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Star Wars: Visions Season 2 Showcases Animation from Almost Every Continent

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© Lucasfilm

Between April 7th and 11th 2023, Star Wars Celebration plastered itself over London’s ExCel convention centre. Fans scurried onto the city’s unsuspecting DLR service carrying heavy Mandalorian armour, bulging wallets to be drained by the desire for overpriced hoodies and burgers, and dreams of mind-blowing announcements. 

Celebration is the most pleasurable sensory overload you will experience. The images of grown men dressed as Porgs waiting in line for a Costa Coffee will be burned into the minds of attendees for the rest of their lives. Panels of filmmakers and fans which deepen your knowledge and attachment to the series can be found in every crevice of the convention centre, droids roam the halls, as do the cheers of fans emanating from the Celebration Stage, where a constant supply of celebrity cameos and exclusive trailers invoke an indescribable buzz in the fabric of the building itself. 

The final day of Celebration rolled around and focus shifted to the second season of Star Wars: Visions, a series dedicated to wonderfully extraneous interpretations of Star Wars lore through worldwide animation. This crop of shorts were produced by studios spanning almost every continent. Aardman, Cartoon Saloon, Punkrobot, 88 Pictures, El Guiri, Studio Mir, La Cachette, D’art Shtajio and Triggerfish were all called up by series executive producer Jacqui Lopez to the galaxy far, far away. 

The collection of studios displays a geographical diversity often neglected by mainstream audiences. Animation in between the west coast of the USA and Japan can be swept under the rug, Lopez looked to highlight the unfairness in that. “The truth is animation comes from everywhere,” she told Skwigly, “It’s nice to get a family-run studio from Chile, an incredible Spanish filmmaker like Rodrigo Blaas, and from the very tip of Africa with Triggerfish. I hope that people do realise that there is great animation all over the world and that it does speak to all cultures.”

A studio very close to home is Aardman, a staple of British film culture. Their signature style of extremely English, comedic stop-motion is not one that immediately seems to line up with the high sci-fi stakes of Star Wars, but director Magdelena Osinska manages to pull Star Wars imagery into her world. The first step towards that was setting the story on the Star Wars equivalent of sports day, something she described as “very English.” Already low stakes are matched by the intimacy of this as a mother-daughter story, as well as an immigrant story. Osinska purposefully steered clear of using humanoid characters as her protagonists to reflect her own alienating experience as an immigrant from Poland. 

Attendees of the convention were treated to a screening of Osinska’s short, entitled “I Am Your Mother.” The marriage between Star Wars and Aardman could not have seemed more natural. Aardman’s typically light-hearted tone and astonishingly detailed animation is at home in a story that looks to have fun with the edges of this universe rather than the lightsaber-ridden action at its centre. The simple existence of a collaboration between these studios will forever make it a pop culture artefact, but it helps that the actual short itself is brilliant. 

“Screecher’s Reach” © Lucasfilm

Details were also shown from Cartoon Saloon’s short, “Screecher’s Reach.” First time director Paul Young was keen to maintain the studio’s Irish roots, looking to blend the mythologies of the country with the mythology of Star Wars. Main inspirations came from Irish ghost stories as well as Young’s own childhood. “Our story’s a bit about a kid who needs to get away. I come from a beautiful place but I got to go to university when some of my friends didn’t. There’s that idea of not wanting to tell them that you have this great ticket out of here, then leaving and feeling guilty,” Young explained. “Screecher’s Reach” seems to be an uncompromising representation of the studio’s values. Thankfully, this is mirrored by his fellow directors. 

88 Pictures’ placement as a Mumbai-based studio gives them a unique opportunity to introduce Desi animation to a wide, western audience. Producer Milinde Shinde was keen to highlight just how deeply Indian this story was, something that lit the fire inside the bellies of myself, the Indian guy a few seats down from me, as well as every Indian Star Wars fan in existence (probably). Hearing that it’s inspired by Sholay, a classic Bollywood thriller which I’ve never seen but has always lined the outskirts of my interaction with Indian media, was exhilarating. Images of a woman draped in Indian jewellery, wearing a saree, wielding lightsabers are images that I never thought I’d see. 

“Bandits of Golak” © Lucasfilm

Gabriel Osorio of Punkrobot has been a coveted name for some years since his Oscar win for 2015’s Bear Story. The short was notable for its bending of CGI to emulate stop-motion-like movements, and his effort for Visions is further consumed by a claymation style. Also carrying over is an exploration of Chilean politics through a fantastical setting. Osorio emphasised the connection between Star Wars and depictions of fascism, “I grew up watching Star Wars, and when I saw the Empire oppressing these people I thought ‘I see this every day.’” Osorio’s short, “In The Stars” seems to be a tragic, yet empowering tale of overcoming oppression. 

Similarly pushing the boundaries of their established house style is Madrid-based El Guiri director Rodrigo Blaas. His most recent film, Alma was a detailed, realistic CG short with hints of surrealism lurking beneath the surface. For “Sith,” Blaas equips a rugged blend of 2D and 3D art for what looks to be a gritty tale of dark side temptation. El Guiri’s short is home to the first images screened for the celebration stage, images which the crowd received with squeals of excitement. We haven’t seen lightsaber’s rendered like this before, the manner in which their movements leave trails of plasma-like particles in their wake provides “Sith” with an exhilarating visual twist. 

“I didn’t know much about Star Wars before this project,” states director Hyeong Geun Park of South Korean Studio Mir, breaking up a sentiment of fandom born from childhood which had filled the room. This is a much needed deviation. The joys of the first iteration of Visions came from interpretations of Star Wars lore from the other side of the world. Being based in South Korea and being new to the mythology allows Park a freedom of expression. His stylised anime tale is set in the distant past, furthering that creative freedom. Park’s short, entitled “Journey to the Dark Head,” is the product of alleviated expectations.

From Asia we travel back to Europe to arrive at the door of France’s La Cachette. The studio has a house style of extremely bold pencil drawings with thick black outlines coating the characters. Julien Chheng’s “The Spy Dancer” is another short that takes a break from the intense action of the main series in favour of something more subtle. “Our story is reliant on emotion. The first thing I said to the actors is ‘forget it’s a Star Wars story, we’re just telling a story,’” he explained. “We don’t have lightsabers in our short, or a crazy space fight, so the fights have to be emotional.” Chheng’s story depicts a delicate dance performance for a legion of Stormtroopers being used to infiltrate their ranks. The visuals are soft and poetic with a penetrating plot coursing through the background. 

“The Spy Dancer” © Lucasfilm

The philosophy of uniting the globe through animation is represented in microcosm by D’Art Shtajio. CEO Arthell Isom fell in love with anime as an artform while growing up in the USA and later moved to Japan to pursue animation. He, and the short’s director, Lucasfilm’s LeAndre Thomas, took inspiration from 80s and 90s anime VHS tapes they would wear down as children. “The Pit” has a dusty, grainy quality to its visuals, eliciting the feeling of being transported to another point in modern human history, let alone Star Wars history. Thomas expanded on the reasoning behind that classic feel, “We didn’t want it to feel too cutting edge because we wanted it to feel in line with the message, so it felt right for it to look like a traditional anime,” hinting towards the familiar Star Wars themes which their short explores. Isom added “I moved to Japan because they were one of the only countries to still use paint while the rest of the world was moving towards digital animation. LeAndre gave us that freedom of painting on paper again.”

Rounding out the canon of creators are Nadia Darries and Daniel Clarke of Triggerfish. Much like their counterparts, imbuing the short with their local culture was top of mind. “Aau’s Song” carries the spirit of South African music, inspired also by the filmmakers’ musical backgrounds. Darries connected with music as a form of finding her own identity while Clarke comes from a family with encyclopaedic knowledge on music from across the globe. Centering a story around song was a natural choice for the pair. Visually, “Aau’s Song” is an example of stunning stop motion, incorporating the use of colourful puppets made of felt sitting in backgrounds of stunning naturalistic landscapes. Darries talks about the importance of nature to the film “If you watch the film you will notice that the landscapes are quite vast which is very much inspired by Cape Town. The way we connect to ‘the force’ is by taking in the beauty of the land where we come from, living by the mountain and being able to see it every day.” Of all the styles and shorts on display, “Aau’s Song” seems to be the one looking to tap into the more spiritual side of Star Wars lore. 

“Aau’s Song” © Lucasfilm

Visions has propelled Lucasfilm to the forefront of championing worldwide animation in a mainstream capacity. There are so few opportunities for such well-known IP to be twisted and contorted to fit the styles, cultures, storytelling philosophies and visual sensibilities of so many different studios spanning almost every continent. Owning some of the biggest IP on the planet provides plenty of opportunity to be evil, closed off and secretive with it. Lucasfilm have found an ethical use for their millions of dollars and billions of eyeballs, may this set the precedent for others in similar positions. 

Star Wars: Visions Season 2 streams on Disney+ from May 4th. 

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