“Star Wars” has always been about fighting fascist dictatorships, right from the very beginning when George Lucas was inspired by the Vietnam War to present a story of fighting an evil empire. But the last decade has seen the franchise expand on that idea, delving into the history of the Rebellion with more direct real-world connections and stories of rebellion and sacrifice while more directly confronting the fascist side of the Empire. So when Academy Award winner Gabriel Osorio Vargas (“Bear Story”) and studio PunkRobot were asked to submit a ‘Star Wars’ story that was uniquely Chilean for the second season of ‘Star Wars: Visions’, there was no was another topic to explore.
“The colonization story is central to the ‘Star Wars’ universe and it’s something we identify with,” Osorio Vargas told IndieWire of “In the Stars,” the season’s Emmy nominee for Outstanding Short Form Animated Program , which takes inspiration from the history of colonization of the people in southern Patagonia, one of the last places in Latin America to be colonized. “This is a very recent and brutal history that marks and defines us, so we wanted to save that history and reflect the resilience and resistance of those peoples against injustice.”
The result is one of the most touching stories told in the galaxy far, far away. “In the Stars” tells the story of two sisters on a planet conquered by the Empire, which has turned their lush forests and rivers into desolate wastelands for factories. Although the Force is part of the short, there are no Jedi who descend to save the day. Osorio Vargas is most inspired by the story of ordinary people rising up to fight the Empire, as in “Rogue One” and “Andor”, although “The Empire Strikes Back” made him fall in love with the franchise. “Seeing that the characters don’t have to be Jedi to be heroes, this is my favorite part of the universe to watch as a fan,” the animator said. “These are the characters and themes that I connect the most as a Latino.”
“In the Stars” speaks directly to the history of colonization in Latin America and the Selk’nam genocide, with the indigenous peoples of Patagonia serving as direct inspiration for the sisters’ design, their clothing, their city and their bond with nature. For Osorio Vargas, the short connects the past and present of Chile and Latin America, with the story of the city occupied and conquered by external forces reflecting the past and the Empire stripping the land of its resources and poisoning the water representing the present.
Chile is one of the few countries in the world where water is privatized while mining in the northern region of the country has seriously damaged the environment in recent years. “These are conversations and topics that are very current in Chile, so we wanted the short to talk about the importance of water as a vital and fundamental element.” Osorio Vargas explained, adding that the peoples of Patagonia were canoeists. “They lived with water and it was essential to them, so we wanted to reflect that in the story as a way to strengthen our history and our connection to nature.”
One way “In the Stars” keeps its story grounded in history and reality is through its animation style. The PunkRobot team wanted to bring the same sense of wonder as when you first see the AT-AT in “The Empire Strikes Back” or the holochess in the first movie. To achieve that look, the team referenced real locations and created physical sets which were then digitally scanned, while characters were CG created while emulating hand-made textures.
“We didn’t want to lie and trick you into thinking it was stop-motion, but to use CG and technology to make the short as handcrafted and analog as possible,” said Osorio Vargas. The team used software that allows for the simulation of physical paint, producing a wash effect you’d see in physical thumbnails to make the short film appear real and tactile.
Also important was the music, always an essential part of “Star Wars”. The team studied the music of John Williams but also Chilean contemporary folk music. Inti-Illimani and Los Jaivas were great inspirations for melodies and instruments, but they also looked elsewhere. “We didn’t want the music to be just about southern Chile, but to have a universal sound,” the animator told us. “We used instruments from all over the world with the hopes of creating a Latin American sound.”