On the surface level, 'Star Wars' as a franchise has been one that's been relatively dogmatic in its approach until very recently.
Sure, you had novels, games, comics, and the like, but there was only a handful of them that really dared to try something really different. It was more a case of colouring certain colours darker or brighter, but copying the same image over and over again. As reviled as Disney might be a small but vocal minority of 'Star Wars' fans, they have pushed the franchise into new places. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.
'Visions' is by far the boldest step that 'Star Wars' has taken in many years. Maybe ever, in fact. In a nutshell, each episode of the series is a brand new story that doesn't follow the rigid canon of the franchise and is written and directed by Japanese anime studios. Each episode has a different visual palette, and while some familiar characters and places may turn up, it's mostly original characters written and designed for that particular episode. The opening episode, 'The Duel', draws heavily on Kurosawa samurai movies and sees two Sith battle it out in a rural village. 'Tatooine Rhapsody', meanwhile, is a musical adventure (yes, really) that features a cameo by Jabba The Hutt and Boba Fett and a cracking song performed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. 'The Village Bride', meanwhile, is a haunting tale of violence, harmony, and love that would easily sit alongside something from Studio Ghibli. 'T0-B1' could be easily mistaken for an '80s anime based on a videogame.
The voice cast assembled for each of the episodes are completely committed to their performances and are impressively varied. Alison Brie and Neil Patrick Harris are clearly having a blast together in 'The Twins', with Brie doing full-blown anime screams. Kyle Chandler, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and 'SNL' alum Bobby Moynihan all turn up in an episode, as do a host of Asian-American / Asian-Canadian actors. Simu Liu, Henry Golding, Lucy Liu, James Hong, George Takei, and many others all voice characters and further adds to the fresh take on 'Star Wars'.
As well as this, the cultural lens of its creators informs each of the stories in 'Visions' and their execution. For example, 'The Twins' and 'The Ninth Jedi' both have high melodrama and heavy-handed signposting in their scripts that you tend to see in anime. 'The Duel', as mentioned, evokes samurai cinema. 'Tatooine Rhapsody' could easily be a J-rock music video. 'The Village Bride' has the folktale sincerity that has made the likes of 'My Neighbor Totoro' and 'Princess Mononoke' into beloved classics. Yet, there are further influences still. Swordsmiths, a frequent character in anime, make an appearance here. 'The Duel' takes it a step further and has a lightsaber with a samurai sword hilt.
When you consider that George Lucas frequently referenced samurai cinema in 'A New Hope' and directed Mark Hamill, David Prowse and Alec Guinness to consider the weight of the lightsaber the same as a samurai sword, 'Visions' feels as though the circle is now complete.