Visions volume 2 was released almost two weeks ago and I took me this long to go through all the shorts, which usually are 11-15 minutes long give or take a minute. Still, I found it difficult this time to watch more than one at a time. In my opinion Visions Volume 2 is a lot worse than Volume 1 and Volume 2 not only highlights what is wrong with entertainment in general these days, but also highlights why Visions, which is, in principle, a very good idea, has completely gone off the rails. So click through for my take on Visions volume 2, the good, the bad and the very ugly.
Before I briefly talk about each short let me preface it by talking about Star Wars in general. In my opinion the things that influenced, shaped Star Wars, ever since the first movie was released in 1977, are several things. Classic fairytales, World War 2 movies, wild west romantic and Japanese aesthetics here and there, not just when it comes to certain armors or helmets or even basic story structure, Asian philosophy had a huge impact on what the Force is, the idea of a “Qi” or life energy is certainly something that is in some ways similar to the Force.
And after almost 50 years everyone has a certain idea about what Star Wars should look and feel like. And since much of Star Wars is already rooted in Japanese aesthetics, and was directly incluenced even by works of Akira Kurasawa’s Samurai movies, the all Japanese Visions volume 1 worked, not all shorts were great, but when Visions volume 1 was great, it was really great, the anime aesthetic lends itself to Star Wars. The Japanese approach to certain things also lends itself to Star Wars.
However, Visions is, at the end of the day, just a curiosity, an oddity, nothing will (probably) ever come of any of the shorts. And that was one of my major criticisms about Lucasfilm’s approach to Visions: why have this anthology series when nothing from it will ever have a lasting impact on Star Wars.
Sadly, for volume 2 of Visions, Lucasfilm turned away from Japanese animation and instead tasked animations studios from all over the world to create shorts. So we get studios from the UK, France, Chile and only one Asian studio from Korea and one American owned anime studio located in Japan. And while it could be, in theory, interesting to see how other cultures reinterpret Star Wars visually, the art styles chosen this time mostly do not work at all. And when you watch all these shorts you also realize that the diversity is literally skin deep only. Only the art styles are diverse, the stories are, mostly, same old same old. And in my opinion the true purpose of an experimental animated anthology series should also be to try out entirely new themes. And not to focus just on how different Star Wars can look.
Ok, let’s talk about the individual shorts.
A former female Sith wants to know nothing of the Sith anymore and instead live in peace. Yet the Sith hunt her down and want her to become their leader, the heroine refuses and defeats the Sith. This episode looks like an unfinished sketchbook with doodlings made by an art school student. It has its charm, but ultimately looks completely wrong for Star Wars.
2. Screecher’s Reach
Yet another female protagonist is toiling away in some factory and decides to check out a rumor about a haunted cave with some friends, the heroine enters the cave on her own, where she encounters a Banshee from folklore, only this is a Sith Banshee, apparently crazy or maybe even just imaginary like Vader in the cave on Dagobah. The girl defeats the Banshee and a mysterious alien lands with her spaceship and takes on the girl as her apprentice, who leaves all her friends behind. It is implied the alien is a Sith and that the girl has just become a dark side apprentice. This episode is considered by several to be the best of volume 2, I disagree, other than the twist at the end it was just Irish folklore in space, even the female main character has an Irish accent.
3. In The Stars
The super duper evil Empire is destroying the environment on some planet, killing off the local natives. One little girl and her sister remain, they struggle to survive in a toxic environment. The little girl is your typical annoying stupid kid who won’t listen and of course insists on doing her own thing when her big sister tells her to stay behind, while she tries to get water from the Imperial industrial plant. But the little kid ruins it all, a fight breaks out and of course the super awesome sisters are revealed to have Force powers and ultimately destroy the Imperial facility. And all the grey clouds miraculously disappear. This short uses stop motion or maybe it’s CGI supposed to look like stop motion, not always easy to tell these days, either way, this artstyle is a terrible fit for Star Wars once again. Also, this is the short that is about “colonialism”. Thinly veiled.
4. I am Your Mother
Aardman Animations are known for the Wallace & Gromit shorts and movies, they also did things like Chicken Run. Their brand of stop motion animation is well loved, but it too is a terrible fit for Star Wars. It just does not work. Even worse: the story is extremely boring. A mother and her daughter are in some kind of pod race / speeder race / spaceship race against a super evil girl and her mother and of course the heroines win. End of story. That was nothing. Yes, Wedge is in this, the set pieces are all very elaborate, as you’d expect from Aardman, but it’s just nothing that works for Star Wars. And the cookie cutter story does not do the short any favors either. This is literally the worst episode of this volume, barely better than the Tatooine rock star episode from volume 1.
5. Journey To The Dark Head
Probably the only Visions 2 short really worth your time. Also, the only one that has potential for more, i.e. a proper series or an animated movie. It’s the Korean made short that basically looks like Japanese anime. It’s also the only short really that does not revolve around a female protagonist exclusively, but also has a male main character with an actual arc. This short is set in the past, the Jedi are at war with the Sith, the war is not going well. One girl who grew up on a planet with two enormous mysterious statues who can grant visions when rain falls upon their rockface, believes that if they destroy one of the heads, what she dubs the “dark head” (i.e. the dark side head) it may turn the war in their favor. The girl is not force sensitive and not a Jedi, but she approaches the Jedi council for help who send a young Jedi with her who has some anger management issues, i.e. he struggles with his dark side ever since the Sith killed his former master.
The Sith who killed the master does of course also fly to the planet. The girl realizes that cutting off one head would do nothing, since dark and light are combined and intertwined (visually represented as blue and red colors intermingle), but at least she and the Jedi manage to take out the Sith. And at the end, after a spectacular rescue with a parachute the two decide they make for a great team and want to keep working together to stop the Sith.
6. Spy Dancer
This is about a mother who performs as an exotic dancer at some space Moulin Rouge. Her show is supposed to end in an attack on the Imperials visiting the club but things change when the spy dancer realizes her own son, who was kidnapped by the Empire when he was an infant and subsequently trained to be an officer, is also in the crowd. You get some action and in the end the mother briefly embraces her son and reveals to him who he and she is, who is then left behind when the mother barely manages to escape from the Imperial troops.
This has an Art Nouveau style and this is at least something we have, here and there, seen in Star Wars, especially in the prequels, the animation itself tends to be a bit rough though. The story is one of the better ones, even if it’s nothing new, in fact, Visions volume 1 already had a short that was about two family members being on opposite sides. Still, it’s watchable. One comical thing here is the super stereotypcal French accent by the characters. Yes, we get it, it’s space Moulin Rouge, but do the characters all have to have this accent? Really?
7. The Bandits of Golak
Star Wars goes Bollywood. The only thing missing here is the song and dance routine. A boy and his little sister who is a force sensitive (of course), are on the run from the Empire, i.e. they want to lay low and reach a place where the little girl can be safe. But of course the little sister is of the braindead stupid variety and absolutely has to use her force powers to levitate a flute to her in public, while on a train, after being reminded by her older brother to lay low, so she can play it. Even though their parents were killed and it’s blatantly obvious, even to a 8 year-old-girl or so, that laying low is the order of the day. Other people see the trick of course and the usual happens.
The Empire tracks down the siblings, but an old grandma turns out to be a former Jedi and disposes of the Inquisitors. She then takes the little girl away from her only family left and says to the boy that where she and the little sister go, he cannot, the usual. Jedi are still child snatchers, even if the order no longer exists.
What a terrible, lousy message this short had. So it’s ok to rip the two siblings apart and the only family they have left? In times like these? The boy can now fend for himself or die? No one cares? His feelings do not matter. Indian Star Wars is looking exactly as you picture it… very… Indian. As I said, it can be, in theory, interesting to see how other cultures reinterpret Star Wars. But this is once more a terrible fit for Star Wars, the Indian accents sound stereotypical (of course) and the variety or diversity is once more only about the visuals or voice actors, not the story.
8. The Pit
This is probably a statement about slavery etc. It’s the only short made by an anime studio located in Japan, however, this one is owned by Americans (you can tell). This is what they have to tell about themselves:
D’ART Shtajio is an American owned 2D animation studio creating authentic Japanese quality anime. Bridging Eastern and Western ideologies by creating diverse stories using the traditional anime art style.
It is also the only short that was created in collaboration with Lucasfilm. Some Imperial prisoners / slaves have to dig an enormous hole in search for kyber crystals. The kyber crystals are used to decorate a sleek modern built from scratch SciFi city in the middle of nowhere (this is a rocky desert, why you would build a city there is not explained). Once all the crystals have been dug up the Empire leaves the prisoners in the deep, deep pit, to rot and die.
It is not made clear how much time is passing, but the prisoners have, apparently, no food, no water, no sanitary installations, they are literally living at the bottom of a pit. How they can even survive for more than three days is a miracle. One young black man manages to scale the walls (think the Bruce Wayne in prison scene in the 3rd Nolan Batman movie). He runs to the city and tells the citizens that prisoners are still in the pit and that they helped build this city (unfortunately, not with Rock’n’Roll and no one is dancing the mamba either…). The Empire catches him and throws him back into the pit, where he dies from the fall. The citizens however do venture out to the pit and rescue the prisoners/slaves. And of course the little black girl also in the pit (we see her throughout the short) is the force sensitive one and a kyber crystal begins to glow blue when she holds it once freed from the pit.
This was yet another very predictable story. And yes, the Empire is evil, we know that by now. And yes, slavery and forced labor is bad. I suppose we can all agree. At least I would hope we can all agree here.
9. Aau’s Song
Cute teddy bears made from felt (again, stop motion…) mine corrupted kyber crystals (in times past corrupted by the Sith) for the Jedi who restore their balance or so. Whatever. And yes, it’s another female heroine. The little teddy bear kid named Aau. When there is an incident in the mine an awesome female Jedi rescues the teddy bears, and it is of course revealed that Aau has super awesome force powers as well. The Jedi wants to take the little teddy bear girl with her and eventually she agrees. Her daddy is proud the Jedi take her away from him.
Absolutely horrible art style for Star Wars. Just no. And why do so many studios this time make these stop motion shorts? It’s such a bad fit for Star Wars. The story is of the usual “little female kid has force powers and gets recruited” variety. Boring. Little kids may like the teddy bears. They looke super cute.
Now it may be entirely coincidental that each and every studio opted to have a female main character, only the Korean made “Journey to the Dark Head” also has a male main character with an actual character arc and the girl, for a change, does not have any force powers. The Bollywood short “The Bandits of Golak” also has a more prominent male character, but he’s not at the center of the story as everything is about his force sensitive little sister. Also, he has no arc, he gets entirely ignored and he can go and die now that the Jedi granny has taken his force sensitive little sister, the ONLY family he (and she) still have, away from him.
If almost all studios independently decided to have a female main character or where the female character is at the center of the story or where the female is the one with the force powers then it’s just yet another sign for what is wrong in modern entertainment.
Little boys (no matter the skin color) do not exist in Visions volume 2. The Force is very, very female, again, the Korean short being the rare exception. All stories are a variant of either “The Empire is super duper evil”, “The Sith do sithy things” or “Awesome girl has force powers and gets recruited”. Actually, the Moulin Rouge in Space episode is the rare exception where the female main character at least has no force powers, it is entirely about family.
Also, so many shorts are about families getting torn apart because of the Jedi. This is of course something Lucas did already, but I was never a fan of this even back in the prequel days. It is a horrible philosophy and the irony is that the Jedi Order was destroyed because they failed to rescue a little boys’ mother and prohibited all contact with her. So it’s even more disappointing when in The Mandalorian/The Book of Boba Fett Luke is shown to continue this extremely flawed tradition.
Ultimately, Visions volume 2 feels like an art or film school project from art / film school graduates made for art / film school students. It’s all about the style here, never about the substance, with very few exceptions. The diversity on display here is literally skin deep, since the stories are the usual standard fare. Almost all the shorts feel like something that you’d see at some super progressive short film festival.
Also, there is almost no buzz for the series. Threads on Reddit have minimal engagement. Visions is a series for no one, hardly watched by anyone and you wonder why it even exists. I said the same about volume 1 already… the entire series is completely pointless if (almost nothing) ever comes of it. One volume 1 short had a graphic novel, that’s it.
Visions should not be about “how different can Star Wars look” but about exploring vastly different stories that are not the same old same Empire is super duper evil or awesome girl discovers she has force powers.
Also, in a way the shorts, this time, feel incredibly racist or stereotypical. Why must all characters in the French Spy Dancer episode have a super thick French accent? Why does every character in the Bollywood short have an Indian accent? Why do the characters in the South African produced teddy bear episode sound… well… African? And of course in the Banshee episode the main character has an Irish accent. This borders at times on parody. And I feel it would be much, much better, if all those real world accents did not exist in Star Wars. It destroys immersion. The video game Jedi Suvivor is guilty of the same thing where one alien has a thick Scottish accent.
In my opinion Visions should be completely retooled… it should NOT be about making Star Wars look wildly different, but about pitching brand new and novel story ideas. As things are now volume 2 feels more like a showcase for animation studios than anything that is really relevant to Star Wars. And of course nothing will ever come of these shorts either.
Visions could become the Lego Ideas of Star Wars, where studios get to make shorts and then the audience votes on what they like best… and then Lucasfilm looks into developing the short into something more. Maybe a movie for Disney+, or a proper series.
As things are now, none of these shorts matter, in fact, hardly anyone is watching the shorts to begin with. If the number of IMDB ratings is an indicator for how many people watch something then Visions has, other than Resistance, the lowest number of ratings, by far. Meaning: few people watch it. Even fewer care to leave a rating.
Visions volume 1 had some weird and bad shorts as well, but the highlights were real highlights. Here almost everything is all about style, never about substance. Almost nothing is new, virtually all central characters are female. I really like stories with female protagonists, but it is completely out of balance when every little kid in Visions volume 2 that has force powers is female.
The only shorts actually worth watching are Journey to the Dark Head (which could also make for an interesting series set in the past when the Jedi and Sith were at war) and maybe Spy Dancer. Everything else is either using art styles that are not a good fit for Star Wars and/or has a story that is as cookie cutter and predictable as possible.
According to credible rumors Visions 3 will be made. I would hope Lucasfilm (Hollywood in general) considered diversity something that is not limited to different shades of skin color or making everything look Indian or French. But would embrace true diversity when it comes to characters and stories. When every force sensitive character is female it is not diverse. And when an Indian produced short has characters who all sound like Apu from the Simpsons (a character who was cancelled, because he is now “problematic”) or the French short has characters talk in this super obvious French accent then it borders on being almost a parody or extremely stereotypical. And seeing the same “Empire is evil” or “Sith are sith” or “Jedi are child snatchers” stories again and again and again is getting old now.
Watch “Journey to the Dark Head” if you like anime. That’s it. It has the best characters by far and a story that feels like classic Star Wars, even if, it too, is mostly just more of the same.