The new Star Wars Visions can be streamed on Disney+, and audiences and fans will be able to find original stories inspired by the galaxy far, far away. Though Vol. 1 focused more on Kyber Crystals and tales of the Jedi, Vol. 2 tells the story of hope, oppression, and renewal against the backdrop of Star Wars.
In an interview with LeAndre Thomas — writer, director, and executive producer of The Pit and Arthell Isom, head of D’ART Shtajio, the first foreign-owned anime studio and the first Black-owned anime studio in Japan that animated the short — we talk about the themes, the anime style, how it draws its inspiration from the polarizing parts of American history, and what it means to be POC storytellers.
NOC: I’m glad i get to talk to you about what is one of the most inspirational stories in Star Wars: Visions Vol. 2. With Star Wars Visions Vol. 1 centering around Kyber Crystals and the war between the Jedi and Sith, Vol. 2 takes a detour from that to address the everyday people fighting their oppressors. Was that something you pitched originally or was that something the executive producers wanted from you?
LeAndre Thomas: Yeah, that’s a good question. And thank you for those those kind words. That’s a good observation about Vol. 1 being about, you know, kyber crystals, and having a lot of your stories focused around that lore. I think in this series, the approach is to have the filmmakers in the animation studios kind of write about whatever they feel like it moves them and stories that are connected to their perspectives and backgrounds, which is what Star Wars Visions is really great at. It’s a series that celebrates different perspectives in the Star Wars universe.
So for ours, like you mentioned, kind of rising against, you know, our oppressors. And those are themes that are very, very innately Star Wars. Right? That’s, that’s the core of what Star Wars is about. That is the war. Right? It’s the the rebellions and the empires and the oppression and oak. And that’s what we tried to focus on with the pits specifically, is those themes. And I think a lot of other shorts did something very similar, but we don’t really talk amongst each other. I know some people might be curious about that. There’s, there’s no kind of, you know, overall kind of concept that we all have to hit. I think the biggest overall note is that it has to be something meaningful. And it has to be something from our perspective. And that’s what we tried to do.
So how did you come to the decision to use this particular visual medium?
Thomas: The concept has a lot of duality in it right? You know, and that’s another popular Star Wars theme is kind of the tale of two, there’s a Yin and Yang happening with light and dark. And with these two different communities, it just felt, you know, two different communities going in opposite directions, right? This people going deeper and deeper in this pit. And these other civilians kind of rising, ascending higher and higher, was something that I felt that 2D really lends itself very well with the story like this, and just felt like that would be the correct medium to really serve that kind of story.
It didn’t feel like 3D or anything like that would be the appropriate kind of aesthetic. So that’s where we started. And then we kind of talked to different animation studios. And of course, when we got to D’ART Shtajio, and I got to talk to Arthell, and hear his background and talk to him and see all of their amazing work, I knew they were going to be the perfect fit. Because we were trying to do what we were trying to do is something different than we normally do in Star Wars. And we wanted a studio that can kind of reflect that and understanding what we’re trying to make.
Were there any other storylines that you wanted to squeeze into the short but couldn’t because of the runtime you were given?
Thomas: I don’t I don’t think so necessarily. Ours is very unique. You know, our short is very, very special in the sense that it’s a collaborative effort. And it kind of happened out of this moment, and 2020, based on this kind of raw and genuine feeling of being connected to Star Wars in that core that we talked about being kind of rising against oppressors. And that kind of happening a lot in 2020, or at least being on the front page in 2020. Of course, it’s still happening now in that environment, that’s where that idea kind of spawned.
We wanted to make an original story connected to the real world that affects so many people, not just in the U.S., but around the world. So that’s kind of where our idea came from. And, you know, working with Artel was the perfect match because like I said, he understood exactly what we were going through and coming from even though he’s based in Japan. He came from the States and the issues that happen here happen everywhere. So that’s something that we want that global perspective, to kind of reflect to.
Star Wars draws from history, and given all of the newsmaking events that happened before and around 2020, I was wondering if any of those helped influence The Pit?
Thomas: Like any production, there’s like an evolutionary process, right? There’s kind of a conception and working with Arthell, they had great suggestions, they had great ideas. And we collaborated together and it kind of evolved into its own kind of thing. But the story was very similar from the very first draft of the script, the has pretty much remained the same. And there’s some things that we kind of wanted to do to support that same kind of message.
We wanted to make the 2D animation kind of feel familiar and kind of be reminiscent of kind of older, nostalgic looking, anime the ones that Arthell and I kind of grew up watching. We wanted to feel kind of familiar and not new or cutting edge, because this is a very old message. So we wanted it to kind of match to that. So little things like that we kind of kind of skewed and tweaked along the way, like, pretty much any production.
Arthell Isom: We really wanted that kind of old kind of ’90s style anime feel to it. [LeAndre] was trying to convey the feeling and emotion. To go in line with the message that’s kind of relevant throughout whole story. I know that LeAndre wanted us to have really focus on like a thicker lines and a little bit more rougher lines around the characters and things like that. He wanted us to have a polished feel to the animation. He wanted everything to kind of have this feeling to also reflect the emotions that that he was hoping to convey throughout the story.
Since your short has such a powerful message, what do you hope other audience members or some new Star Wars fans get out of it?
Thomas: I think there’s a number of different things. One of them, we wanted to make an animated movie that just isn’t for kids, right? That’s, that’s a taboo that often we get labeled for animation. And we want to kind of, you know, make sure that this movie reflects everyone and not just, you know, a small, younger demographic. But at the same time, we also wanted people who are younger, to feel like they are empowered to spawn change, if they feel like they can.
Livy, the character in the story, she’s the youngest, she’s the smallest person in the Pit. And yet she’s the one that rallies everyone together, to kind of follow the light and to get to work on the solution. That’s something that has always been in themes of Star Wars, right? That the little person, the little guy, anyone can can reflect change. No matter who you are, it can come from you. And also just intuition and following your light and the light with inside you. Often that gets credited to the Jedi. When there’s a disturbance in the Force to have this special ability.
We want to remind people, especially younger people that they have that ability to in the real world, you know, we know when something doesn’t feel right, you have an intuition. You know, something speaks to you that says: “no, we should be doing things differently. And this isn’t the right thing to do.” And we want people to kind of remember that.
Isom: I want to add that with a message that I think is also in the story, this is cross generational. I think part of that the message is that we all kind of have a responsibility to the next generations of what’s happening in the world, like even though like, we could be older, younger, all of us are still like here, like now and the present. And each generation can help and can give information and can lead the next generation to a better place.
I think another great message is in this story is we always think that we need to do something by ourself or that only one person can go, help, right. And then, of course, people get people feel a lot of pressure with that, and maybe even get pressed get kind of inundated with that pressure like, “I’m the only person that can do something to get me out of this situation. No matter who you are.”
I think the message in this story is that you can, you can kind of ask for help. The greater community is there and a greater world is there. In this case, they leave their community and they go somewhere else to another community, and the community helps them even though they have nothing to do with what was happening there.
I think that that’s a super important message. We were talking about what was happening in 2020, and how everyone’s experiencing different hardships. And even though there might be something happening in the United States and there was something happening in Asia, everyone was able to know what was happening in someone else’s country. People shared that message and lend their energies.
As a site that works on covering POC in pop culture, what can you tell us about what it means to a Star Wars storyteller that happens to be POC and the impact it has on those who want to be in the industry?
Thomas: Yeah, it’s extremely important. I grew up kind of writing my own Star Wars stories, I like to tell people that when I was a kid, I wrote my own version of Episode VII, in a notebook, thinking at the time, that movie was never going to be made, though it was such a dream come true to work here. And to actually be able to work on the actual Episode VII, it felt like coming full circle, and kind of like high fiving myself in a way.
I used to doodle a lot. And I was always into the older animation from the ’80s an in the ’90s. I grew up watching Star Wars movies, and that had effect that it had on me, when I was younger. We have to continue that tradition to make sure you know, we’re still engaged with younger people and audiences everywhere, that we still connected to them, and that we’re still reflecting the current climate in the current world, on screen through our stories and our brand. That that’s, that was really important to me. And that’s kind of the approach I had coming into this.
Isom: Being in Japan, I think they understood we all grew up and have these ideas and wanted to see see different types of stories on TV and film. I think the great thing is that we do have these opportunities now. And, and also, I feel like the more that there’s just different types of stories being told, we can see that there are lots of young people who are inspired by these by these news stories, and then they want tell their story. And as we’re telling new stories, we see that we have all these different countries that are adding to the world of Star Wars, and with a different point of view. And I think that that a different point of view or a different cultural point of view. And, you know, and I think that, that helps everyone to know that. Yeah, there’s, there’s, there are other stories outside of what we know and what we’ve come to know. That’s just as interesting and, and yeah, and now there’s a there’s access to it.
The Pit, along with Star Wars Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are currently available to stream on Disney+.