StarWars.com speaks with co-executive Producer Justin Leach for insight into some of the newest villains we’ll face in the upcoming Disney+ anime anthology series.
Star Wars is going to a new galaxy of storytelling. Star Wars: Visions, an anime anthology featuring nine shorts from some of the world’s best anime creators, is set to debut September 22 on Disney+. With Inside Star Wars: Visions, StarWars.com will pull back the curtain on the series for exclusive early insights into what might await us. In this installment, StarWars.com finds out about some of the starring villains.
To become the hero they were meant to be, the protagonists of the new anthology series, Star Wars: Visions, must face an array of dark side disciples and Sith villains on their quests.
The unique take on Star Wars storytelling includes never-before-seen expressions of lightsabers and weaponized armor designed by the foremost minds in the world of anime. Recently, StarWars.com sat down with co-executive producer Justin Leach for his take on five of the most fearsome villains who will spring to terrifying life in the forthcoming new series.
Spoiler warning: This article discusses characters and story details from Star Wars: Visions.
The Elder, “The Elder”
The titular character in “The Elder” from Trigger studio is a mysterious warrior with ancient and sinister origins. “He is a master swordsman seeking worthy adversaries,” says Leach. “Even though his appearance is that of an aged old man, he moves gracefully and effortlessly against any opponent.” But in the short by the same name, the Elder comes up against a foe few have successfully defeated -- time itself -- and must face his own mortality.
Although many of the biggest villains in Star Wars lore are aligned with the Sith, the Elder’s aspirations lie elsewhere. “While he appears very Sith-like, he is clearly more focused on mastering his skills than following their ideology,” Leach says. His story is sure to keep fans guessing and, “since his motivations seem to be more about mastering his skill in combat and less about gaining power, this adds a new dimension to the Sith archetype.”
Character designer Kamome Shirahama is no stranger to the Star Wars galaxy, having previously illustrated the concepts for the ARTFX Artist Series Kotobukiya statuettes of Rey and Kylo Ren. A well-known manga artist in Japan, Shirahama infused the spirit of classic anime, Star Wars myth, and the ways of the Samurai into one cohesive design, Leach says. “The Elder’s katana-shaped lightsaber is a wonderful tribute to the original source material that inspired Star Wars,” Leach says of the character’s dual blades.
As for the Elder himself, “the etched wrinkles on his face, his sinister, toothy grin, combined with piercing black and yellow eyes gives him a truly dark and menacing impression.”
Am, “The Twins”
We previously met Karre from Trigger’s “The Twins,” which follows the story of two dark side siblings. Now, meet his sister, Am. “Am is consumed by her desire for power, and blind to the danger she faces,” Leach says, in sharp contrast to her brother who made his own choice to walk away from his upbringing.
Am is ambitious and extremely powerful, a master of the dark side of the Force who wields her power through a unique set of weaponized armor. “Seeing Am take action in her special dark armor suit is truly a unique expression of the dark side,” Leach says.
And even with her brother’s encouragement and example, “Am struggles to find the right balance. Her brother, Karre, cares deeply for Am and he tries his best to save her from destruction.”
To bring these twins to life, character designer Shigeto Koyama created a brand-new take on a Sith overlord, melding elements of Darth Vader’s life-supporting suit, classic anime details, and the Trigger aesthetic. “She has a special dark armor suit, that when combined with a special Kyber crystal, gives her unique saber-wielding powers,” Leach says, including extra appendages to wield an array of lightsabers that can take the shape of a blade or a whip. “It is an incredible spectacle to behold in action.”
But beyond her appearance, Am’s character moves beyond the typical Sith Lords of the past. “Am takes being a Dark Lord to the next level with her drive, ambition, and skill on a scale that could only be expressed through anime,” Leach promises. “It flips the classic Star Wars twins upside down in a way that is new and exciting.”
Destiny is immutable, or at least that's what some dark-side users would have us believe. And Masago, who we meet in Science Saru’s “Akakiri,” is certainly among them.
Her strength is echoed in every element of her bold character design, from designer Naoyuki Asano. “With a great deal of strength and weight in the design, her broad shoulders and physical presence are palpable. Her red eyes, imbued with the dark side of the Force, create the impression of a soul full of darkness, ambition, and hunger for power.”
But like so many before her, beyond conquest, Masago also seeks allies, hoping to convince others to join her side by spouting her philosophy that, to paraphrase Darth Vader himself, it is their destiny. “Like other great villains within the Star Wars universe, she believes in this principle and uses it as an argument against her enemies when she tries to recruit them.”
Sith Bandit Leader, “The Duel”
An homage to the Japanese tradition of female samurai warriors of feudal Japan called “Onna-Musha,” the Sith Bandit Leader from “The Duel” is “a cool and cunning assassin reminiscent of the famous female warrior from Japanese cinema in the ‘70s, Lady Snowblood,” Leach says.
At first glance, it’s clear that this woman is a force to be reckoned with, a powerful presence realized through careful line work. “[Designer] Okazaki-san’s passion and love for Star Wars comes across clearly in his designs and The Bandit Leader in no exception,” Leach notes, a skillful combination of traditional Japanese culture and Star Wars mythology.
“His meticulous attention to detail is expressed through the efforts of Kamikaze Douga,” Leach adds, a unique, hand-drawn, black and white short with pops of color accents that make it stand out from the rest.
In a storyline reminiscent of Seven Samurai, the hero Ronin meets the Sith Bandit Leader and her cronies in a camp, forcing Ronin to take action to aid the helpless villagers nearby.
Glimpsed in a trailer for the anthology, the Sith Bandit Leader wields a lightsaber unlike any we’ve seen before. “She has a very special type of lightsaber umbrella that can turn her lightsaber into a weapon capable of defensive and offensive maneuvering,” Leach says.
Whether she’s fighting a solitary warrior or a band of bounty hunters, her weapon and her fighting prowess give her an edge in battle, sharing similarities with another powerful Sith fighter: Darth Maul. “The Sith Bandit Leader is a fresh take on the classic Sith Villain expressed through dynamic action and fighting sequences not seen, perhaps, since Darth Maul faced Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace.”
The Inquisitor, “T0-B1”
A simple droid pretending to be a Jedi instead invites the wrath of an Inquisitor roaming the galaxy to hunt down all Jedi who remain after Order 66, in Science Saru’s “T0-B1.”
Like other Inquisitors that have come before, this new hunter is a powerful, menacing representation of the dark side of the Force, seeking to eliminate and snuff out all that remains of the light.
Designed by Takafumi Hori, an accomplished animator in Tokyo whose work has been seen in both Japanese and US productions like Steven Universe, Kill La Kill, and Samurai Shamploo, his latest villain is a stylish and expressive character. “His design is reminiscent of a medieval black knight with modern details,” Leach says, pointing to the glowing red line insinuating eyes concealed behind his helmet.
There’s a primal element to the Inquisitor, an instinctive menace that is expressed in the short through the animation style. “As he fights, he becomes more animal-like, exposing a mouth full of teeth as he screams in anger.”
And through this hunter, the titular T0-B1 will search within himself “to find the independence and strength he needs to grow.”