REVIEW: Star Wars Visions – The Duel (2021)

An Anime on Disney+

One of my favorite bits of Star Wars trivia is that no matter how much he tries to state otherwise, George Lucas basically lifted the structure and filming techniques from an old samurai movie to create the first Star Wars film. If you go back and watch 1958’s The Hidden Fortress by Akira Kurosawa, you will easily spot similar character archetypes, plot progressions, and even Lucas’ signature “wipe” transitions. It’s not a “ripoff”, but one can easily tell he was inspired by it, much in the same way he used old adventure films like The Secret of the Incas (1954) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) for the basis of Indiana Jones. The first episode of the anthology show Star Wars Visions revisits that idea with taking the Star Wars franchise and tossing it into a Kurosawa-esque samurai setting.

“Set in an alternate history, 20 years after a war between the Feudal-Jedi Empire and a renegade Jedi sect called the Sith, a lone wanderer known only as the “Ronin” witnesses a legion of former stormtroopers attempt to besiege a small village.”

Visions is a project wherein Star Wars is re-imagined in the medium of “anime”, using Japanese directors and studios much in the same way The Animatrix filled some gaps in prior to the release of the second film for the Matrix franchise. Episode one, The Duel, is directed by Takanobu Mizuno who is mostly known for his work directing animated sequences for videogames such as Shin Megami Tensei Persona and Hotel Dusk Room 215. I was actually pretty impressed with the choice for art style due to it being CGI (which is VERY hit-or-miss with anime) but somehow making it work by putting everything in black and white with some splashes of color. It preserves the look of an old samurai film in a big way while still having it’s own vibe.

The characters in this are pretty cool, and I definitely want to see more of them. The main protagonist, simply known as “The Ronin” also has a graphic novel out of some sort, and assuming it isn’t just this same story, I will definitely read and review that soon. The Ronin is some sort of former Sith that has abandoned his training and become a wandering samurai killing other Sith. His jacket is lined with many war trophies, namely Kyber Crystals (the ones that power a lightsaber) from other Sith fell by his hand.

I absolutely LOVED the design of the “Bandit Leader”, a dark Sith wearing what almost looks like a Niqāb carrying a lightsaber with an attachment that splits the blade into an umbrella more-or-less. She is extremely formidable, and I want to see more of her! We also see a rag-tag group of hired guns, much akin to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and The Ronin’s faithful droid filling in the main cast aside from the villagers.

Overall, this was an awesome start to an interesting show, and I can’t wait to see more. The fight scenes are cool, the animation is well-done despite being CGI anime, and the voice acting is solid with a handful of Hollywood names in the cast such as Lucy Liu. This is short fifteen minute affair, so it feels like tons of stuff is crammed in, perhaps as if this is the last episode of a longer series. That said, you don’t have to even know anyone’s name to enjoy the story as it is quite simple.

I especially want this Ronin Universe continued in some way, hopefully that book I mentioned becomes a full-blown series and I get my fix of Samurai Jedis and Sith moving forward. If you are wondering why I am not just reviewing this as a whole show, I have a method for my madness. I am mostly reviewing these this way due to this being part of an anthology series, and ostensibly a short film. I will treat every episode of this separately and hopefully cover each one in a timely manner. Stay tuned for more!

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