Star Wars is considered one of the best sci-fi franchises in all of Hollywood, and the series has maintained its reputation to this day. It has become easier to expand the IP than ever before thanks to Disney+, and The Mandalorian proved as much was true. Nowadays, Star Wars: Visions is up to bat for the franchise, and fans are rightfully calling the anthology one of the series’ most ambitious projects to date.
Not long ago, ComicBook.com had the chance to speak with some of the creatives behind Star Wars: Visions. Producers James Waugh and Kanako Shirasaki chatted with us about the various challenges an anthology like this presents. As for the case, stars Masi Oka and Jordan Fisher spoke about their individual roles and their mindset as they joined the Star Wars franchise.
Want to see what they think? You can find the interviews below, and if you have questions, hit us up over on Twitter @ComicBook!
Question: James, what were the seeds of Star Wars: Visions? How did it first start getting discussed, and how was this anthology structure decided upon?
James Waugh: We’ve all worked on this in a really hurriedly stressful time with COVID. Hopefully, it’s as cool as we think it is.
This really started from love. I got to be honest. Anime has really influenced a lot of us at Lucasfilm. We’re all fans. I think you can see that as someone who’s a Star Wars fan, you probably see that in a lot of animation work and a lot of work we do across the board. So I think we’ve always loved the idea of it. And just seeing Star Wars expressed in that 2-D style that’s very specific to Japan was something that felt to us like, wow, that would be amazing. It’s no-brainer. And the challenge is. What do you do? And what’s the story?
Ultimately, we wanted to do this for a long time. We didn’t know how to do it. Then Disney+ became a reality. And with Disney+, we had to really rethink what it means to tell a Star Wars story, and what opportunities do we have to explore Star Wars in ways that we were not thinking of in our more feature driven model?
It was not hard for us to easily just … Well, what ended up happening is a lot of us were saying, “Boy, that would be amazing. Gosh, who do we partner with? What do we do?” At a certain point, Kathleen Kennedy kind of stepped in and as a fan of anime, said, “Well, what are we just talking about this for? Why don’t we go meet these studios? Go explore, go see what we get. Let’s do that.”
We talked a lot about how we want to really not do this in a traditional way, where we just sort of need them to tell. We wanted to really … As an anime fan, you get it. We want to lean into their unique talent and their unique vision and imagination versus trying to force a Western sensibility there.
We decided to create Visions as a framework. We took a bunch of pitches. We partnered with Kanako and Justin Leach of Qubic Pictures, who we had a relationship with and having great relationships with these studios. We knew these studios were really interesting … to go to. And we just got amazing pitches.
And the anthology [part] really came about when we looked at a lot of riches and went, “Oh, I don’t even know where to start.” We want to do all of these. And what great storytellers and creators. And then we realized what was great about the selection we had is they’re all very different, intentionally chosen to be very different in tone and style. And maybe this could be a great survey for people who are anime fans and know the breadth of the content, but also for fans that are Star Wars fans that have never given anime the chance that they … They have never dived in and are missing out, to showcase all of it. So that’s my long rambling story, but it’s been a long process of years, the truth.
Question: Kanako, where did you kind of come into this process and kind of embrace the anthology structure of this anime series?
Kanako Shirasaki: I think I was like, what will [the studios be] pitching? When the Japanese studios started pitching ideas to Lucasfilm … I was so surprised how diverse they are, and I was thrill. This was going to be great if we can make it happen.
I feel like the anthology style was the best to showcase the diversity of Japanese anime. For the general audience, you might have very specific idea of anime could be, or anime should look like. But from these ideas, we felt like we could definitely tell, or introduce different distinctive perspective, or art styles, or storytelling. I’m very happy that we landed on this anthology platform.
Question: It is insane to see how the medium has exploded, not just in the Western hemisphere, but globally. Anime is one of the biggest entertainment mediums that’s out there. And it’s finally starting to get its recognition due in the United States, in Europe, in all of these countries. I wanted to know for both of you, James and Kanako, why do you think right now was the best time to bring anime into the fold of Star Wars?
Waugh: It is like the perfect time when it comes just the zeitgeists of the world. I think that we were … Again, it’s so funny, because so much of this stuff comes from fandom. We loved the work.
I think maybe it’s safe to say that the culture globally has finally caught up to what was going on in Japan for a very long time now. I mean, it’s funny. The first anime I saw was Ghost in the Shell in ’96, and then I just went down a rabbit hole with Perfect Blue, and it never ended. This stuff has been brewing for a long time. I think Star Wars is an imaginative place. It’s full of very similar storytelling values as a lot of anime and the potential to do amazing cinematic things.
I think the time is right to fuse these things. But how we did it, we did it from a fan perspective. It seems like, yes, this was a genius, strategic stroke, given how big the anime community is growing, but that was never the intention. It was, we loved these creators, and we kind of wanted to see what they would do.
Shirasaki: I think we were very fortunate because for the generation [of] veteran directors, they saw Star Wars: Episode IV in the theater when they were teenagers. And for younger directors … they saw episode one, the theater when they were teenagers.
Star Wars has a long history, inspiring creators all over the world, we have a rich generations of being inspired from Star Wars. And I think we just happened to be at this time that we just had this project, and then to showcase the Japanese anime in a world through Star Wars.
Question: And do you think that there’s more room in the Star Wars universe to explore anime?
Waugh: Personally? Yes. Absolutely. We’ll see what happens. Let’s see how the response is this anthology, and I hope it’s as positive as your experience, which makes me really happy we did.
Question: The first thing that I have to ask after watching Star Wars: Visions, which is amazing, I’m one of those anime nerds that has always wanted this, is how do you feel getting to join the Star Wars universe?
Jordan Fisher: It’s incredible. It doesn’t feel real.
Question: What was your first reaction when you knew you were going to be able to join the universe?
Fisher: I can’t do it right now. It’s too loud, but it was… The decibels were up there. No, it truly feels serendipitous because I’m a diehard anime fan. I’ve been my whole life and a diehard Star Wars fan. I’ve read all of the books, cannon and non, I just have loved Star Wars for such a long time. And to see these worlds come together and to be a part of it, that’s a whole other… I’m a fan first.
Question: What is it specifically about your role in Star Wars: Visions and in your short, that really drew you in as an actor to your character?
Fisher: Dan’s nurture. He’s a younger guy that has most likely gone through some stuff and chose the high route. I have a… I can relate to that personally, seeing people in my life, family members, siblings, whatnot for me, make terrible choices and you go, you know what, I want to be totally different. Dan has a real evident moral compass, and I think seeing that fleshed out in a padawan, as opposed to a master. This master, I don’t know if you felt the same way, or your love for Star Wars is, but it felt very early Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan to me. At a very young, again he reminds me of a young Obi-Wan, definitely strong. You can tell that he just has a knack for being a Jedi and being a good Jedi and is very in tune with the Force and that poise and wisdom in a younger character is exciting.
That feels nice, especially I’m approaching 30 and I’ve been doing this for a minute and to have opportunities to play roles that are a little slower, a little calmer is frankly a very, it’s a sexy thing for an actor to make that transition. And I’m starting to feel that transition in a lot of projects that I’m taking on these days. It’s a good feeling. And so to be able to find a mile marker with Star Wars and with it being Visions and being anime and it’s a whole thing.
Question: What do you feel like as a fan Star Wars: Visions adds to the universe? And what can fans expect from it?
Fisher: It adds culture. Anything that’s anime is Japanese. And so it’s going to start that way. Anything that comes out of it is going to be Eastern made. And that is beautiful. I love the fact that Star Wars is incorporating opportunity for culture to be reflected within the confines of the universe, these high ceilings and walls. You could do a whole bunch of stuff in the Star Wars space and it technically makes sense, but I think that it being anime and it’d be nine individual unique stories given to a bunch of different studios to come up with their own concepts and how it’s supposed to look and sound and feel like I think is a really exciting thing. I’m excited for everyone to watch all of them. And I encourage people that maybe start with the English dub to go back later and go watch the Japanese version as well, the original version. And just so people have an opportunity to understand what anime’s supposed to feel like it and sound like. It’s a cool entry for new fans.
Question: And personally, I have to ask, what would you say is your favorite anime?
Fisher: Okay. All the time, body of work, just what it’s done for me following it since 2002, Naruto. Yeah, it’s great. I’d say that if I had to start fresh and I had a clean slate and I just started watching anime and I knew everything that I do now, probably Hunter x Hunter. I think it’s a perfect show.
Question: First, how do you feel having gotten the chance to join the Star Wars universe? That’s the biggest thing that I think is kind of hard to wrap my head around, is that we have Star Wars and we have anime together at last.
Masi Oka: I think it’s amazing. First of all, being Japanese, I grew up on animation and I grew up on Star Wars. So my two childhood dreams coming together and collaborating is just so fantastic. And the point is they did it right. They did an amazing job. And you never thought about the Star Wars franchise, because it feels discarded. It’s like, “Oh, how much can they do?” They gave so much creative leeway to the Japanese creators and allowed them to do what they wanted to do. So it was just so wonderful to see that and it’s just truly an honor to be part of it as well.
Question: What was your reaction seeing the kind of authentic effort put into making this anime project as real and as authentic as possible?
Masi Oka: I was definitely honored and humbled. It’s always great. Anime… Food, culture, technology, but definitely anime and manga is one of the big exports for Japan, and our people and the world know. And to have Disney go back, and have Lucasfilm go to Japan and talk to the creators and ask them to be part of this, I think that just shows a lot of respect. Just as a fan of anime and just being Japanese, we really appreciate that. I’m just proud to be part of this.
Question: I wanted to ask you, from a fan perspective, what do you think that Star Wars: Visions brings specifically to the franchise itself?
Masi Oka: I think it brings imagination and unlimited possibilities. Ironically, when I teach improv I always say the imagination of one human being is limited, but when you collaborate, it’s limitless. It’s unlimited possibilities when it comes from “yes” and collaboration. And this just showed that. You would never expect anime to be part of Star Wars, so when Disney had that vision, literally, and got [to doing it]. It created something that has never existed before, and now opened up the franchise, the world, and the imagination of fans all around the world. I think that’s what it shows.
Question: Our final question is specific to your character in Star Wars: Visions. What was it specifically that really kind of gravitated towards you?
Masi Oka: I think the idea of his journey. When you’re expecting one thing, and then you realize something different is destined for you, but you always change that destiny. I think there’s something about that. It’s that everything’s always a learning process, and there are a lot of things. I think that’s something that we learn as actors, there’s never a finished product. You’re always constantly learning. You’re aLways never the perfect Jedi, in that sense. I think that journey just has become for Ethan, and very excited to follow it.