Masi Oka’s life in the Star Wars Universe has come full circle. When he was fresh out of college, he took a job with Industrial Light & Magic as a digital and visual effects artist working on the Star Wars prequels. Now, the actor is voicing a Jedi in the new anime-inspired Star Wars series, Visions.
“Oh, it’s truly an honor and a dream come true,” said Oka during a Zoom call with The Nerds of Color. “You know, I went to Ireland because I loved Star Wars so much. My first job coming out of college was working for the Star Wars prequels. [It] is pretty awesome. And, now to be able to be part of it as an actor is definitely a dream come true so just to see it all, all come full circle — what more can you ask for?”
Playing a young Jedi named Ethan in the episode “The Ninth Jedi,” Oka feels excited to be part of the collaboration between Lucasfilm and Production I.G., the studio behind the episode — especially since both mediums shaped who he is today.
“Being Japanese, I grew up on anime and manga,” Oka shared. “Being fluent in Japanese, I still read and watch it. So that was a huge part of my childhood, as was Star Wars. Star Wars was the first movie I saw. It was the first VHS I bought. Both things influenced who I am, who I was, and who I am right now. And to see both of them come together and create this whole new world is, it’s just truly amazing.”
We chat more with Oka about “The Ninth Jedi,” the importance of authenticity, and how Star Wars has changed since first working on the prequels.
“The Ninth Jedi” is such a sweet story of rebuilding the Jedi Order and establishing a new order for the Jedi. What drew you to this story?
Oka: There’s two things. One, it’s about building a new order. The Star Wars that we grew up with is different from the Star Wars [of] this generation and the next generation. The whole idea that the new world can always be rebuilt. I think that’s something of the story that is a cyclical cycle and the nature of the Jedi order and also creativity in general. I thought that was really interesting. I just loved the idea that one of my childhood dreams is to wield a lightsaber, so to be able to wield a lightsaber via Ethan was definitely just a fun experience.
In “The Ninth Jedi,” you play Ethan — a Force-empowered Jedi who senses the Force and wants to wield a lightsaber. What’s going through his mind as he tries to figure out his place as a Jedi in a world where there really aren’t any Jedi?
I don’t know. I think there’s a lot of things for him to figure out. They did message him and find out there are others who came [to the same place]. They turned out to be more than meets the eyes. There’s always twists and turns. There’s so many twists and turns in this 20-minute short. I think it’s a fantastical journey that goes on.
I loved the story and how Juro was looking for Jedis or those strong with the light side of the force and the power that Kara has in this story. Each of the Visions episodes have several themes to it. What would you say is the theme to this story?
The theme for this story is probably just believe in yourself, and then you could accomplish anything in your way — against all laws. No matter what. If you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything in the world.
I love that Star Wars is trying new mediums especially in the anime world where Japanese culture heavily influenced the Star Wars universe. What was your first reaction regarding this new medium that touches on not only a fandom you love, but also a part of your cultural background.
I loved it. First of all, it is definitely an honor. It shows so much respect for both worlds. Kurosawa films were an inspiration for the Star Wars films, and Star Wars [has] inspired so many Japanese creators as well. I also think it speaks to the unlimited potential of the Star Wars universe. I always say the individual creativity has limitations, but when you collaborate, it has unlimited potential. And this collaboration with animation, which you don’t seemingly put together — Star Wars and anime, which is clearly a natural fit. But, when brought together — two worlds collide and great have this amazing chemistry and chemical reaction, it creates this whole new world. I just love the idea that collaboration brings unlimited potential to any creative.
I love that you touched on both worlds and how they inspired each other. Why is it important to have Japanese storytellers tell the stories in this universe that is directly inspired by their culture?
I think it’s important for authenticity. It’s weird because anime is everybody — it’s not just Japanese. As fans embrace it, it’s a part of who you are. It is a lifestyle in many ways, but to be able to go back to the Japanese creators who first inspired [it]. I think it’s an honor and respect. Import and export is a give and take of creativity and just brings it full circle. It’s just wonderful.
Star Wars means so much to so many people, especially given your history with the franchise. From the beginning of your time with the prequels, what changes have you seen in terms of inclusion and the storytelling from then until now?
Definitely inclusion. It’s also a reflection of the times now, which is great because you know you saw the sequels, Kelly Marie Tran, [Daisy] Ridley being a Jedi, and John Boyega being a Stormtrooper. Seeing all those new characters, that’s reflective of our society right now. So, if there happens to be an expansion of the world or happens to be another trilogy somewhere down the line, hopefully, that will also reflect the current world. I think Star Wars is great, even though it’s old — a tale far, far away — it’s definitely a reflection of the culture now.
What I love most about the culture of now is that we do see the voice actors in your episode be played by Asians. How does it feel to be kind of in this world of where they’re reflecting the cast and the voices of these characters?
I think it’s great and it makes sense. I hate to say that, but I hope it’s not an exception. [I hope] this is the norm. We’re proud of who we are and [that] everyone’s different. I hope we can embrace each other’s uniqueness and let us be who we are.
There’s so many different stories and studios that are incredible. Were there any studios that you were looking forward to most working with?
Oh yeah, I know the [Production] I.G. folks really well. I’m working on a couple projects with them. I’m a big fan of Attack on Titan and all that stuff that they’ve done. So it was just great when I got to be a part of it. It is Lucasfilm. It’s a great homecoming and a celebration among friends.
The series is getting rave reviews and likely a season two. What stories would you like to see going forward, regarding the Star Wars universe, especially in terms of more animations being made?
I don’t know if there’s anything specific. I would have to probably think about it as a creator myself. It’s just great to see more opportunities and I would love to see more. There’s all these other great animation studios in Japan, so I love to see more collaboration between different studios.
Star Wars: Visions is out now on Disney+.