Tuesday, May 30, 2023
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Star Wars: Visions Volume 2

In this new anthology of shorts set in the Star Wars universe, a prisoner stages a daring escape from a kyber mine; a young girl discovers a haunted cave; an aspiring starfighter pilot reluctantly runs with her mother; and a former Sith apprentice is confronted by her former master.

Broadcast on: Disney+

Watched episodes: 9 out of 9

Despite all its constant additions, the Star Wars universe can feel like it’s getting smaller; with few exceptions, there can be diminishing returns in the same corners of the galaxy. Star Wars: Visions is a must-have remedy: expansive not only through its unique, canon-adjacent stories, but also the way each standalone short brings with it the quirks and characteristics of the producing animation studio. After an excellent first season entirely composed of anime, the second broadens its scope by attracting international animation houses working on a variety of mediums. It even feels more urgent, as many studios are finding real-world analogues for their portrayals of life under forced occupation, blending their own cultures with the franchise.

A compelling example is “In The Stars,” an innovative use of stop-motion-like CG animation from Chilean studio PunkRobot, telling the story of an indigenous population fighting an imperial stranglehold on resources. For Studio La Cachette’s ‘The Spy Dancer’, imperial rule resembles the Nazi takeover of France. Set in a theater where the performers are secretly rebels, their graceful movements and dynamic character disguise a hidden angst and pointed rage against the Empire.

This kaleidoscopic anthology brings a new feel to Star Wars.

The haunting ‘Screecher’s Reach’ – a star of the season, produced by Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon – follows a group of children escaping from a Dickensian asylum, chasing tales of a ghost in the hills, the episode going to horrifying places in unexpected ways. Surprisingly well performed, it brings echoes of Irish folklore alongside the visual motifs of the studio, the rigid lines of the factory contrasting with an environmentalist subtext found in a characterful art direction.

The anthology format also allows for light-hearted stories: Bristol’s Aardman’s “I Am Your Mother” is low-stakes, quirky and sweet, and full of clever mayhem and the studio’s patent sight gags. Another highlight, South African studio Triggerfish’s “Aau’s Song,” is a colorful children’s fable with gorgeous nods to folded Ndebele dress with the plush textures of its characters. It’s a treat to see new cultural inflections on this universe, not only in its anti-colonial allegories, but also in the way certain soundtracks work on traditional instruments from the studios’ home countries.

Even the weakest links have something to offer: Spanish studio El Guiri’s ‘Sith’ striking color design elevates a fairly standard story. If there’s a unifying issue, it’s minor notes of repetition, also present in Volume 1. Each short is distinctive, but there are moments of narrative overlap: the consecutive films pose questions about extraction kyber crystals, and there are not one but three cases of young girls being separated from their families to become apprentices. Such moments can make Visions feel less organized, but they are brief. This kaleidoscopic anthology brings Star Wars to life, reinterpreting its singular blend of fantasy and space opera in exciting ways.

While Star Wars: Visions can feel repetitive at times, those frustrations are minor compared to the glorious idiosyncrasies of the…well, visionary work of the various animators here.

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