THIS week, audiences get the chance to see Star Wars with an Irish twist.
The second season of the animated show Star Wars: Visions lands on Disney + on May 4. The second episode, Screecher’s Reach, is directed by Paul Young, one of the founders of Cartoon Saloon, and written by Cork screenwriter Will Collins, who was behind the script for the Oscar-nominated Wolfwalkers.
The first season of Star Wars: Visions was inspired by Japanese storytelling, and different Japanese animation studios made each episode. For season two, the makers decided to widen the storytelling and asked several prominent international animation studios to make an episode influenced by their local culture and history.
Young, who founded Cartoon Saloon with Cork woman Nora Twomey and Tomm Moore, stepped into the director’s chair for the first time. He says the time was right to move from producer to director. Star Wars: Visions provided the perfect opportunity.
“Nora and Tomm had been encouraging me to direct. I produced their films and own the studio with them, and my intention was always to direct, but then 20 years went by, and I was still producing. Nora and Tomm said, you’re always talking about it, so why don’t you come up with something to direct?”
Young started to wonder what a Cartoon Saloon sci-fi film might look like when an unexpectedly timely call came from LucasFilm executive Jacqui Lopez, asking Cartoon to produce an episode of Visions.
“Jacqui asked if we would be interested in doing a Star Wars episode, and when I said I was thinking of directing, she said it would be wonderful if I wanted to do it myself. They were very good to trust a first time director.
“One of the biggest selling points for me was I could go to Skywalker Ranch in California (LucasFilm’s studio) to do the sound and postproduction. Working on a Star Wars project as a first-time director was quite nerve-racking, but being able to go over there at the end was wonderful.”
Young says he could turn to Twomey and Moore, who have directed all the studio’s previous work, for advice and support. Twomey, of Midleton, acted as executive producer on the new show.
“When we are at the script stage, everybody reads them and gives notes. It’s very collaborative in the studio; we work with each other as closely as possible, especially around that initial story and concept stage.
“As a new director, I was lucky to have so much experience supporting the decisions and choices. I was in good hands with the crew.”
Castlemagner writer Will Collins is no stranger to Cartoon Saloon. As well as co-writing the script for Wolfwalkers, he wrote the script for the animation studio’s previous Oscar-nominated film, Song Of The Sea. Collins collaborated with Jason Tammemägi on the script for their latest outing, and Young says he always looks forward to working with Collins.
“Jason joined us as a producer not long before we started working on this, but we have worked with Will for a long time, so there is a shorthand there. Will is a very talented writer, but he is also great fun, and you know when you speak with him, you will have really interesting conversations.
“LucasFilm asked us to pitch them a couple of ideas, which we did, but there was one we liked best: a twist of the Cave of Evil in The Empire Strikes Back. They liked the pitch immediately, and we were generally given free rein to make it.”
Each episode of the series is a contained story, and the Irish one sees a ragtag bunch of friends embark on an adventure to get away from the daily grind of working in a rural workhouse.
Screecher’s Reach reunites Cartoon Saloon with Eva Whittaker, who voiced Mebh, the young wolf walker in critically acclaimed 2021 film, Wolfwalkers. Young says she was the perfect actor to play Daal, who leads her friends on the adventure.
“Eva is great because even when she was young and working on Wolfwalkers, she understood the story and what we were trying to do. She is a natural storyteller as well.
“The best actors are people who understand the script and understand the scene, actors who know what is going on and instinctively know how to play (the scene).
Most of the cast is Irish, and it is a real treat to hear Irish voices in a Stars Wars film, but one expression initially ruffled some feathers.
“We managed to fit in a very Irish phrase which involved using the word arse. We did have to talk about the standards and practices of people at LucasFilm and explain to them that we really wanted to use it because of its cultural significance. It was almost a matter of cultural respect that we were allowed to keep it in.”
The film also stars Hollywood legend Angelica Hueston, and Young says she was a wonderful addition to the voice cast.
“It was awesome to cast her, not just because she is a great actor but also because she has Irish heritage. She went to school here, and her dad John (the director), was very influential in the success of the Irish film industry due to the number of movies he shot here, so it was lovely to have her on something like this.”
Star Wars: Visions streams on Disney + from May 4.