Short film anthologies are by nature inconsistent, but Star Wars: Visions, now streaming on Disney+, has kept its overall bar for quality quite high. Ranking the nine anime shorts in the series is a tricky task -- the majority of them are great, and given the diversity of style and content, people's rankings will absolutely vary based on individual moods and tastes. Here is just one such attempt to rank and determine which of these non-canonical adventures is the absolute best.
9) The Elder
Nearly every anthology is going to have a dud, and in Star Wars: Visions' case, it's Masahiko Otsuka and Studio TRIGGER's "The Elder." Carrying none of the energy of TRIGGER's other Visions episode, "The Elder" is a generic Master-Padawan training story with unimpressive animation. Most of the short lacks action, and the lightsaber battle against an ex-Sith ends up being the least exciting in the series. Making matters worse is that David Harbour sounds completely bored out of his mind in the English dub.
8) Tatooine Rhapsody
After "The Elder," every Star Wars: Visions short is at the very least enjoyable. "Tatooine Rhapsody," directed by Taku Kimura and animated by Studio Colorido, is entertaining, though definitely the most lightweight of the nine stories. Rendering familiar figures like Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt in a cartoony, chibi style, the film follows a young rock band set on saving their Hutt bassist, Gee, from execution. This short could have ranked higher on the list if the music itself was stronger, but it's hard not to find some enjoyment in this good-natured lark.
7) The Duel
Takanobu Mizuno and Kamikaze Douga's "The Duel" is the first episode to play when you boot up Star Wars: Visions on Disney+, and it makes good on the promise of bringing the original Star Wars' samurai film influences back to the forefront. Done in black-and-white cell-shaded CG animation with bursts of color for the lightsabers, it doesn't have a ton going on aside from retro aesthetics and intense action, but those aesthetics and action are so strong that many viewers might end up placing this one higher in their personal rankings.
6) Lop & Ochō
"Lop and Ochō," from first-time director Yuki Igarashi and the relatively new Geno Studio, tells an interesting story about family bonds forged and broken. Lop, a bunny-like girl, is adopted by a human family as a child; years later, this family is being torn apart. Her father Yasaburo fights against the Empire and is branded a terrorist, while her sister Ochō embraces the Dark Side. The worldbuilding in this short is strong, looking at life on a planet the Jedi haven't visited in centuries, and while the animation is inconsistent, its high points are still impressive.
On a formal level, Eunyoung Choi and Science SARU's "Akakiri" might be the most beautiful installment of Star Wars: Visions. The animation matches the studio's best work, and the music is eerie and evocative. Being the show's final episode, the whole "Star Wars as a traditional samurai movie" motif doesn't really stand out, but this is one of the deeper evocations of such inspiration. It directly draws from the plot of The Hidden Fortress, the Akira Kurosawa film most often cited as the basis for the original Star Wars, while offering an unusually dark ending.
4) The Twins
"The Twins" is the Star Wars: Vision story that perhaps most deserves expansion. By far the superior of TRIGGER's two shorts, this Hiroyuki Imaishi-directed short runs through a ton of backstory for the feuding Dark Side twins Karre and Am, and leaves their story on an open enough ending to make the prospect of some sort of continuation an appealing one. While the sibling relationship is classic Star Wars, the action is pure Imaishi, filled with the sort of ridiculous physics-defying feats of badassery that made the likes of Gurren Lagann and Promare so much fun.
3) The Village Bride
One the spectrum of Star Wars traditions to anime traditions, Hitoshi Haga and Kinema Citrus' "The Village Bride" is among the Star Wars: Visions episodes more firmly on the anime side of things. Its environmentalist and anti-imperialist messages, while at peace with the general philosophies of Star Wars, are presented in a manner closer to a Hayao Miyazaki movie or other more meditative fantasy anime. The story of a village making sacrifices to protect itself from the Sith is a compelling one, but the greatest part of this short is the beautiful musical score by Kevin Perkin.
2) The Ninth Jedi
Made by the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex team of Kenji Kamiyama and Production I.G., "The Ninth Jedi" is the longest of the Star Wars: Visions shorts at 22 minutes, and it uses that time to tell an involved story from multiple perspectives. The two narrative threads, running in parallel and eventually intersecting, involve a mysterious old man summoning the galaxy's remaining Jedi and the daughter of a lightsaber-smith trying to forge her own connection with The Force. The story subverts some of Star Wars' most problematic tropes, making for an ending that's smart and unexpected.
From Spanish animator Abel Góngora and Science SARU, "T0-B1" is one of those shorts that absolutely nails what it sets out to do. The premise of a cute humanoid droid who longs to become a Jedi is essentially Astro Boy in the Star Wars universe, the simplest yet arguably most effective blending of classic anime sensibilities into the galaxy far, far away.
The artwork is unbelievably adorable, and it surpasses the similarly cutesy "Tatooine Rhapsody" not only in the fluid and expressive quality of its animation but in the emotion behind the kawaii exterior. As with the classic Astro Boy, the relationship between T0-B1 and his creator has both sweetness and a little bit of darkness to it, and the story gets at the heart of the Jedi fantasy while also presenting an ecological moral similar to "The Village Bride."
Star Wars: Legends is now streaming on Disney+.