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Star Wars: Visions on Disney Plus goes anime, and it's glorious

Review: Visions brings Star Wars into experimental territory the movies should learn from.

Twins in Star Wars: Visions

The Twins battle in one of Star Wars: Visions most memorable episodes.

Lucasfilm

It's astounding that Star Wars: Visions, an anime-inspired anthology series that hitting Disney Plus Wednesday, took so long to happen. Star Wars creator George Lucas drew heavily from Akira Kurosawa films for the original 1977 movie and millions of people watched an unofficial TIE Fighter anime short a few years ago. So Disney and Lucasfilm knew it'd be a winning combo.

Visions take us on a fascinating journey, with Star Wars' iconic imagery slotting beautifully into Japanese animation styles. Different anime studios have infused each of the anthology's nine episodes with their own style and tell their own story -- much like 2003's Matrix-inspired Animatrix -- meaning you never know what's coming next. It's all available in Japanese and English, so dubs and subs fans will be satisfied.

Opening episode The Duel leans hard into a Kurosawa-inspired style as it tells the tale of a mysterious Ronin (voiced in English by Brian Tee and Masaki Terasoma in Japanese) who protects a village from a group of bandits in Stormtrooper armor. They're led by a threatening dark lord, played by Lucy Liu/Akeno Watanabe. This episode plays fast and loose with traditional Star Wars lore, but its monochrome visuals evoke moody classic cinema atmosphere and the final battle is so engrossing you won't worry about canon (though this episode is getting a tie-in novel).

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The remaining episodes tell a wild variety of stories in their 13- to 22-minute runtimes. Each cleverly establishes its setting, getting you emotionally involved almost immediately.

One of the strongest focuses on dark side-empowered twins (Alison Brie and Neil Patrick Harris in English, Junya Enoki and Ryoko Shiraishi in Japanese) who battle over a kyber crystal's power, with a visual ripped straight out of The Last Jedi. Another tells an engaging story of a planetary ruler having lightsabers built as he tries to restore the Jedi Order (and includes Shang-Chi's Simu Liu in its English cast).

The standout episode -- The Elder -- tells a conventional Star Wars tale: a Jedi master and padawan investigate a mysterious dark side presence on a remote world. David Harbour and Jordan Fisher play off each other as eager student and wise teacher, while James Hong portrays their creepy adversary (Takaya Hashi, Yuichi Nakamura and Kenichi Ogata in Japanese). It's a visually and atmospherically stunning adventure.

The Elder in Star Wars: Visions

The Elder is utterly gripping.

Lucasfilm

It's only 16 minutes long, but makes you care about its Jedi heroes and builds a magnificent sense of tension in that time. Seeing a short episode accomplish so much is refreshing in an era packed with three-hour blockbusters. It reminds us how gripping a focused Star Wars story can be.

By contrast, a few episodes meander despite their short runtimes -- particularly one that follows an android who dreams of being a Jedi. Its light, cutesy tone makes the episode drag a bit, even if it does take some engaging turns toward the end. All nine episodes are coming to Disney Plus at once, so you won't have to wait to jump into the next one.

Star Wars: Visions is Star Wars at its most experimental and visually stunning, with an incredible cast and lightsaber clashes that'll sear themselves into your memory. Each episode is lovingly made, and you'll undoubtedly want some of the stories to continue. If fans respond positively to this anime-inspired spinoff, hopefully Lucasfilm will take the opportunity to bring the familiar galaxy far, far away into more bold new territory.