“Visions” Is Exactly What Star Wars Needs To Be In 2021

SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: VISIONS AHEAD!

Every live-action franchise should consider experimenting with the medium of animation. It’s worked out extremely well for DC Comics (one of their most popular characters, Harley Quinn, originated in Batman: The Animated Series), and the MCU is starting to get into the business too, with What If…?, but Star Wars really redefined the ways in which animation could support and enrich a live-action franchise. And with the release of all nine episodes of Star Wars: Visions, Star Wars displays a willingness to think outside the box that shows why the franchise is still at the forefront when it comes to bridging that gap between live-action and animation.

Star Wars: Visions is an anthology series like Marvel’s What If…?, but whereas the various storylines in What If…? will eventually converge, the stories told in Star Wars: Visions are wholly unconnected – there’s no overarching plot, no framing device like What If…?‘s narrator, and no single animation style. Visions is also not intended to be viewed as canon, and most of the stories seem to exist outside of the Star Wars timeline, either unimaginably far into the franchise’s past or even further into its future. That’s not to say they couldn’t be integrated into canon, and there are several characters I’d love to see more of, but it’s not constantly in the back of your mind the way it is with What If…?

Because all of the episodes have been released already (robbing me of the chance to review them weekly), and they are all so different, I’ve decided to structure this review as a kind of episode ranking – moving from my least-favorites to my favorites.

Tatooine Rhapsody

Star Wars: Visions
Boba Fett | gamerevolution.com

The only episode of Visions that I found myself tempted to fast-forward through at multiple points, Studio Colorido’s Tatooine Rhapsody is a bland and uninspiring genre mash-up that feels like it was originally intended to be the pilot of an Apple TV original sci-fi series, and then got awkwardly reworked into a Star Wars story at the last minute. It’s the only episode that goes a little too heavy on the callbacks and nostalgia, with cameos from Boba Fett (voiced by Temuera Morrison), Jabba the Hutt, and Bib Fortuna, as if the writers realized that their main storyline about a garage band looking for work on Tatooine felt nothing like Star Wars, so they tried to force in a whole bunch of iconic characters to make it more natural.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like the writing, and I didn’t like the animation style here either. Some of the character designs were pretty cute, like tiny little Boba Fett with his big bobble-head helmet and even Bib Fortuna, but not enough to save the episode from looking like a low-budget Cartoon Network show devoid of charm or whimsy.

Episode Rating: 1/10

T0-B1

Star Wars: Visions
T0-B1 | theverge.com

There’s so many words to describe this episode…the most flattering of which is perhaps “quaint”. A vaguely disturbing twist on the story of Pinocchio, seemingly styled after that and other Disney cartoons from the 1940’s, T0-B1 plays out like the plot of the 1993 video game Putt-Putt Goes To The Moon…which is to say, there really isn’t all that much of a plot. T0-B1 (voiced by Jaden Waldman), a clumsy little droid who wants to be a Jedi, searches around his home planet for a hidden kyber crystal, and at any moment you expect him to turn to the audience and ask for you to click on objects on the screen. Occasionally he’ll report back to a zany old professor who teaches him valuable life-lessons about the Force.

If this were supposed to act as a lighthearted diversion from some of the heavier episodes, it would be one thing. But that’s very much not the case, as the zany old professor ends up being killed by a Sith Inquisitor and T0-B1 gets impaled (he’s a droid so he survives, but it’s still quite brutal). The hauntingly beautiful animation by Science SARU makes this an interesting watch, I suppose, but not a particularly fulfilling or even exciting one.

Episode Rating: 3.9/10

Akakiri

Star Wars: Visions
Masago | cbr.com

I’m still sorting out my thoughts on this macabre tale of horror and suspense, which plays with some very intriguing concepts about fate and destiny while also reusing the whole story (down to some awfully specific plot-beats) of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side. Tsubaki (voiced by Henry Golding) is our Anakin stand-in, a rugged young Jedi knight who falls in love with a princess in a political crisis and becomes her guardian, all while suffering from visions of her death (although in this case, he doesn’t realize it’s her in the visions, or that he’s the one killing her). He ultimately joins the Sith in a desperate effort to save her life, after accidentally killing her in a rage.

Regardless of the episode’s quality, I would not have chosen it to close out the first season of Visions. It’s a deeply morbid and depressing story of people stripped of their agency by invisible forces, and the eerie (yet strikingly beautiful) animation by Science SARU only heightens the feelings of dread that the episode inspires. I enjoyed it, and this episode had some of the best voice-acting in Visions (particularly Golding, Jamie Chung channeling Padmé Amidala in her character Misa, Lorraine Toussaint as Sith warlord Masago, and George Takei as a much-needed comedic relief character), but it’s not a fun watch.

Episode Rating: 4.9/10

The Twins

Star Wars: Visions
Am and Karre | avcaesar.com

Fast-paced, well-acted, and stunningly animated by Studio Trigger with a clean-cut futuristic aesthetic, this lean and mean story was right on the edge of greatness. With its tale of twin siblings bred and birthed by the dark side of the Force, one breaking free from their appointed destiny and the other bound to it, The Twins acts as good counter-programming to the hopeless messages of Akakiri, but it’s weighed down by a lot of exposition, and the action isn’t as thrilling as you’d probably expect, possibly because it’s so heavily stylized that it sometimes feels like a lightshow instead of an actual fight.

That said, there are some very cool elements here too: Karre (Neil Patrick Harris)’s multi-colored lightsaber gave me serious She-Ra vibes, and Am (Alison Brie)’s six robot appendages and lightsaber-whips make for some striking visuals. I also enjoyed seeing Karre employ the controversial Holdo maneuver from The Last Jedi, although seeing it recreated in a series of almost identical shots felt a tad unimaginative. And the ending lends itself to continuation, whether in animation or in live-action.

Episode Rating: 5.9/10

The Duel

Star Wars: Visions
The Bandit Leader | cbr.com

Of all the Visions episodes, each beautiful in their own right (except for Tatooine Rhapsody), Kamikaze Douga’s The Duel is surely the most striking from an artistic standpoint. Designed to resemble grainy black-and-white film, the animation style pays homage to Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese director whose work inspired George Lucas’ original vision for Star Wars. The story is a sci-fi twist on a classic scenario from the samurai genre: a war-weary sword-fighter, usually a rogue samurai (rōnin) comes to town and helps the local people in a conflict with another great sword-fighter, typically the leader of a band of raiders who’ve been pillaging the area’s natural resources.

Because it features such an archetypal setting and cast of characters, the outcome of the titular lightsaber duel between the subtly-named Ronin (Brian Tee) and the umbrella-wielding Sith Bandit Leader (Lucy Liu) is never in question, but there’s something comforting about that, as well as the gracefulness with which Ronin conducts himself in battle. The real subversion of expectations is that Ronin isn’t a former Jedi as you’re initially led to believe, but a former Sith repenting for his evil deeds, which is ten times cooler. In short I loved this, and I hope to see more of Ronin in the future.

Episode Rating: 8/10

Lop And Ochō

Star Wars: Visions
Lop | denofgeek.com

This episode would likely have cracked into my top three if the story hadn’t ended quite so abruptly. Even more so than the beautiful and richly-detailed animation by Geno Studio or the incredible score by Yoshiaka Dewa, what really stands out to me about this story is the character work. Set sometime during the reign of the Galactic Empire, we follow the disintegration of an ancient clan as its patriarch, Yasaburo (Paul Nakauchi), and his biological daughter Ochō (Hiromi Dames) fall to fighting over whether to side with the Empire in the best interests of their family, or fight back and try to protect their planet. Standing between them is Yasaburo’s adopted daughter, Lop (Anna Cathcart), a leporine alien who feels like an outsider in her own house.

The episode delivers a great message about found family as Lop emerges as the true successor of the Yasaburo clan, and even inherits their most precious heirloom: a green-bladed lightsaber that is probably one of the most beautiful in all of Star Wars history. I was perfectly prepared for this to become my favorite episode – and then it just ends, having not only not resolved the conflict at hand, but with the situation even more dire than before. If this story ever continues, I think the relatively small scope of the story, the beautiful backgrounds, and Lop’s ability to leap long distances and glide around via umbrella are all good reasons to make a Lop And Ochō video game.

Episode Rating: 8.5/10

The Ninth Jedi

Star Wars: Visions
Kara | theverge.com

Coming in at third place, I have The Ninth Jedi – which, of all the Visions stories, screams out for some kind of continuation. This gripping tale of mystery, suspense, and political intrigue, filled with extraordinary action and instantly endearing characters, comes to us from the mind of writer/director Kenji Kamiyama at Production I.G, who will also direct War Of The Rohirrim, an upcoming anime film based on The Lord Of The Rings. I was already excited for that, but now I can’t wait to see what Kamiyama will do with characters and stories I know like the back of my hand.

In this story, set hundreds of years after The Rise Of Skywalker during a new conflict between the Jedi and an emboldened faction of Sith, Kamiyama devises a whole new set of rules regarding lightsabers (specifically their colors) that honestly makes more sense than the established canon. Here, a lightsaber’s color is a visual indicator of the wielder’s personality as well as their strength in the Force, which is why as the heroine Kara (Kimiko Glenn)’s confidence increases, her blade goes from transparent to green. And the color can change even after that, based on the wielder’s actions. These changes have made some fans mad (of course), but this is the kind of expansive creativity I hope Kamiyama brings to Middle-earth.

Episode Rating: 9/10

The Elder

Star Wars: Visions
Dan and The Elder | starwars.com

Visions is quite a scary series, and Studio Trigger’s The Elder is a perfect example of how the most effective horror is almost always subtle, shocking our senses but more importantly affecting us on a psychological level. We can close our eyes to avoid a jump-scare, but there are things that lurk in the corners of our minds that are much harder to shake. Good horror plays on that, and gets into our heads. With a powerful message about accepting the inevitability of death, The Elder is able to do just that.

The episode is anchored by three characters at different stages in their lives – The Elder (James Hong), a mysterious Sith lord clinging to his frail mortal body, Tajin (David Harbour), a world-weary middle-aged Jedi knight, and Dan (Jordan Fisher), Tajin’s reckless young padawan who tries to defeat The Elder in combat and is soundly defeated, just barely escaping with his life. It’s Tajin who must ultimately defeat The Elder, and conquer his own fear that his best days are behind him. Their duel is appropriately mythic in proportions, and the episode ends with a tantalizing mystery about The Elder’s true identity that could easily support future chapters of this story.

Episode Rating: 9.5/10

The Village Bride

Star Wars: Visions
F | imdb.com

I had a hard time deciding my favorite between The Elder and The Village Bride, but there’s just so much to love about this story, from the way it masterfully interweaves elements of Shinto philosophy with Star Wars’ concept of the Force, to the ethereal score by Kevin Penkin, and the fascinating new character of F (Karen Fukuhara), all wrapped up in a vibrant, colorful package courtesy of the delightfully named Kinema Citrus. The Village Bride is the episode I would have chosen to close out Visions: it sums up everything the series is, and everything that Star Wars can be in good hands.

The story is similar to that of The Duel, with the crucial difference being that the cynical former Jedi F is inspired and her faith in the Force restored by the local townspeople when she learns how the titular village bride Haru (Nichole Sakura) is actively trying to save her people from their enemies. It acts as a wake-up call for her, reminding her that a Jedi’s first and foremost duty must always be to help those in need. And when she joins the townspeople in their fight, it made me respect the Jedi again in a way I haven’t felt as a viewer for a while now.

The episode has something for everybody, from amazing action (let’s just say, you do not want to get on F’s bad side while she’s wearing heels) to a genuinely happy ending that feels so rare for Star Wars sometimes that I had to mention it. This is my favorite Visions episode, and it’s the kind of hopeful story that I need to see more of from the franchise.

Episode Rating: 10/10

“Masters Of The Universe: Revelations: Part 1” Review!

I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of the original Masters Of The Universe franchise is limited to the areas in which the 1980’s cartoon overlapped with its sister series, She-Ra – and even more specifically, limited to the few and far between instances in which the recent reboot of She-Ra referred back to those earlier overlaps. I’m the type of person who, at multiple points while watching the new Masters Of The Universe reboot, found myself more interested in learning how the planet Eternia from Masters Of The Universe was connected to Etheria from She-Ra (in case you’re wondering, they’re actually sister planets, and the alien First Ones from She-Ra are the Elders of the He-Man and Masters Of The Universe mythos), than in the actual story.

Masters Of The Universe
Skeletor and He-Man | deadline.com

So I’m not the type of person to get enraged by that plot twist at the end of episode one. If you know, you know. Even if you don’t know, you’ve probably already seen an army of embittered dudebros fit to rival the Horde, churning out unnecessarily long Twitter threads about how the new reboot is ruining Masters Of The Universe with its “SJW agenda!”, review-bombing the show on Rotten Tomatoes, and generally having the kind of loud and embarrassing public temper-tantrum that would normally make me more interested in this show. If it angers those guys, it’s gotta be doing something right…right?

Well, no. Because when I got up to the plot twist, I realized that I also just…didn’t care much about it one way or the other. Simply put, Masters Of The Universe basically jumps into the story with the assumption that you’re already a hardcore fan of the original 1980’s series, and don’t need a refresher on who its main characters are or why we should feel emotionally attached to any of them. It offers the general audience member almost no time to know either Prince Adam (voiced by Chris Wood), better known as the hulking hero He-Man, or the warrior Teela (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), before the twist happens and throws everything into the kind of disarray that would probably have felt a lot more earned near the end of this first season.

But here’s the thing: the twist isn’t a bad plot twist. Obviously, it’s angered a lot of people – including some who I’m sure have legitimate reasons for being angry that are a bit more rational than the reasoning of right-wing trolls. I can definitely see why it might disappoint some fans. But perhaps because I have no nostalgia for Masters Of The Universe, and no attachment to these characters, the plot twist does sound good on paper to me. It could have led to a really compelling upheaval of the show’s status quo. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. And the show very quickly turns around and signals its intentions to undo the twist, which feels like a cheap way to keep people watching until yet another plot twist in the finale that I think is bound to upset pretty much everybody at this point.

And even though Masters Of The Universe is only five episodes, each around thirty minutes long (to be clear, this short season is billed as “Part 1” of what I believe will be a two-part series), the story botches its attempt to springboard off the shock value of the first plot twist and steer that momentum to the end. It repeatedly drags to a halt and then awkwardly starts up again, constantly throwing new and increasingly one-dimensional characters at the screen in an attempt to create the illusion of action. Even the protagonist has only the bare bones of what could have been an arc, but which is abruptly resolved in episode four, leaving them to do a whole lot of nothing in the finale.

Masters Of The Universe
Orko and Evil-Lyn | geekgirlauthority.com

But while the vast majority of the characters in this show are interchangeable, brightly-colored cardboard cutouts, there are two exceptions: Orko (voiced by Griffin Newman) and Evil-Lyn (voiced by Game Of Thrones‘ Lena Headey). The former is one of He-Man’s magical sidekicks, who must confront his feelings of inadequacy head-on while his life is very literally endangered with each passing day – he doesn’t have nearly enough screen-time, but every moment of it is well-utilized. Headey’s Evil-Lyn also undergoes a lot of growth, albeit reluctantly, when she finds herself suddenly free to choose her own destiny: she has a very large role, and is probably the only reason I’m genuinely excited for Part 2.

As for Mark Hamill’s villainous Skeletor, well…he’s not really in the show all that much, and Hamill doesn’t get a chance to exercise much of the campy over-the-top humor I think we hoped he’d bring to the iconic character. He does a lot of wheezing and maniacal laughing, and maybe that’s all that some fans need from Skeletor, but the memes and gifs I’ve seen of the original 1980’s version promised a much more animated performance than what we get from this reboot.

The weakness of the characters might have been excusable or at the very least tolerable, if the plot were more compelling, or the action scenes more thrilling and diverse. But Masters Of The Universe‘s core issue, as I see it, is that the series doesn’t know whether the now-adult audience of the original, shamelessly cheesy cartoon wants their reboot to have matured alongside them, or not. And out of all that wavering is born both a tangled mess of a story that can shift from being obviously (and at times gratingly) aimed at children, to being shockingly dark and depressing without a moment’s notice, and a series of fight sequences that are just as tonally jarring.

So what is the fan-base for this show going to look like, exactly? It’s too diverse for the dudebros, clearly (to which I can only say: good). It tries to play the Ambiguously Gay card with Teela in what I assume is a halfhearted effort to appeal to She-Ra fans, but the show lacks most of the qualities that made She-Ra special to so many people. It will probably upset a lot of fans of the original He-Man series because of some of the choices it makes. It wobbles between being too reliant on prior knowledge of the franchise for kids, and too kiddish for adults.

Masters Of The Universe
He-Man | polygon.com

There’s stuff worth salvaging from this wreck of a first season, namely Lena Headey’s Evil-Lyn, but I’m not sure it’s anywhere near enough to warrant resurrecting this franchise while doing nothing to put a fresh spin on it in the way She-Ra did with its source material. Sorry, folks, but I’ll take the Princesses of Power over the Masters of the Universe any day.

Series Rating: 5/10

“The Bad Batch” 1st Trailer!

Lucasfilm’s animation department had only a little to offer longtime fans last night during Disney’s crowded Investors Meeting – and unfortunately, what we did get wasn’t an announcement of the Star Wars: Rebels sequel that many of us have been hoping for. But The Bad Batch, currently the studio’s only major upcoming animated series, will surely unite fans of Rebels, The Clone Wars, and even The Mandalorian, as it explores a unique time period at the intersection of all three series.

Bad Batch
The Bad Batch | syfy.com

The Bad Batch might sound familiar to you, and that’s because they’ve been around for a while: even before they officially showed up in the final season of The Clone Wars on Disney+, earlier this year. The small, loyal team of defective clones (each of whom has heightened abilities thanks to individual genetic mutations) first appeared in drafts for the final season that were revealed to fans back when The Clone Wars was off the air and a revival seemed impossible. Everything turned out well in the end, though: showrunner Dave Filoni was able to complete the story he had planned, and the Bad Batch did appear as expected. But when their season arc was completed, fans wanted more – and so, early next year, we’ll be treated to a new series following the Bad Batch as they navigate the rapidly changing political scene in the aftermath of the Jedi Purge and the rise of the Galactic Empire. This is a time of upheaval across the galaxy: and so far we haven’t seen it properly fleshed out in the new, Disney-approved canon.

Bad Batch
The Bad Batch | starwars.fandom.com

One of the most fascinating events during this dark age is the seemingly abrupt shift from well-trained, skilled clone armies to fallible, clearly inferior, stormtroopers. In Rebels, we learned a little bit about this: how it was Emperor Palpatine that gave the order to disband the clones and abandon them. Real shocker there. By the time that Rebels rolled around, about a decade after the fact, almost all the clones had disappeared – and the few stragglers that were left (like Rex) were homeless and destitute, just barely getting by. Needless to say, it doesn’t seem that the Empire had any plan to compensate veterans for their sacrifice. The Bad Batch seems to be focused primarily on this event, and hopefully it will clear up the question of why stormtroopers (whose universally faulty aim is a running gag in Star Wars at this point) were viewed as more practical to the Empire than clones. Was it out of fear of betrayal? Or simply for cost-effective purposes, since the cloning facilities on Kamino can’t have been cheap to operate? Whatever the case, it looks like the Bad Batch will pull a classic “you can’t fire me! I quit!” move on the Empire, because we can see them fighting stormtroopers at several points during the trailer.

The scarred and weather-worn faces of clone troopers Echo, Hunter, Tech, Wrecker and Crosshair won’t be the only ones familiar to Star Wars fans. A shocking reveal was that Fennec Shand, the ex-Imperial sniper played by Ming-Na Wen on The Mandalorian will be returning (voiced, I presume, by Wen, a longtime Disney favorite and the voice of Princess Mulan), although here she’s not a scrappy, desert-dwelling rogue with a bounty on her head: she’s new on the scene and backed by the full might of the Empire. I assume she’ll be one of the series’ villains – though we already know she outlasts the Empire’s fall and eventually softens up a little, becoming Boba Fett’s partner in crime on Tatooine.

Bad Batch
Fennec Shand | comicbook.com

Presumably, the show will include cameos from many other Clone Wars characters (Grand Admiral Tarkin, who appears in the trailer, is obviously a lock; and wherever he goes, Wullf Yularen can’t be far behind), and even some from Rebels – though it’s still too early for the Rebellion itself to exist, except as a far off hope. Appearances from either a young Hera Syndulla or Kanan Jarrus (or both!) would blow my mind. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll even witness some of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s secretive backstory, as he rises to power in the ranks of the Imperial Navy.

Trailer Rating: 6/10

“What If?” 1st Trailer Review!

Whereas the Star Wars franchise long ago learned how to span multiple mediums, with a strong foothold in the crowded field of animation thanks to series like The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t ever been quite as successful at that. But that’s all about to change, with the upcoming What If…? series that explores unbelievable alternate realities branching off from the main MCU timeline. What if T’Challa took Peter Quill’s place as Star Lord and traveled the stars? What if Peggy Carter, not Steve Rogers, took the Super Soldier serum and was transformed into Captain Britain? What if Stephen Strange…well, actually, I’m not entirely sure what it is we see Stephen Strange doing in this first trailer for What If…?, or how it’s much different from what he actually did in Doctor Strange, but it’s cool: whatever it is.

What If
T’Challa as Star Lord | comingsoon.net

What If…? will have episodes corresponding to each of the current MCU movies, though so far we’ve really only seen footage from a handful, particularly the Peggy Carter as Captain Britain episode (which, of course, correlates to Captain America: The First Avenger). Linking all the stories in this massive anthology is the mysterious character of The Watcher, voiced by Jeffrey Wright: a cosmic being composed of starlight. It’s unclear if The Watcher only exists in this show, or if he’ll make an appearance in the MCU movies as well. For now, though, he’s just a really cool voice.

What If
Captain America as a zombie | slashfilm.com

Speaking of voices, perhaps the most exciting thing about What If…? – apart from its intriguing premise – is the fact that it’s compiled the voice talents of almost all the actors in the MCU, even those who have since departed the franchise…or, tragically in the case of Chadwick Boseman, passed away. Boseman’s performance as an alternate Star-Lord (in either the Guardians Of The Galaxy or Black Panther episode: it’s still unclear) will quite possibly be the last of his brief but glorious career, and we hear just a snippet of his voice work in this first trailer.

I do hope that we soon find out more about this series, since thus far we still only know the basic premises of two or three episodes. There are quick shots of Iron Man, Hawkeye, Thor, Captain Marvel, and, for some reason, The Collector from Guardians Of The Galaxy – all of them just look like how we remember them from the movie. There’s also that one tantalizing clip of Bucky Barnes fighting a zombie version of Captain America that we’ve seen before, but which still looks very interesting – and which I have to assume comes from an alternate Winter Soldier where it’s Steve Rogers, instead of Bucky, who was brainwashed by HYDRA: though why he got turned into an undead corpse is anyone’s guess.

What If
Peggy Carter as Captain Britain | geektyrant.com

What If…? also seems to have beautiful 2D animation, which is pretty rare these days and gives the series a unique look – nothing like the 3D animated Star Wars shows that we’ve seen before (and which, to be fair, look stunning and are proven successes). Whether What If…? fits into the great big jigsaw puzzle that is the MCU, or whether it’s just an awesome way to explore endless possible outcomes, I can’t wait to watch it, and I would rank this among the most exciting new reveals from the Disney Investors Call.

Trailer Rating: 9/10