine Rhapsody” does just that and somehow a story about a rock band works in Star Wars, probably because of just how delightfully flexible the universe is.
Star Wars was born out of a mangling of genres, with samurai-esque Jedi Knights palling around with cowboy smugglers aboard spaceships and villains that harken back to 50s Flash Gordon serials. Giving a bunch of anime studios the run of the place to tell their stories, be it about a band or a droid who wants to be a Jedi, feels in keeping with the inherent weirdness of Star Wars. I think so long as it’s got that heart of Star Wars, a fundamentally optimistic outlook, that belief that anyone can be the hero, and a dash of anti-capitalist bent, I think there’s room for a lot of new stories.
But, really, I just want more Star Wars, so, hey.