The second volume of Star Wars: Visions has arrived and only further cements the idea that it’s exactly what the franchise needs.
Star Wars, in it’s own way, was one of the first great loves in my life. Like countless other starry-eyed children before me, I found myself immediately swept away by a galaxy far, far away. From the moment that iconic opening crawl hit the screen, coupled with John Williams‘ timeless score, it was apparent there’d be no going back.
The universe envisioned by George Lucas quickly became a second home, a place to meld with when reality wasn’t enough. It all felt so special, and singular in it’s execution. Somehow, Star Wars was both grand and accessible. A tight balance achieved by letting it’s stories breathe on their own in the midst of a colossal, ever-expanding sandbox, and a trait that, with the dawn of it’s streaming age, has evidently been lost on Lucasfilm.
Interconnectedness is fun, but it should never take precedence over the simple and essential act of storytelling. Lucas, and many of the creatives that followed him, seemed to understand this. Most of “The Skywalker Saga’, and earlier seasons of the franchise’s multiple brilliant animated series, flourished in large part because their stories were driven by new concepts and genuine character development.
Everything from planets and plot points to vehicular designs were crafted around telling a tale that was fresh, using established elements from across the universe only if they served to enhance the product at hand. Much of Lucasfilm’s recent output has dropped this semi-unspoken rule in favor of artificially explosive stories, best described as “playing with…old Kenner toys” by The Mandalorian showrunner Jon Favreau. As a result, the past several years of Star Wars storytelling have felt rushed and uninspired, like a rehash of galactic memories come and gone. It’s possible this is why the second season of Star Wars: Visions, the latest and most original project from Lucasfilm, feels like such a breakthrough for myself and numerous longtime fans.
Visions, a collection of anthology animated shorts from studios across the globe, is not canon. Therefore, it has the complete and total freedom to do whatever it wants with the endlessly opportunistic sci-fi landscape it resides in. Within the short span of fifteen-to-twenty minutes each, the various installments in the Visions mythos manage to be more engaging and surprising than any live-action Star Wars content since 2019. Visually stunning and packed with whimsically bold choices, the short-form series’ second season, especially, exemplifies what’s possible when Lucasfilm allows unique creatives to explore their world uninhibited by a larger narrative.
The idea of a continual plot thread linking projects together isn’t necessarily a bad one, nor is the idea of basing new stories on old ones. The problem comes when previously used concepts begin to consume novel ones, choking out originality and stapling narrative yarn to variable forms of required reading.
It’s fun to have callbacks and pay-offs, but Star Wars does not exist solely to reference the past. That form of thinking restricts the boundaries the franchise is able to push, and strips it of it’s aforementioned accessibility. Furthermore, a mindset focused on nostalgia causes stories to form around cameos and iconography when it should be the other way around. This has a way of draining life from the material, causing shows like The Mandalorian or The Book of Boba Fett to feel more soulless with every passing episode.
Starting with Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker and continuing in most releases since then, I’ve watched Star Wars progressively and consciously make major story choices based on the opinions of overly vocal fan minorities and what might lead to an applause break. As many have stated before, Lucasfilm and Disney seem to have learned all the wrong lessons from the massive success of Marvel Studios. It’s this corporatized, please-the-fans mentality that slowly forced me out of love with one of my all-time favorite franchises, stripping it of it’s remarkable magic and leading me on an endless search for something to fill the void. A void that, I dare say, was finally permeated by Visions‘ second season.
Off the bat, Visions proves it’s the secret key to Lucasfilm’s future. “Sith“, the season’s first episode, is a visual masterpiece that utilizes increasingly gorgeous set pieces and experimental design choices to intensify it’s short-form story. “The Spy Dancer” and “The Bandits of Golak”, a couple of mid-season entries, both tell heart-wrenching tales with wholly original characters in well-paced, character-driven adventures. “Aau’s Song”, the season finale, shines a new light on a longstanding piece of Star Wars lore in a format that many are likely to find unexpected. All of these episodes, and those not mentioned, are intoxicating because they live on theme and message alone, with the optics and mythology of Star Wars used purely as a means of supporting what’s already there.
Simply put, the contents of Visions would be impactful even outside the context of Star Wars, and that’s what makes them so great. Epic fables of rebellion, self-discovery, and human compassion wrapped in a perceptibly stunning bow, constantly giving imaginative-unhackneyed takes on a well-worn galaxy. If Lucasfilm, and by extension it’s tenured creatives, want to keep moving their content forward, they should look to Visions as a template for their roadmap.
Like Lucas subverting expectations with a transformative second trilogy or the Jedi game series – distinctive in their own right – world-building into the unknown, there’s a real chance for the next phase of Star Wars to be unlike anything fans have seen before, while maintaining every element that’s made the franchise so unforgettable in the first place.