It’s finally out and I’m currently watching my way through them. I’ve only watched the first 2 so far. I really loved season 1 which was mostly animated by Japanese anime studios, but one of its flaws was that a lot of the shorts felt like they didn’t have a long enough runtime so those ones ended up feeling half-baked, only half of them really stuck with me. With this season’s shorts having a longer runtime I’m hoping that I won’t feel that way this time. Unlike last time when I didn’t watch these in chronological order, mostly because as an anime fan I was familiar with most of these studio’s output and the trailers gave a greater sense of what each piece was about, I’m mostly watching this in the order that it’s listed on Disney+ with 2 exceptions being Studio Mir’s Journey to the Dark Head and Aardman Animations I Am Your Mother as I love both of those studio’s works. Also spoilers for the 2 shorts I’m talking about below so don’t read if you haven’t seen these 2 yet.
The first of this season’s shorts is an absolutely stunning 3d animation piece by Spanish Animation Studio El Guiri directed and written by Rodrigo Blaas. It’s combined 3d with an absolutely gorgeous watercolor painterly style that fits the main protagonist who’s a former Sith apprentice turned painter. The first half of the short is a brilliant mood piece establishing her life of painting. The environment is completely washed out in white, but the splashes of color from the paintings keep it from feeling sterile. It feels serene but also lonely as she struggles with trying to keep darkness out of her painting. When the Sith show up at the halfway point the washed-out white landscape becomes saturated in blood orange shifting the mood to being more ominous. The speeder chase and the final lightsaber battle taking place in the dark hallway is short as she realizes and accepts that both dark and light exist within her. The ending really moved me especially when we get to see the finished painting at the end of her lightsaber while she leaves to forge her own destiny.
This is a haunting tale, both in the figurative and literal sense. Written by Will Collins & Jason Tammemagi and directed by Paul Young this short is about a group of children living in a work house who decide to travel to Screecher’s Reach a supposedly haunted cave. The animation by Cartoon Saloon, the Irish animation company behind the masterpieces The Secrets of the Kells, Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner and Wofwalkers, bring their signature style to craft a stunning short. If I had realized that this was the studio behind the shot I might’ve saved it for last. Right from the beginning when we follow a long tracking shot from the bottom to the top of the workhouse showing everything from the kids waking up to them mining crystals and spinning wheels to create steam, the animation is brilliant. As the kids travel we get amazingly wide shots of the landscape with the children appearing as small specs across the landscape. Once we get close to the cave it becomes clear that this whole section is inspired by the sequence from Empire Strikes Back when Luke goes into the cave, but this test is more literal. The main character has a medallion she calls upon for strength throughout the short and the sequence in the cave is suitably horrifying. The creature’s design is comprised of wispy black shadows and when we finally see it in full profile it’s clearly modeled off of a Banshee. It becomes clear that it’s no ghost but a Sith. The cave sequence ends with the main character using the Sith’s lightsaber to kill her as she struggles with what she had to do to survive. The ending of the short plays off of the expected narrative we usually see of a kid being tested by a kind master to become their apprentice and leave their former life behind, and is twisted here by the implication that the master, played by Angelica Huston who I did not know was going to be voicing a character, is a Sith. The score is also really beautiful and haunting and I don’t think the final shot of the main characters tear struck face looking out the doorway of the Sith spaceship as it closes is going to stick with me for a long time.
2 shorts down and I’m really enjoying this season. Both are playing with the narrative of a Sith and their apprentice but take extremely different approaches to them. Both also end on strong emotional notes and if this season can keep up its quality it might be better than the first.