We take our animated anthology titles very literally here at Polygon. In the grand tradition of our Love, Death, & Robots analysis pieces that break down Netflix’s animated anthology series by the amount of love, death, and robots each one contains, we’re setting out to break down Disney Plus’ Star Wars anime anthology Star Wars: Visions by considering how many stars, wars, and visions they contain.
What does this mean? Stars and wars are pretty self-explanatory, but when it comes to visions, I’ll be looking for what’s innovative about each of the nine shorts in the original Star Wars: Visions lineup, and considering how each one uses animation to explore the vast galaxy of the Star Wars universe. Seven different studios participated in making Star Wars: Visions’ nine episodes, and each short tells a completely different story, which means the potential for innovation is high.
A mysterious wandering stranger steps up to defend a village besieged by ragged bandits. In taking them on, he reveals a stunning truth about the nature of his past.
Stars: Not a lot here, surprisingly! It presumably takes place on a distant planet, but it could very well be a remote countryside village on Earth, especially given how much inspiration it draws from samurai movies.
Wars: A Sith Lord invades the tiny village, leading to multiple battles between her minions and the village’s protectors, and between her and the stranger. There are hints that this is part of a greater war — for instance, the leader of the village is a child, and it’s heavily implied that he inherited the position when his father was taken down in a previous invasion.
Vision: This short is rendered entirely in black and white, save for the bright flashes of gunfire and lightsabers. The particular lightsaber weapons used are also super-cool. Additionally, this short takes an unusual third-party approach to the morality of the Star Wars universe, one we haven’t really seen in the live-action films.
Does it work? Considering how black and white the morality of the Star Wars universe often is (the Dark Side is evil; the Light Side is good), the palette here emphasizes the plot twist toward the end, which adds nuance to the familiar dichotomy. The fight is sharp and gorgeous, with the flashes of color highlighting the best parts of the action.
A scrappy band with big dreams must rally to save one of their beloved bandmates from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett.
Stars: The band flies through space, landing on different planets! This one actually features more space travel than many of the other shorts.
Wars: There is no actual war going on, but the poor band can’t catch a break because their Hutt guitarist has a bounty on his head. Every time they perform, they’re rudely interrupted by eager bounty hunters looking to cash in the top prize from Jabba the Hutt. They’ve never been able to finish a set!
Visions: This is the only short to incorporate existing Star Wars characters, but even so, it uses them in different ways than expected. The animation takes on a more cartoon-inspired look, which speaks to the more lighthearted tone. Sure, the guitarist has a bounty on his head, but they save the day with the power of music!
Does it work? Why isn’t more Star Wars like this? “Tatooine Rhapsody” is literally just about a band that wants to jam together, but can’t because they’re caught up in Jabba the Hutt’s whims. The narrative centers on found family and rock music, along with hints of tragic pasts that don’t drag down the story. It’s just a fun time, and a different side of the Star Wars universe than the movies or previous TV series show. A lot of these shorts focus on the Jedi-Sith of it all, but not “Tatooine Rhapsody.”
A secret set of twins born into the Dark Side clash on board a massive Star Destroyer when one steals a powerful weapon. During their epic battle, they will make choices that will forever alter their destinies.
Stars: The bulk of the short is an epic duel on the top of a spaceship. There are sweeping shots of stars and space around the two main characters (the titular twins) as they battle it out.
Wars: Aside from the battle that takes up most of this short, the twins were specifically created to bring order to the galaxy — by harnessing their Force powers into a giant death laser, presumably designed to threaten planets into compliance, lest they meet the fate of Alderaan. Not a war yet, but clearly one was intended.
Visions: For those familiar with Studio Trigger’s Promare, a lot of this short’s animation will seem very familiar. Still, to the Star Wars world, the bright blocks of color used to represent Force powers — as well as the protagonists’ billowing hair — are new and dramatically eye-catching. Having a battle on the outside of a spaceship (how does that work?!) is also just bonkers fun.
Does it work? If you like dramatic fights with cool powers and implausible physics (once again — hair billowing in space?), then this is the short for you. Force-connected twins is a common Star Wars trope, but seeing it done on the Dark Side makes for a refreshing turn of events.
“The Village Bride”
A Jedi on the run is summoned by an old ally to observe the strange and beautiful customs of a remote village on the eve of a wedding. The Jedi must make a choice when she discovers their peace is threatened by a local warlord.
Stars: Aside from the end shot, where someone flies off into space, this is another short that could also just be happening in Earth’s countryside somewhere.
Wars: The characters discuss a war that happened in the past, leaving the small village to still feel the ramifications. There’s a confrontation at the end, but no direct invasion. Still, the scars of war continue to affect the village. One of the Jedi also has some flashbacks to this war.
Vision: It is definitely unusual to see how more of the common folk have been affected by the Empire, and how the Jedi protect them. The way the villagers connect with their planet is also a different way of seeing the Force — the way people unfamiliar with Jedi knights and the Light and Dark Sides might view a power that connects us all.
Does it work? This short feels reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky or Princess Mononoke — the people in the village are intimately tied to the nature of the planet, and able to access its memories through rituals. Unfortunately, that concept is only really used to color the beginning, and by the end, this short becomes a standard battle against a bad guy. Still, the story of the village chief’s granddaughter choosing to give herself up to the warlord in exchange for the village’s safety is compelling.
“The Ninth Jedi”
The daughter of a legendary lightsaber-smith is pursued by dark forces as she travels across harsh terrain with a very important delivery – newly crafted lightsabers meant for a rag-tag group of warriors claiming to be Jedi.
Stars: The opening sequence starts off with some shots of the galaxy — which, yes, includes stars — though most of the action takes place on a rocky planet.
Wars: A war has been going on in the background, with the Jedi being persecuted. Kara, the daughter of a lightsaber maker, narrowly escapes invaders who capture her father. She must fight her way to a temple to deliver the lightsabers he’s made. Meanwhile, at the temple, the group of Jedi deliberate about whether the master who has summoned them is to be trusted. There’s a war somewhere, but we mostly just see its far-reaching ramifications. Also, there are some pretty epic final battles here.
Visions: The most innovative plot element of this short is how it plays with lightsaber colors. When Kara first wields a lightsaber, her connection to the Force is not strong enough to render a specific color, and her father tells her that lightsabers’ appearances are decided by the personality of their wielders. But in the climactic battle, she is able to come into that power. The big plot twist is also made all the more dramatic by this particular lightsaber dynamic.
Does it work? The short is somewhat predictable, but it is cool — it’s pretty much a given that not everyone is who they say they are, and that Kara will rise up and be able to use a lightsaber. But damn it if it isn’t thrilling to watch the moment her saber’s color solidifies. It may also make you want to journey to Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge to build a saber of your own.
A cybernetic boy who dreams to one day become a heroic Jedi discovers a secret about his creator’s past that threatens their once-peaceful existence.
Stars: This short takes place on a distant desert world, where a scientist and the robot boy he created work to restore life to the planet. T0-B1, the little robot hero, looks to the stars, full of dreams of becoming a Jedi and saving the galaxy. Does he get to fly off at the end and achieve them? That’s a spoiler. But aside from that, there is a quick pan to space as someone outside the planet looks on.
Wars: T0-B1 knows very little about the galaxy beyond his little planet, and the scientist who created him refuses to tell him more. But when he does learn about the universe beyond his home, he discovers a war that has forced Jedi into hiding, though the details are pretty scarce. There is a final fight, one that feels like a reflection of a larger war going on.
Visions: The animation in T0-B1 is soft, inspired by Astro Boy and the work of Osamu Tezuka, akin to a children’s show with curved edges and round shapes. It is nice to see something from a robot’s point of view, considering how full of robots the Star Wars world is.
Does it work? Just because the short visually resembles children’s books does not mean the story is trivial; it’s actually bittersweet, as T0-B1 resolves to follow his creator’s goals, and finds a new way to be a Jedi by rehabilitating planets. It’s kinda like Pinocchio, but instead of wanting to be a real boy, T0-B1 wants to be a Jedi.
A pacifist Jedi and his restless Padawan pursue a dark presence to a small village on an outer rim planet. The Jedi and the Padawan uncover a terrifying truth and must face down an old man who is far more powerful than either imagined.
Stars: Our two heroes fly through space at the beginning, on the way to a remote planet in the Outer Rim. Arguably the most stars out of all these shorts, since there’s so much space travel involved. They even talk about the Jedi’s extensive Outer Rim experience, which leaves his Padawan both a little jealous and a little mocking.
Wars: A mysterious disturbance in the force alerts the Jedi Master to a distant planet… but while there are individual battles, there does not seem to be any military-motivated conflict. It’s just some guys getting into some fights.
Visions: “The Elder” is the most straightforward Star Wars short of all these Star Wars shorts, with interactions straight out of the familiar playbook. Even the archetypes are familiar: a more reserved and peaceful Master dispensing wise adages, juxtaposed with an eager-to-see-action Padawan. The coolest thing are the short sabres wielded by the villain, which aren’t usually seen in the film series.
Does it work? The familiarity doesn’t make it less enjoyable, but it does mean it goes pretty much exactly where you think it’ll go. (The final showdown is pretty epic, though.)
“Lop & Ochō”
A powerful patriarch clashes with his eldest daughter about confronting the encroaching Empire. The little adopted sister who is caught in the middle must choose sides.
Stars: Most of the action takes place on one planet, which is slightly more urban than the previous “just taking place on one planet” shorts. Still, the whole source of conflict comes from the fact that this particular planet has been slow to industrialize — the chief of the ruling clan wants to resist the Empire’s influence, whereas his oldest daughter believes that the only way her planet stands a chance is if her family allies with the Empire.
Wars: The Empire is invading, slowly but surely. The family at the center is pulled apart by their conflicting views on how to approach the Empire’s growing influence.
Visions: The character designs — especially Lop, a bunny-like alien — are particularly memorable in this one. Ochō dramatically cuts off her hair and smears her blood over her eyelids as eyeshadow, which is a cool character moment. The way the lightsaber is incorporated is unexpected and far outside normal Star Wars canon. Also, it’s just generally engaging to see the reasons why a small planet might want to side with the Empire.
Does it work? This short broke my heart, more than the entire Star Wars saga put together. (Except maybe for Rogue One.) It’s almost like an inverse of the core Star Wars story: instead of a father finally turning toward the Light Side and reaching to take his son’s hand in his dying moments, it’s about a family torn apart by the Empire and a daughter turning away from her family to join the Dark Side.
A Jedi returns to his old forbidden love to help defend her kingdom from a Sith-like Shogun. Plagued by haunting visions, the Jedi learns his destiny might not be what he thought it was.
Stars: This is yet another short that could just take place in some historical Earthbound land. Even more than the others, it leans into the feudal Japan inspiration, as the travelers wander through the countryside before making their way to a more populated village.
Wars: Prior to the start, a king was murdered by his secret Sith sister. No specific war is mentioned, but it’s implied that a similar overarching war that has been mentioned in a lot of the other shorts is going on. That Empire gonna Empire!
Visions: A lot of these shorts draw from feudal Japan, but the description for this one does specifically compare the Sith to a shogun. Because of that, the architecture and design of the setting is dynamic, especially in contrast to the science fiction elements of Star Wars.
Does it work? I do wish there was a more clear love story here, like the little blurb promises, but even so, “Akakiri” weaves an evocative story about fate and how the bonds between people lead them down unexpected paths.
All nine episodes of Star Wars: Visions are available on Disney Plus.