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‘Cool new entry points’ to exploring The Force — through animation

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published May 04, 2023 7:22 pm

When Disney head Bob Iger spoke of this being the “century of Star Wars” after the company acquired Lucasfilm Ltd., he wasn’t exaggerating.

Besides feature releases, the launch of Disney+ streaming platform has opened the floodgates on new Star Wars content only previously dreamt of outside the canon.

Shows like Andor and The Mandalorian have been wildly popular precisely by expanding the SW universe, yet still keeping core values from George Lucas’ vision. 

Star Wars Visions was one such launch into the new. The series, executive produced by James Waugh, Josh Rimes and Jacqui Lopez, handed over the creative control to 10 Japanese directors with a strong anime background (it’s logical when you think that Episode IV draws heavily from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress).

The UK-directed “I Am Your Mother” flips the famous Darth Vader line and focuses on tough, cub-protecting moms.

Now, Star Wars Visions: Volume 2 expands to top global animation studios from India, UK, Ireland, Spain, Chile, France, South Africa, South Korea and the US.

The animation palette is a lot more diverse, from the unfinished style of Rodrigo Blaas’ “Sith” episode to the Irish-set ghost tale “Screecher’s Reach” to the wryly inverted “I Am Your Mother” directed by UK’s Magdalena Osinska, about a couple of pod-racing stage moms going head to head for their daughters.

The award-winning studios include El Guiri (Spain), Cartoon Saloon (Ireland), Punkrobot (Chile), Aardman (United Kingdom), Studio Mir (South Korea) Studio La Cachette (France), 88 Pictures (India), D'art Shtajio (Japan), and Triggerfish (South Africa). D’Art Shtajio’s short was created in collaboration with Lucasfilm Ltd. (United States).

An artist explores the world of darkness and color in opening episode “Sith.”

The common thread is, as always, the unifying power of The Force (with a deepened focus on Kyber crystals as the season unfolds), and each 15-20 minute episode involves rebellious youth being shown the way by wiser mentors, along with spectacular lightsaber showdowns between light and darkness.

But it’s the expanded visual palette, along with fresh stories and characters, that will lure in new viewers. Perhaps best are “Journey to the Dark Ahead” by South Korea’s Hyeong Geun Park and the “The Bandits of Golak” by Singapore-based Ishan Shukla, which both offer a striking visual style, music, and character development that feels like each could live on their own as a standalone series.

“The Bandits of Golak” (director: Ishan Shukla) is one highlight of Star Wars Visions: Volume 2, now streaming on Disney+.

We spoke with Waugh, Rimes and Lopez about the new season and where it leads Star Wars next.

Why did Visions expand outward from anime for Season 2?

James Waugh: I think we always saw Visions as something beyond any one expression or animated style or form; we felt it could be this label that instantly communicated the idea of celebratory expressions from Star Wars master creators.

After Volume 1, it was clear to us that each of these creators had a very different perspective of what Star Wars meant to them. They told their stories from a different cultural bedrock of ideas. And we started thinking, “Oh, could this scale out? Could we explore different regions and cultures?” The industry is just so inventive right now, there's so much great stuff out there from so many incredible animation studios, we wanted to test that out, and lean into these different cultural styles and formats. 

“Journey to the Dark Head” (director: Hyeong Geun Park) is a Korean-inspired variation on the Star Wars universe.

How did you curate the directors and themes? Was there an overall concept or arc for this season?

Josh Rimes: No, there wasn’t. I think these are all stories told through very specific cultural lenses, and the themes of Star Wars really lend themselves to these cultural myths. So stories of family, of young people going out into the world—these are the same myths that George Lucas started with, Luke Skywalker looking up at those twin suns. So it’s really about that spirit: about characters making choices as they go through life, making right decisions or wrong decisions.

We're always looking for touch points for kids and new audiences to discover Star Wars.

Each episode explores core Star Wars themes and values—making choices, choosing your path, and sometimes going in the wrong direction.

Jaqui Lopez: We approached the studios we wanted to work with, or the filmmakers, and they pitched their ideas back to us. Some of them pitched one story they felt very passionately about, something that was relevant to their life or their culture. And others pitched four or five ideas. So we were able to curate, “Oh, this is very similar to this one.” But we always just tried to choose the one that had the most passion about it, the one that had a really heartfelt human story that deals with the Star Wars themes—making choices, choosing your path, you know, sometimes going in the wrong direction for personal, selfish reasons.

Each planet or environment in the Visions universe is different—some dystopian, some more lighthearted—but there are frequent references to Kyber crystals along the way. Is this a clue where the series is headed?

James: No. I mean, we were very mindful of that. None of that was us dictating a direction holistically across all the stories. It's really interesting to see these resonant elements popping up across multiple stories. But no, those (references) all came from the different creators. I mean, look, there was a moment where we certainly looked at each other and said, “Wow, that's a lot of Kyber crystals.” (Laughs)

Now that Lucasfilm is able to go outside the Star Wars canon and develop stories in entirely new directions, has there been any fan backlash?

James: It's a great question. I think the point of calling it Visions is it’s a very clear demarcation of what our intentions are: it is more celebratory, it is more of an artists’ celebration. So that's really where that comes from. There are fans that are invested in the canon, but I’m willing to bet if they watched it, they would feel the authenticity of the storytelling and how it fits within what their expectations are. One of the powers of Star Wars is that timeline, and we love the fact that we have so much storytelling that is about that trajectory.

Does it help that George Lucas’ original vision was so all-encompassing, it could weave any culture or background into that trajectory?

Josh: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's hopefully going to expand the fan base and, again, make our current fans happy. We're always looking for touch points for kids and new audiences to discover Star Wars. I think every generation needs their way in. And hopefully, this gives people from all over the world cool entry points to different perspectives.

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Star Wars Vision: Volume 2 is now streaming on Disney+.