Star Wars Visions, or What It Took To Love Star Wars Again

Has it been long enough to talk about Star Wars on the internet?

My feelings about the sequel trilogy — The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker — are more complicated than the polarized love/hate of the entire sequence that crystallized just after The Last Jedi was released.

Well, perhaps not so complicated. I adore The Last Jedi, but was deeply disappointed in The Rise of Skywalker. This was in part because of its choppy storytelling, but also because of how reactionary it was, undoing every novel thing that TLJ introduced, seemingly as an act of spite. I can recall so many vivid sequences from TLJ, but TRoS exists in this haze. I couldn’t even remember what the MacGuffin was that Rey and the others were trying to find.

(As an aside, I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys the prequel trilogy for its stilted writing and performances, coupled with some amazing visuals. If nothing else, it’s memorable.)

“Ah,” I hear you say, “but what about The Mandalorian?” It’s good, and Grogu/Baby Yoda is adorable (I have a full-size toy sitting on my desk, FYI). But it’s nothing new. Lots of fun action, two compelling lead characters, but it’s been turned into a kind of sequel series to The Clone Wars. And the actual sequel to TCW, The Bad Batch, is a fun ride with characters I actually like more than Mando, but seems to exist as an appendix to Revenge of the Sith.

So imagine my surprise when watching a 15-minute short that’s essentially if Studio Ghibli made a Star Wars cartoon. It’s called “The Forest Bride,” and it’s one of my favorite episodes from the new Star Wars Visions anthology.

The plot is a bit thin, but moving. A Jedi, undercover after surviving the Order 66 purge, is called to a planet by an old friend to free a village from some marauders who use leftover separatists droids (the ones that shout “roger, roger!”) to exploit ecosystems. She watches two young villagers in a marriage ceremony that literally links the participants to the spirit of the planet, and the short implies that it and the Force are one and the same. The Jedi later decides to intervene and saves the day.

It is one of the most beautiful and moving 15 minutes in the entire franchise, up there with the Duel of the Fates from the The Phantom Menace or Yoda raising the X-Wing from the swamp in Empire. It is absolutely sublime.

One of the best things about the anthology is that if this one isn’t your cup of tea, there are 8 other shorts to watch instead. There’s a straight-up Kurosawa homage (a kind of boomerang reference, since A New Home is The Hidden Fortress with sci-fi dressing), a wackadoo Promare-esque fight between twin force users, a rock concert, an Astroboy/Osamu Tezuka love letter…

There’s even one short, “The Ninth Jedi,” that’s a kind of pilot for a longer series, taking place centuries after the events of the Skywalker Saga, that’s akin to Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Oh, one more thing. None of this is canon.

Canon seems to get dragged out in discussions about franchises as a kind of hammer: used to argue everything, even when not appropriate. Any deviation from established lore, even if it would expand or strengthen a story, is often dismissed with “but it’s not canon!” as a kind of substitute for what is really being argued.

Well, Star Wars Visions completely forgoes canon. Some stories could possibly take place alongside the existing storyline, but some (like “The Twins” or “The Duel”) are so far removed from canon that it’s impossible to reconcile. Not that fans haven’t tried: I’ve read several suggestions online that the stories are in-universe fictional accounts, told by people far removed from the events they describe so that they become unrecognizable.

But I feel, why bother? They’re good stories. They don’t need in-universe explanations.

Above all, the shorts in Star Wars Visions seem like the stories that fans would imagine in their heads: vivid-to-downright-hallucinatory images, unique characters (even a rabbit woman, who is probably absolutely my favorite), and plots that have little in common with the Joseph Campbell template that’s the foundation of the 9 Skywalker movies.

It’s become my favorite thing in Star Wars in years.