With season two of Star Wars: Visions coming in 2023, I wanted to look back at each short from season one and celebrate why they’re great. This is Visions Remembered.
The Duel is the perfect opener for Star Wars: Visions. Not just for the fans of anime, but it’s really made everyone else who never dipped their toe into the medium. When everyday people think of Japan or anime, I’m sure one of the first things that come to their mind are samurai. Opening Star Wars: Visions with a Star Wars version of a classic Ronin story eases an everyday audience into what to expect from anime before it veers into different kinds of anime genres. Maybe The Village Bride or The Elder could have been successful as first entries too, but The Duel does a fantastic job capturing what an average audience probably expects out of something from Japan short of Godzilla, Sailor Moon, and Mechas like Gundams.
In the behind-the-scenes featurettes, director Takanobu Mizuno stated the short pulled from the inspiration of Akira Kurosawa films, particularly Seven Samurai. It was Kurosawa’s movies like the one noted that were direct influences for George Lucas to create Star Wars. It’s a fantastic way to go full circle in the opening short of the series.
Being produced by the studio Kamikaze Douga, The Duel is one of the more unique shorts of the bunch with its monochrome style and very little color, another nod to Kurosawa. The story is relatively straightforward with a wandering Ronin and his droid coming into a village as it is under attack from bandits. The Star Wars twist is the leader of the bandits is a Sith Lord, the people Ronin has been hunting. But he is no Jedi. He carries a red-bladed lightsaber with him as he too is an ex-Sith.
There is so much to love about this short. While it’s clearly very stylized, it’s so very Star Wars at its core. There are familiar designs with the bandits using stormtrooper armor or the Trandoshan leading the town guards in fighting back. Ronin’s droid, B5-56 or Bee, is an astromech. Thanks to R2-D2, they’re one of the most recognizable kinds of characters in a galaxy far, far away. In other animated shows, characters like Chopper feels like they could have been an inspiration for Bee having similar personalities.
I adore everything about the Bandit Leader. In 16 minutes, she greatly impacts the Star Wars universe. Her design? Flawless. The reveal of her hair is a perfect moment. She’s drenched in so many anime tropes and is the perfect amount of being over the top compared to the quieter Ronin. Like any good Sith, her hubris is her downfall. She is the right balance between an anime and a Star Wars character. Also, THE LIGHTSABER UMBRELLA! Look, who cares if that thing doesn’t make sense? It’s cool as heck to look at. As I will scream repeatedly when I cover “Tatooine Rhapsody” next, let Star Wars be fun. And that lightsaber umbrella is fun in a “holy cow, that’s awesome” kind of way.
It must be noted that the Bandit Leader is voiced by the always amazing Lucy Liu. She is absolutely chilling in this role. The entire voice cast of Visions is stellar, and I adore the creators made a point where the majority of the English dub’s main characters were voiced by actors of Asian descent. I hope this trend continues with season two with actors from their respective countries.
The fight between Ronin and the Bandit Leader is one of the best lightsaber battles in Star Wars animation. I would easily put it up there with Maul and Ahsoka in Clone Wars season seven or Ahsoka and Vader in Star Wars Rebels. Again, it’s amazing how much story they were able to pack into The Duel in such a short amount of time. This is a well-paced three-phase fight from the town to the river to the final blow in the shrine behind the waterfall. I call this “economic writing” where not a single frame or piece of dialogue is wasted. Every moment pulls its weight. The Duel is the first example of the entire series doing this.
Sadly, I haven’t had the chance yet to read Ronin: A Visions Novel by Emma Mieko Candon. I hear it’s fantastic and very pro-LGBTQIA+. Some fans of the High Republic joked that it was the “gayest book” until Midnight Horizon came out to dethrone it with the most queer characters thus far. The reason I’m noting it here is that I hope all the Visions shorts get some sort of expansion in some way. I adore every single short from season one for one thing or another. I want them all to get the Ronin novel treatment. As of writing this, four of the other shorts got manga adaptations, but I want them all to have new stories. I hope that Ronin was just the start.
The Duel was the perfect opener for Star Wars: Visions. It struck a great balance between Star Wars and anime to set the tone for the rest of the series. Be on the lookout for the next entry in Visions Remembered. That’s because Tatooine Rhapsody is my personal favorite episode and I have so much to scream about it.
Star Wars: Visions is exclusively on Disney Plus. Season two will air in spring 2023.