Galaxy Brain

Star Wars: Visions could improve canon in this crucial way

The new anime Star Wars anthology show isn't limited to "the timeline." This is great news.

Historically, in Star Wars, there’s been a Light Side, a Dark Side of the Force, and very little in between those two extremes.

Similarly, when it comes to what “counts” as canon in the Star Wars universe, the distinction between canon and non-canon storylines is iron-clad. But could Star Wars finally be loosening up?

An upcoming anime anthology series, Star Wars: Visions, is set to hit Disney+ in September, potentially introducing a wider spectrum of stories that won’t technically fall within the franchise’s larger storytelling scope but will still occupy a prominent position in the galaxy far, far away.

Including short films by several prominent animators and animation houses — Kamikaze Douga, Trigger, Kinema Citrus, Geno Studio (Twin Engine), Studio Colorido (Twin Engine), Science Saru, Production IG are all working on the series — Visions is shaping up to be one of the most visually striking and artistically assured Star Wars projects to date.

Given that it won’t tie into the larger Star Wars chronology, is Visions officially a non-canon series? Or should our reliance on ideas of canon versus non-canon be thrown out the airlock? Speculation ahead.

If you’ve traveled from one side of the Star Wars galaxy to the other, going beyond the movies to dive into all manner of series and books related to the franchise, it’s hard to believe that there’s one all-powerful canon controlling everything.

And yet, a vocal division of the Star Wars fandom is locked in a fierce debate over the nature and importance of canon. In 2014, the Star Wars franchise made headlines by “de-canonizing” the vast, existing swath of Expanded Universe novels, essentially starting the “real” canon over from scratch. That meant everything from Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy through the New Jedi Order series, authored by multiple authors, no longer officially existed in the same chronology as recent Star Wars films and series.

Did wiping the slate clean work, or are characters from the Star Wars Expanded Universe eventually all coming back? Nearly every week, in some corner of the Internet, the debate still rages.

Since 2014, Lucasfilm has mostly stuck to its blasters. Sure, there have been a few non-canon rereleases, such as Ewoks movies, and some classic “Legends” books are getting pretty new covers. But, by and large, every Star Wars release overseen by Lucasfilm for the past seven years — from TV series to films, books, and comics — has been considered part of the real “canon,” and everything not included in that new designation has been erased.

However, the next big Star Wars release seems to be adopting a larger view of canon, departing from the dogmatic treatment of the galaxy far, far away we’re used to.

Is Star Wars: Visions canon?

If you were to Google the question “Is Star Wars: Visions canon?,” you would immediately find several articles emphatically stated that the new anime anthology series is not. Here’s why. In an interview on StarWars.com, Visions executive producer James Waugh said:

“We really wanted to give these creators a wide creative berth to explore all the imaginative potential of the Star Wars galaxy through the unique lens of anime...We realized we wanted these to be as authentic as possible to the studios and creators who are making them, made through their unique process, in a medium they’re such experts at. So the idea was, this is their vision riffing off all the elements of the Star Wars galaxy that inspired them — hopefully to make a really incredible anthology series, unlike anything we’ve seen before in the Star Wars galaxy.”

Within the same article, this comment is preceded by what appears to be language carried over directly from Lucasfilm’s rollout of Visions:

Star Wars: Visions storytelling didn’t have to fit in the timeline. In developing the series, Lucasfilm made the decision to let creators tell the stories they wanted to tell — whether they featured established or original characters — without a need to tie into the larger chronology.”

One easy reading of this is that various tales within Visions are set completely outside of canon, functioning as short films that rework Star Wars storylines and iconography to create stand-alone anime films. If you think about that idea, it’s pretty cool. Canon is king, as always, but having to figure out when and how everything fits into the vast Star Wars story has, for many many artists, become constrictive. If Visions isn’t “real” Star Wars canon — at least in the way that’s been defined recently — then it’s possible its artistry will be richer as a result.

However, there’s another point of view on the subject...

A shot from “The Elder,” one of the new Visions short films by Masahiko Otsuka. Lucasfilm

Is Star Wars canon shifting?

If you have a certain kind of brain, saying Visions is “riffing” on Star Wars and doesn’t “fit in the timeline” makes it non-canon — and that’s that. But that kind of thinking is also a little closed-minded.

After all, Grand Admiral Thrawn, at the center of Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, was rebooted specifically for canon by Star Wars Rebels, with much of his original backstory carrying over, even though he’d previously been exiled to non-canon purgatory following the 2014 rebrand.

Fans generally had one idea about the backgrounds of the Mandalorians and Jango Fett, until The Mandalorian gave them another by making that canon more complex. The existence of Chewbacca’s family from the non-canon Star Wars Holiday Special was slightly apocryphal, but then in Solo it appeared some version of them does exist in canon.

Because perspectives are changing all the time in more recent iterations of Star Wars, it’s possible to present various stories about the same event, but with divergent conclusions about its outcome. And it’s additionally possible that characters within Star Wars can spin tall tales that veer slightly away from reality: both to other characters and, if they’re narrating a Star Wars project, to the audience.

From Boba Fett’s point of view, Luke is just some jerk who kicked him in the face. But from Mando’s point of view, Luke is Grogu’s new babysitter. In The Force Awakens, Rey thinks Luke Skywalker is a myth. Then, in The Last Jedi, Luke weaponizes the oral tradition of storytelling to help spread intentionally hyperbolic stories about himself and create hope through the galaxy.

A cryptic shot from one of the upcoming Star Wars: Visions installments. Is this a familiar X-wing? Or will this story feature all-new characters? Lucasfilm

Star Wars as meta-fiction

The larger point is that multiple layers of stories exist within the fictional narrative of Star Wars, and it’s possible that some of the tales in Visions can still exist as meta-fictional “texts” (or oral stories) within Star Wars itself. Who’s to say some version of Kamikaze Douga’s The Duel in Visions doesn’t exist within the pages of Jedi texts? And, if that’s the case, perhaps some version of it “really” happened.

When we accept that Star Wars has its own internal mythology within its world-building, nearly everything presented as non-canon could re-enter the canon in this way, presented as stories these characters tell one another.

In some ways, Lucasfilm laid the groundwork for this maneuver. They didn’t call the EU “non-canon Star Wars,” instead referring to those older books and comics as “Legends,” meaning their canonicity is more up for debate than perhaps some hardline fanboys care to admit. Besides, Star Wars: Visions isn’t called Star Wars: A Bunch of Stuff That Doesn’t Really Count. Even its title suggests a broader view of what Star Wars’ approach to storytelling could be.

Hopefully, when Star Wars: Visions starts streaming, discourse around the meaning of Star Wars canon will shift. All these tales from a galaxy far, far away are fantastical already, so who’s to say what counts and what doesn’t? Sure, inventions like the Rebels episode “The World Between Worlds” could imply a literal Star Wars multiverse. But Visions' new spectrum of stories doesn’t even need that.

What’s interesting about Visions is that all it has to do to succeed is deliver good Star Wars stories. If Visions is embraced by audiences, whether its episodes are canon or not won’t make a difference. Other than offering entertainment value, maybe Visions will be a wake-up call to fans splitting hairs over the official chronology of this sweeping fictional universe. After all, to crib a wisdom from Obi-Wan Kenobi, the “canon” we care about depends greatly on our own point of view.

Star Wars: Visions hits Disney+ on September 22, 2021.

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