“Star Wars” has always used live-action and animated mediums to tell its stories. Genndy Tarakovsky’s “Clone Wars” paved the way for how the franchise can expand upon its style and the depiction of lightsabers, costumes, planetary environments, and more. But then Lucasfilm and Disney decided to go down the 3D animation route for “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels,” and I didn’t quite vibe with that. So, when things went back to traditional 2D animation (with hints of 3D CGI, of course) with the first season of “Star Wars: Visions,” it got my attention. The decision to make it an anthology series and allow animation studios from all over the globe to participate certainly gave it an extra edge. And they not only brought their visual flair to the franchise, but the storytellers also came with their unique and never-before-seen interpretations of the Light side, the Dark Side, and everything that exists between them. Simply put, season 2 of “Star Wars: Visions” is yet another round of that good, good, intergalactic food.
El Guiri Studios’ “Sith,” tells the story of a Force-sensitive woman living with her droid on a distant planet. She is haunted by visions of an individual from the Dark side, which hinders her paintings. By the time she realizes that those visions are warnings from the future, it’s too late, and she has to face her old colleague, who has now become her nemesis. The short film is essentially a painting in motion. There are moments when it feels like the frames are unfinished. When you realize that that signifies Lola’s emotional journey, it blows your mind. At this point, it’s probably reductive to say that the animation style evokes the hand-painted aesthetic of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” I think Rodrigo Blaas and his team evolved that particular style according to the story of “Sith,” which is about letting darkness (represented by black paint) take over her colorful canvas. Lola’s ultimate realization seems like an extension of Rian Johnson’s ponderings on the Light and the Dark sides in “The Last Jedi.” On top of all that, the chase sequence and the Lightsabre battle look amazing!
“Screecher’s Reach” follows four kids who look to face the ghost who lies in the titular cave in order to rebel against the oppressive times they live in. Given that it’s a Cartoon Saloon production, Paul Young, Will Collins, and Jason Tammemägi obviously comment on the degradation of the environment that is caused by industrialization. On the surface, it doesn’t look like the theme of environmentalism is integral to the plot, but upon close inspection, you can clearly see that the lack of focus on educating kids and forcing them into manual labor has opened the way to the Dark side. Much like their previous productions, there’s a bedtime story feel to it, which is only accentuated by Molly McCann, Alex Connolly, Noah Rafferty, and Eva Whittaker’s performances. Actually, it’s the cast’s adorable voices and the sense of fear, curiosity, and, eventually, pessimism that they bring to their characters that make the story so impactful. Yes, it features kids and is about kids discovering the world. But I have to warn you that it doesn’t have a happy ending.
Punkrobot Studio’s “In the Stars” continues the theme of environmentalism by focusing on two sisters, Koten and Tichina, who are the only surviving members of their tribe as their planet has been ravaged by the Empire. There’s no drinkable water because it’s been extracted by the Imperial industries, and there’s no sunlight due to the smoke coming out of those factories. While Tichina wants to make a stand, thereby following in her mother’s footsteps, Koten wants to lay low because she thinks her mother’s decision to fight the Empire was wrong since it got her and everyone else killed. The animation style of Gabriel Osorio’s short has a papier-mâché-esque look to it. It’s like someone has built these characters for a school project and then created a relevant and inspiring story about oppression and fascism around them. The perspective of the virtual camera makes the short feel like you’re watching miniatures at play, thereby furthering Tichina’s childish optimism in a very organic way. I know that every parent who has grown up watching “Star Wars” wants their kids to grow up watching the movies they love. But I’d advise them to start with this and then go into the heavier stuff.
Keeping things on the lighter side is Aardman Animations’ “I Am Your Mother,” which tells the story of Anni. She lives with her oddball, tech-genius mother, Kalina. Anni has a family speed racer match being held at her academy, whose host is the one and only Wedge Antilles. While everyone with any experience in racing is bringing their parents, Anni isn’t interested in letting her mother know about it because she thinks her mother is embarrassing. Obviously, through the course of the race, Anni learns that her mother is probably cooler than her. You can’t really go wrong with a sweet mother-daughter bonding movie, can you? And when it’s in Magdalena Osinska’s capable hands, with some crisp banter from Holly Walsh and Barunka O’Shaughnessy, you have yet another Aardman classic.
As the name suggests, Studio Mir’s “Journey to the Dark Head” is the darkest, and maybe the most impactful, one in this season. The short starts off with Ara, who believes that cutting off the head of the statue in Dolgarak that represents the Dark Side will turn the tide of the ongoing battle between the Empire and the Rebels. The Jedi council appoints Toul to assist Ara on this expedition. Soon, Toul realizes that their apparently simple mission has become incredibly personal because an old enemy, Bichan, is tailing them. Much like “Sith,” “Journey to the Dark Head” also feels like a very natural extension of the ideas presented in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Hyeong Geun Park and Chung Se Rang delve into the idea that Light and Dark aren’t absolutes in nature. Everyone’s sense of hope, courage, fear, and anger makes them sway to one side or the other. The emotion only manages to stick when the individual lets that sensation control them instead of controlling one’s instinct. In addition to all these philosophical musings, the quality of animation can only be described as visceral. There’s so much happening on the screen, and yet all of it is visible and clear. While the score in all the shorts are good, Jang Young Gyu and Lee Byung Hoon’s work really stood out to me.
Studio La Cachette’s “The Spy Dancer” is centered around a massive aerial ribbon acrobatics arena, which is evidently a front for the Rebels as its star performer, Loi’e, puts trackers on Storm Troopers during the performance. Her colleague, Hétis, wants to get a little more serious about their fight against the Empire. But Loi’e thinks that what they are doing is important because it’s helping the Rebels without triggering any alarms. All that goes up in flames after Loi’e seemingly spots a familiar face in the crowd, which prompts her to lose her grace and resort to violence. I watch “Sucker of Souls” every other month (which is also by Studio La Cachette), and I think I’ll be watching “The Spy Dancer” along with it. Of course, Julien Chheng’s short is far more elegant than the work done by Owen Sullivan and his team. It’s like poetry in motion. However, the emotional gut punch that Chheng manages to land on your soul with its twist is truly devastating. And as you sit with it, you realize what Chheng is trying to say about the corruptive nature of fascism and how it can morph someone, both physically and mentally, beyond recognition.
88 Pictures’ “The Bandits of Golak” and D’Art Shtajio’s “The Pit” are probably the weakest out of the lot. Ishan Shukla’s story is simplistic, and while there’s a hand-painted quality to the animation, the jankiness of the characters’ motions and the offbeat expressions keep it from standing tall beside its peers. It’s a win for South Asian representation. But that’s the most positive aspect of the short. As for “The Pit,” LeAndre Thomas and Justin Ridge offer a vapid solution to the complex issue of classism. The animation is good. However, there’s nothing that’ll stick in your mind, both thematically and visually.
Thankfully, “Star Wars: Visions” Season 2 ends on an incredibly high note with Triggerfish’s “Aau’s Song.” The story revolves around a planet that’s filled with Kyber crystals that have been polluted by the Sith. A Jedi called Kratu attempts to purify them so that they can be used again, but the process isn’t easy. The solution lies in the form of Aau, whose father, Abat, forbids her from using her voice as it influences the Force in mysterious ways. Music has always been an integral part of the “Star Wars” franchise, all thanks to the great John Williams. But isn’t it surprising that we’ve never gotten a full-on musical? Well, this short (as well as “Tatooine Rhapsody”) is the closest that we’ll get to a “Star Wars” musical. And it’s truly wonderful that Nadia Darries and Daniel Clarke manage to make music a way to access the Force. I don’t know if it was ever the case, as per “Star Wars” lore. Now, it certainly is. The world-building in the short is insane, and the soft-toy-like quality of the character design is way too adorable (and kind of reminiscent of “Oni: Thunder God’s Tale”). Maybe the only missed opportunity here is an original song by Cynthia Erivo (since they already had her in the cast).
In conclusion, please watch both seasons of “Star Wars: Visions.” Despite having some low points here and there, this area of the ever-expanding franchise is masterful in every sense of the word. I don’t know if any of these stories will ever be turned into full-fledged feature films or if the studios will be hired to helm a theatrically released movie. But if that happens, I’ll be the happiest “Star Wars” fan in the world. I am not particularly bored of the live-action stuff. It has its allure. However, I think that the medium has reached its limit (for now), and things won’t change unless someone who is willing to push the horizon (in terms of visual storytelling) is hired and given full creative control. It’s important to mention the “creative control” part because Lucasfilm and Disney are famous for getting into arguments with directors, which ultimately leads to their departure from the project. Anyway, until that happens, just make more animated “Star Wars” films and release them on the big screen. I don’t know if that’s something the rest of the fandom wants, but I surely want it.