'Star Wars: Visions' ranked: Which episodes of the new Disney+ show are strong with the Force?

·12-min read
Star Wars: Visions is a Disney+ exclusive (Lucasfilm)
Star Wars: Visions is a Disney+ exclusive (Lucasfilm)

Much of the most-loved Star Wars storytelling of the past couple of decades has resided in animation. Genndy Tartakovsky and Dave Filoni each made their own Clone Wars series, which Filoni followed with the critically-acclaimed Star Wars Rebels and The Bad Batch. All told stories of characters that would eventually cross over into live action, expanding the mainline films now dubbed ‘The Skywalker Saga’. 

However Star Wars: Visions presents an anthology of work from different Japanese animation studios not just with a variety of visual styles, but also untethered from the burden of ‘canon’. It’s an overall thrilling project, full of imagination and bound only by its interests in the pet themes and broader histories of the Star Wars universe. 

Watch the trailer for Star Wars: Visions

While some pretty close to traditional Star Wars, the very best of the anthology expand the scope of the franchise and what falls under the umbrella of “Star Wars”, finding points of view never explored.

We’ve ranked the individual entries from worst to best.

9) The Elder

Star Wars: Visions is a Disney+ exclusive (Lucasfilm)
Star Wars: Visions is a Disney+ exclusive (Lucasfilm)

One of two Studio Trigger productions in the anthology, Otsuka’s The Elder sadly comes off as stolid and as the weakest of the Visions entries, a stolid examination of the complacency of the Jedi around the time of the prequels. 

While the tone may differ in the subtitled release (which was not available at the time of writing), despite strong voice direction from the anthology over all the English dub of The Elder is hampered by the vocal performance of David Harbour, who feels like he’s sleepwalking through his line readings. 

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His onscreen partner and James Hong, playing the antagonist and eponymous Elder, rescue things somewhat, but it detracts greatly from a short that is already (intentionally) quite low energy. Compared with fellow Trigger co-founder Hiroyuki Imaishi’s work on Visions, the colours are muted and the design a little more reserved, which in theory makes for an interesting contrast in the context of the series, but in the moment feels tedious.

8) The Ninth Jedi

Star Wars: Visions is a Disney+ exclusive (Lucasfilm)
Star Wars: Visions is a Disney+ exclusive (Lucasfilm)

By no means a bad entry, but Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex)’s The Ninth Jedi is perhaps a little undermined by setting up a complex narrative in a small among of time, leaving it burdened with a lot of exposition over character work. But regardless, it’s a great enough watch as it marks Kamiyama’s return to traditional, hand-drawn animation, something that he had left behind for some years now while working on 3DCG animated projects alongside Shinji Aramaki.

The Ninth Jedi looks beyond the conclusion of the recent trilogy, but still feels committed to the traditional aesthetics of the franchise rather than pushing into completely new territory. It’s characterised by a swooning orchestral score mimicking that of John Williams, as well as its melancholic reverence for the Jedi religion and their use of lightsabers. That last part is where this short stands out, in adding a little more poetry to those famous objects by having the form reflect the nature of the user, leading to some strong visual storytelling from that simple conceit. Those delightful visual details extend to the choreography of the action sequences, which are among the best the anthology has to offer in their precision and impact.

But despite it having plenty of charm and it hitting a lot of the right notes and in the observational detail of its character acting and action, The Ninth Jedi feels a little more workmanlike than the others simply due to the restriction of time, having to work through plot points like a checklist rather than letting the atmosphere build.

7) The Duel

Star Wars: Visions is a Disney+ exclusive (Lucasfilm)
Star Wars: Visions is a Disney+ exclusive (Lucasfilm)

Produced by Kamikaze Douga, a studio best known for their 3DCG animated film Batman Ninja and their work on the opening credits sequences for JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, The Duel absolutely nails a transplant of Star Wars iconography back into the context of the 'chanbara' and Akira Kurosawa films they were inspired by. Takanobu Mizuno’s direction for the short is ambitious, making use of ‘stepped’ animation, as in some sequences frames are removed so to make the characters move more like stop motion puppets than computer-animated characters, while replicating the look of film grain along with all the camera angles you'd expect from a standoff in a western or samurai flick, with sparse but striking pops of colour among the contrasty black and white visuals.

The design work stands out most, with character designer Takashi Okazaki, (Afro Samurai) mixing various anachronisms with the traditions of Japanese period film and the iconography of Star Wars. It’s all in service of a story that provides a provocative twist on the franchise’s usual formula of protagonist and antagonist, though ultimately by the end of the anthology it feels like well-trodden ground.

6) Tatooine Rhapsody

Star Wars: Visions - Tatooine Rhapsody (Lucasfilm)
Star Wars: Visions - Tatooine Rhapsody (Lucasfilm)

Despite its inclusion of familiar faces like Boba Fett, and its eponymous setting of the franchise’s most famous planet Tatooine, Tatooine Rhapsody pushes into uncharted territory through its genre setup, taking on the form of a 20 minute rock opera. 

Director Taku Kimura’s take is earnest and colourful, and their fresh perspective on the planet — not from trained bounty hunters or would-be Jedi warriors, but a garage band — and the propulsive, idiosyncratic score that results from that setup, is just delightful. Studio Colorido (maybe best known for their weird and charming film Penguin Highway) conduct the short with plenty of polish as ever, and introduce more adorable versions of even the most wretched criminals Tatooine has to offer, including a chibi version of Jabba the Hutt.

5) Lop and Ocho

Star Wars: Visions is streaming on Disney+ (Lucasfilm)
Lop and Ocho - Star Wars: Visions is streaming on Disney+ (Lucasfilm)

Another short that leans in on environmentalist messaging and anti-fascist resistance, Lop and Ocho builds its story around a moving family drama. Directed by Yuuki Igarashi (an animation director on episodes of Jujutsu Kaisen and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken) and produced by Geno Studio, Lop and Ocho feels like the richly detailed and lived-in world of a veteran director rather than a first timer. 

It’s the story of a found family — the rabbit-like humanoid alien Lop is found and adopted by a kindly, sort of feudal, yakuza-like lineage — fractured by the invasion of the Empire upon their planet, strip-mining it for resources in the name of ‘progress’. Lop and her adoptive sister Ocho find themselves on opposite sides: Lop wanting to drive out the invaders, Ocho welcoming their industrialisation. 

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Perhaps in part because of its later placement in the series Igarashi’s short feels like well-trodden territory for Visions - from the touches of feudal Japan in its visuals and world-building as well as its environmentalist theming. But the quality of its production as well as its characterisation, though writing and the animated acting as well as its subtler themes of racial prejudice, keeps it feeling fresh.

4) Akakiri

Star Wars: Visions is streaming on Disney+ (Lucasfilm)
Akakiri - Star Wars: Visions is streaming on Disney+ (Lucasfilm)

The shortest of the Visions shorts might also be the most elegantly told. One of two produced by Science Saru, Akakiri marks the studio head Eunyoung Choi’s return to animation direction, after serving as a producer for former studio head Masaaki Yuasa for the better part of a decade. Reframing the doomed love story of the prequels between Jedi and princess in a new context, Choi’s deft visual storytelling and

Yuichiro Kido’s script for Akakiri moves at a brisker pace a the others but its world carries no less depth, in a testament to Choi’s directorial talents. It’s very well-written - efficient in setup without feeling laborious, leaves a lot of room for character work. Choi takes the story in genuinely surprising direction, one that once again presents a slightly more complicated morality than the main Star Wars films often did. The animation also stands out from the rest of the pack for its being intentionally rough around the edges: Science Saru draw most of their work digitally, but the human touch is still keenly felt here, in the scratchy linework and rugged faces of Naoyuki Asano’s character designs. 

The score is a real standout too, composed by U-zhaan as a collection of eclectic percussion and electronic tones, a far cry from the traditional orchestral sound of many of the others. Its placement as the final short in the series puts some pressure on Akakiri, and it truly sticks the landing with an ending that feels surprising in its darkness, especially following on from the similarly downbeat Lop and Ocho.

3) The Twins

Star Wars: Visions is a Disney+ exclusive (Lucasfilm)
Star Wars: Visions is a Disney+ exclusive (Lucasfilm)

The Twins is another post-Episode IX story, one where the remnants of the Empire have raised a pair of Force-sensitive twins named Karre and Am, and cultivated in them an attachment to the Dark side, a sort of speculative mirror to Luke and Leia of the original trilogy. Karre breaks from that programming, and tries to save his sister, with kinetic and visually stunning results.

It’s probably the most anticipated short, with the big name of Studio Trigger attached. Not to mention that even from glimpses the work of Hiyoyuki Imaishi and close collaborators Sushio and Shigeto Koyama is immediately apparent - dramatic posing and in-your-face layouts, the unhinged action and sleek character design, ridiculous but heartfelt dialogue and a neon colour palette - everything is heightened to a giddy extreme. The Twins is crammed with wild action as well as winking reference to both the entirety of the Star Wars films as well as Imaishi’s own work (the protagonist Karre is the spitting image of Lio Fotia from his last feature film Promare). It’s just unabashedly fun, full of stylish flair and culminating in one of the most delightfully ridiculous feats accomplished in any Star Wars story.

The Twins is another post-Episode IX story, one where the remnants of the Empire have raised a pair of Force-sensitive twins named Karre and Am, and cultivated in them an attachment to the Dark side, a sort of speculative mirror to Luke and Leia of the original trilogy. Karre breaks from that programming, and tries to save his sister, with kinetic and visually stunning results.

It’s probably the most anticipated short, with the big name of Studio Trigger attached. Not to mention that even from glimpses the work of Hiyoyuki Imaishi and close collaborators Sushio and Shigeto Koyama is immediately apparent - dramatic posing and in-your-face layouts, the unhinged action and sleek character design, ridiculous but heartfelt dialogue and a neon colour palette - everything is heightened to a giddy extreme. The Twins is crammed with wild action as well as winking reference to both the entirety of the Star Wars films as well as Imaishi’s own work (the protagonist Karre is the spitting image of Lio Fotia from his last feature film Promare). It’s just unabashedly fun, full of stylish flair and culminating in one of the most delightfully ridiculous feats accomplished in any Star Wars story.

2) The Village Bride

Star Wars: Visions is streaming on Disney+ (Lucasfilm)
Star Wars: Visions is streaming on Disney+ (Lucasfilm)

Perhaps the most serene entry in the anthology, Hitoshi Haga’s attentive and contemplative tale The Village Bride takes both an anthropological and environmentalist approach to the storytelling of Star Wars. The heart ache of main character F — who has renounced her being a Jedi — is unspooled during her observations of a traditional wedding ceremony on a remote planet. She views the customs of the people, their quite literal connection with the natural world as well as their personal struggles, as an outsider, later defending them from raiders. 

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It goes more in depth with this new fictional culture than many of the main Star Wars films do, and that feels nourishing as well as at times incredibly poetic. Not to mention that it’s gorgeous too, the depiction of towering, profoundly overwhelming mountainous scenery realised with rich naturalistic colour and a lush score by Kevin Penkin (who also worked on Made in Abyss, as well as Tower of God). The Village Bride might be the most thoughtful entry of Visions, a deeply involved story that makes the most of its isolation from the rest of the Star Wars universe.

1) T0-B1

Star Wars: Visions is streaming on Disney+ (Lucasfilm)
T0-B1 - Star Wars: Visions is streaming on Disney+ (Lucasfilm)

The very best Star Wars: Visions shorts is narratively its most straightforward: T0-B1, a little droid, dreams of being a Jedi warrior. It’s all of course in how director Abel Gongara presents this story that T0-B1 stands out from the rest of the anthology. Its visual representation of childlike optimism through an expressive and freeform style recalls his own work with animation producers Science Saru — especially on the studio’s earliest work on the “Food Chain” episode of Adventure Time — as much as it does the godfather of manga and anime, Osamu Tezuka. 

It’s all in service of the heartwarming premise of the same outlandish dreams that kids growing up watching Star Wars might have. The art direction is thoroughly charming, with a flexibility that befits the rampant imagination of youth, with rough and sketchy backgrounds that melt away at a moment’s notice, in a truly symbiotic relationship between form and character. It’s a soaring, moving work, and perhaps the platonic ideal of what Star Wars: Visions could be.

Star Wars: Visions is now streaming in Disney+.

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