INTERVIEW: Expanding Star Wars with Visions’ with Kanako Shirasaki & Jacqui Lopez

Reading Time: 5 minutes

star wars visions episode 4 - But Why Tho

Star Wars: Visions has been praised by both critics and fans alike. But how do you expand a galaxy far, far, away with a new medium, seven different studios, and with all new characters? Well, you give storytellers the freedom to explore. That is the beauty of the nine-episode anthology series which features shorts from Kamikaze Douga, Geno Studio (Twin Engine), Studio Colorido (Twin Engine), TRIGGER, Kinema Citrus, Science Saru, and Production I.G. To dive into the series, its inspirations, and the excitement around it, we got the chance to speak with Kanako Shirasaki (Producer), and Jacqui Lopez (Executive Producer).

Now, if you’ve watched any number of George Lucas interviews, you know that Japanese cinema and culture is one of the main building blocks of Star Wars. And an anthology format was central to that as Lopez explained, “Visions might be the first anime experience for some of the viewers, so we wanted to deliver as many different styles as possible to showcase the diversity, different voices, and unique visuals of Japanese anime. We thought that the anthology format worked best to do so to feel the rich history and culture of Japanese anime.”

And while this has been the focus of many of the reviews of the series, mine included, Shirasaki explained how Star Wars has influenced Japanese creatives as well, “Like Kurosawa and Japanese classic cinema gave influences to many Western creators, including George Lucas, many Japanese creators are inspired and influenced by Star Wars. Some directors told us how Star Wars inspired them to be an animator, and some of them shared their first Star Wars experience as a kid. Star Wars stories and their striking visuals have been inspiring so many Japanese creators across the generations. And many creators at Lucasfilm also have been inspired by Japanese anime. So the feelings are really mutual and it’s almost like a full circle.”

To bring Star Wars full circle, it meant bringing together multiple storytellers and giving them the agency to tell the stories they wanted. Lopez explained how the anthology forma was the was the plan from the start, “Our content is usually carefully crafted to fit into the canon of Star Wars. Our fans expect this of us and it allows for the world to become so full and real. The reason for “Visions”, however, was always to color outside the lines and let the creators tell their own authentic stories in the format they are masters of, anime. This was their own unique “vision” of a Star Wars story.”

Lopez  also helped showcase how much Star Wars had impacted the creatives at the studios chosen for Star Wars: Visions, “I was happily surprised to find hard core Star Wars fans inside of each studio we approached. When the story ideas came in from the studios it was wonderful to see how naturally their star wars stories took shape within the anime framework. The stories had so much heart and focused on the elements we all know from star wars, family, protecting the unprotected, the hero’s journey and the conflict one must face along the way.”

When it came to choosing the studios, Lopez added some insight, “There is so much great anime out right now it was hard to choose. We were in search of a diversity of studios. We wanted small and large studios as well as established and up and comers. We also tried to curate studios by storytelling and visual style. Production I.G was on our list from the start as one of our producers, Justin Leach (Co-Executive Producer), used to work there and we also had a relationship with I.G back from the Clone Wars days. The other studios were chosen based on works that we loved and their distinct styles.”

This diversity of storytelling and style is one of the strongest and most breathtaking elements of Star Wars: Visions. While some focus on the relationship between master and apprentice, others look at music, and others still look at the foundations of what makes a sith a sith and a jedi, well, a jedi. And that, that only scratches the surface of the depth you can see in the series. With that depth it’s hard to find a favorite, making the themes of the individual shorts really stand out.

Shirasaki offered up her perspective on which short landed with them the most, or rather what elements did: “It’s so hard to choose the favorite episode, because all 9 shorts are so unique and different! Every time I watch them, my favorite changes depending on my mood that day. I do recommend everyone to watch the series again and again, in both Japanese original and English dub versions. Both are great!” She expanded,  “One of my favorite concepts is a character trying to be a better self in the story. It’s not easy to be a better version of yourself, so that’s why these characters fascinate us when they are striving to be better. You’ll find so many characters like that in Star Wars, and you can find someone like that in the Visions as well.

“I also love to dream about the life of surrounding characters after watching any movies. So in the Star Wars Galaxy, imagine the daily life of the customers in The Mos Eisley cantina or nameless characters working at the military bases. From that standpoint, I really enjoyed seeing a teahouse master from “The Duel,” village people from “The Elder,” and Valco and people of Planet Keelia from “The Village Bride,” and more. These attractive characters really added great depth to the stories.”

And to that point, there is a lot new to Star Wars: Visions that make it something fans had never seen before. That said, there is also a lot for fans of Star Wars but not anime can find love in too. On what to say to fans that haven’t been exposed to anime before, Shirasaki said, “..Jump in! Star Wars Visions offers strong storytelling and unique artistic styles from nine different directors and seven different studios set in the familiar Star Wars galaxy. I hope this will be a great introduction. If you find your favorite style from these nine shorts, you have a lot more to explore!”

Lopez had this to add, “I hope the elements from Star Wars will bring a familiarity to the fans and provide an entree if they are new to anime. I also hope they see how naturally Star Wars fits into the Japanese storytelling and culture and make them want to take a deeper dive into this world.”

When all is said and done, Stars Wars: Visions has been met with love and admiration from critics, from fans, and well, from me. In truth, I had begun to feel burned out on the galaxy far, far, away. But with these nine shorts my love of the franchise has been reinvigorated and I’m excited for everything to come. And with Shiraski and Lopez’s explanation of how we got Star Wars: Visions, I can’t help but think that we’ve entered a new and more expansive era of the franchise.

Star Wars: Visions is streaming exclusively on Disney+.