By Sean Cabot
George Lucas’ inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s chanbara samurai films in creating “Star Wars” is a well-established footnote in the history of one of the most ubiquitous film franchises ever made.
While his influences were numerous, the impact of poached ideas like honor-bound warriors and even whole plot concepts from movies like “Seven Samurai” and “The Hidden Fortress” cannot be understated.
As such, it only seems appropriate for “Star Wars: Visions” to provide nine Japanese creatives the opportunity to bring their perspective as both filmmakers and fans to the stage in nine non-canon short films.
The result is one of the most exciting “Star Wars” projects in years.
However, while “Visions” is a great way to spend a few hours, it only feels right to address its Haws up front.
One is that the seven studios helming the project – despite working independently, often repeat certain motifs and plot elements quite a bit. Every short features Jedi prominently, many of them feature lightsabers as a central thematic or plot element, all but one has a lightsaber duel, and many choose to represent lightsabers as beam-katanas.
While the Jedi are a prominent part of this world, it hurts a bit not to see more space dogfights, bounty hunters, or war stories. Though I suppose most people, if given free rein on a “Star Wars” short film, wouldn’t want to be the one who didn’t tackle the Jedi.
It also feels a bit off, that two-thirds of the shorts feature some variant of the franchise staple phrase, “I have a bad feeling about this.”
Furthermore, the short-format nature of the anthology hurts the episodes’ ability to tell a complete story. Even industry veteran Kenji Kamiyama’s exceptional short “The Ninth Jedi” can’t help but feel a bit undercooked when its story leaves so many tantalizing doors open.
It doesn’t kill the series, but it is noticeable.
However, even the weakest short is still a great time. “Visions” is at its best when it is introducing entirely new visual styles into the fray. Two standout examples of this are Takanobu Mizuno’s “The Duel” and Hiroyuki Imaishi’s “The Twins.”
Both of these shorts center around frantic, stylized battles in contrasting ways – “The Duel” opts for a Kurosawa-inspired black and white style. “The Twins” in turn chooses to escalate into a bombastic visual spectacle wherein a Sith is wielding six lightsaber-whips at once while breathing in space before going completely bonkers.
Others, like Hitoshi Haga’s “The Village Bride” are more introspective, focusing on how cultures other than Jedi perceive the Force. Masahiko Otsuka’s “The Elder,” is also a standout for its themes of age and legacy – fitting for his last project.
Everyone will have their favorites, from Abel Gongora’s “Astro Boy” inspired “T0-B1” to Taku Kimura’s rock opera “Tattooine Rhapsody,” the only short to use characters from the films. Personally, Yuki Igarashi’s “Lop and Ocho,” and Eunyoung Choi’s “Akakiri” were a bit too compact for my tastes.
“The Twins,” however, was right up my alley. Hiroyuki Imaishi’s immaculate sense of scale, color, shot composition, and clear reverence for the aesthetic of “Star Wars” gives way to a story of twins born to the Dark Side that I desperately hope continues.
And that’s the feeling I ultimately took from “Visions.” I hope each of these shorts gives way to more fully realized stories with these characters, or at least another chance for talented Japanese studios to strut their stuff.
Even if you’re a casual fan of “Star Wars” with little interest in much beyond the films, I recommend you do not miss out, even if these shorts do run a bit... short.
And hey, if my biggest complaint is that I want more of these, they have to be doing something right.
A- A fresh new look at our favorite far, far away galaxy