‘Star Wars: Visions’ Director Talks ‘Screecher’s Reach’ and Why It Anchors Volume 2: ‘We Said the Bad Guy’s Got to Be an American’

In a conversation with TheWrap, Paul Young also discusses the animated short’s bleak ending and casting Anjelica Huston

Screecher's Reach

“Star Wars: Visions” takes fans of a galaxy far, far away to truly uncharted areas.

The series of animated shorts, the second volume of which just came out on Disney+, lets animation studios from around the world interpret the beloved property in a way that is true to the studio and their culture. And the very best of Volume 2 is undoubtedly “Screecher’s Reach,” which hails from Irish studio Cartoon Saloon (“Wolfwalkers,” “Song of the Sea”). It follows a group of orphans on a backwater planet being cruelly governed by the Empire. One night, they decide to sneak out but one has a terrifying secret – that she will face a wraith in a cave called Screecher’s Reach and will end up changing her life forever.

TheWrap spoke to director Paul Young on how the studio collided with Lucasfilm and what it was like working with living legend Anjelica Huston, who voices a mysterious figure who tests our young hero in the most devious way.

How did this process happen? Did you pitch Lucasfilm? Did they reach out?

Yeah. And well, it was funny because I’ve been a producer in the studio for a long time, since we started because I co-founded the studio with Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey. And it’s sometimes joke that it was I became the producer, just because I kind of was the first person sitting by the phone. I started answering the calls.

But I was an illustrator and an animator in itself, and then met the guys in animation college as well. Nora and Tomm were encouraging me to direct. Around that time, I was developing an idea for a science fiction feature film that I would direct. And Jackie Lopez from Lucasfilm called up out of the blue and says, “Would you be interested in doing a ‘Star Wars’ short?” That’s really interesting, I’d love to do it myself. And Tomm and Nora were very encouraging and were really excited about that. And we pitch them ideas.

In the end, we had a few different ideas. And there was one idea that really we all knew was kind of strongest idea that had the better hook, was this idea about what would happen if [it was set in] the cave from “Empire Strikes Back” where Luke faces himself. It’s very much a hero’s journey beat. And what was what if it was actually a test, not just in the mind but what if there was somebody really in there. That was an idea [writer] Jason Tammemägi had. Or maybe he came up with it and came in the next morning saying, “I just had this dream about this last night,” where he kind of had an argument with himself. It was just that was an interesting hook.

And then there was other ideas we had floating about, like, what if what if you were in a sector of the galaxy far, far away, that really was so removed, nobody there would know anything about Jedi or Sith, like, these kids have no idea about this. And they would have no idea who she was. And she could present herself in any way she likes. That’s what we played with a little bit. And also drawing a little bit on a kid who fails to have a ticket out of the small town. Yeah, the chance to get out of here. And he’s been keeping a secret from her friends. That’s I related to that coming from a small town, wanting to go to university and maybe some of my friends who didn’t, and then not really wanting to gloat about being able to go away to Art University in Belfast. It was like a mixture of things that I related to, dial in that way, even though she had a very different ticket out there. But she certainly was keeping something secret from her pals.

The end of the short is really stirring and dark. Was there any conversation at Lucasfilm about making it a happier ending?

No not at all. There was a bit of back and forth about it shouldn’t be an uplifting ending, and we’re going well, maybe there’s a bit of hope when she turns around at the end and maybe there’s hope she’s going to come back to see your friend. And even within my own crew, some people resent ah, nobody’s going to like her, they’re going to think she’s terrible, leaving her friends but from the very because I understood this, I understood the beats. I knew that people will understand that she’s been given offered this thing, but not until she goes through the test. Does she really know what she’s in for? And then she’s under pressure to really go.

I think people could have certain empathy for her that she’s been given this chance to get somewhere. Do you take it or do you stay and get complacent? She was tricked a little bit. And she’s caught up in the moment and she has a horrible thought that I can take my pals with me. She knows, I think, that she can’t.

There’s some sort of test testament – if I pass this test, I get to get out of here. And she asks beforehand, look, have you ever? You know, she has this sort of hypothetical question with, if you are ever offered a chance to go, would you leave? And he gives her permission, of course. And if you do go, so it’s like, okay, she’s kind of being sly and seeking kind of permission. So she’s a bit sly, because she’s lying to her pals a little bit, but it’s a little bit of an adventure there going on as well. And she doesn’t quite know what’s happening.

And yeah, I think it’s interesting in any way, like the twist that we played on that. She’d been groomed without her friends knowing. In Ireland, there’s these religious medals, most Catholics around the world will be familiar with, like the little religious medals, maybe that people give you that maybe parents or grandparents give you to protect you. Some people have these little medallions of the Virgin Mary or Mother Mary. We like to play on that finlience. Because also, the way the way we wanted her to feel like coming out of the starship, which to the kids is going to feel like that we’ve never seen anything like this. We wanted to present her like she’s an angel of some sort. This glorious mother coming down to take one of the kids away who are orphans. Why wouldn’t you go? And then maybe that’s why she presents herself in this way – like she’s some kind of religious icon.

Can you talk about casting Anjelica Huston?

When we were talking about the cast, we had tried out a few people in in Ireland here. But I really thought oh, if one accent isn’t Irish, this was where … I thought it was really cool that we can cast only Irish voices. That was the other thing.

It’s like, we have it’s a “Star Wars” film, that’s out in the ether, that has got some Irish kids in it, along a bit of an Irish flavor. For the foreigner, usually the bad guys are all English. They put in English actors. We said the bad guy’s got to be an American. It’s quite interesting, just a different accent.

But then I think actually somebody mentioned it on a call with an agent who was also the agent of Anjelica Huston says, “Maybe we should think about Anjelica, she might like this.” And it seemed like the most obvious thing, then, you know, because she also has connections in Ireland. Her father was such a champion of Irish film, he lived here for a long time and shot quite a few movies here and helped the government set up a good film program and things like that. And I think she spent a lot of her school years in Ireland. So yeah, there’s a certain connection there, which was cool. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get much time to hang out and have a cup of tea or anything with her because it was all done over Zoom.

“Star Wars: Visions” is on Disney+ now.