The Acolyte is Star Wars at its best


Part wuxia epic and part pulp mystery novel, The Acolyte demonstrates what’s possible when Star Wars embraces new characters and genres while abandoning the Dark Side of nostalgia. There isn’t a Skywalker to be seen (at least in the four episodes I’ve watched), or any characters you’ve met before. It’s not trying to fill gaps in pre-existing lore. It’s simply a kickass Star Wars story, with perfectly executed action choreography, a bevy of talented actors and a story that feels genuinely fresh. And, best of all, you don’t have to be caught up on The Book of Boba Fett or 208 episodes of animated shows to enjoy it.

A major reason why The Acolyte feels so unique is that it comes from Leslye Headland, a writer and director with no prior association to Star Wars. As the co-creator of Russian Doll, she proved that she could juggle a fantastical premise with rich, multi-layered characters. Her outsider perspective is exactly what Star Wars needs to avoid feeling stale. It’s the counterpoint to the obsessive world-building from Dave Filoni, the George Lucas disciple behind The Clone Wars and many of the franchise’s TV shows.

The AcolyteThe Acolyte
Lucasfilm Ltd.

The Acolyte begins with a scene right out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: A lone warrior enters a bar, presents themself to the most powerful person there, and demands a fight. What follows is an expertly choreographed array of kicks, flips and Force-thrown knives, as the Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss), deflects her young attacker with effortless grace. “Who trained you?” She asks, echoing Michelle Yeoh’s first confrontation with Zhang Ziyi in Ang Lee’s film. (Yes, I got chills upon hearing that.)

I won’t say too much about the plot of The Acolyte, but briefly it involves a former Jedi trainee, Mae (Amandla Stenberg), who is suspected of committing a series of crimes. Her former Jedi Master, Sol (played by Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae), is tasked with tracking her down and figuring out what’s really going on. They’re also joined by his new padwan trainee, played by Dafne Keen (Logan), and the over-eager, by-the-book Jedi Master Yord (Charlie Barnett).

The AcolyteThe Acolyte
Lucasfilm Ltd.

What makes The Acolyte truly intriguing is the way it explores the role of the Jedi and their chokehold (heh) on Force powers in the Star Wars universe. Are they actually the keepers of the peace, or a group of fanatical monks aligned with whoever happens to be in power? Is there a legitimate path beyond the Jedi for someone Force-capable like Mae, without turning to the Dark Side? I don’t know how the series will answer these questions, but their existence alone is fascinating, as the broader franchise has seemed incapable of interrogating itself in recent years.

After The Rise of Skywalker brought the sequel trilogy to a disappointing close, Star Wars has mostly been mining nostalgia on Disney+ with varying levels of success. The Mandalorian started strong, but became bogged down with repetitive storytelling. The Book of Boba Fett was mostly forgettable, except for when it served as a bridge between season’s two and three of The Mandalorian. Nobody needed the Obi-Wan series, but it was nice to see Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen back in action.

The AcolyteThe Acolyte
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Ahsoka and Andor were the most uniformly successful of the Star Wars TV projects, but they both also had to wrestle with pre-existing storylines. To truly understand Ahsoka, you needed to have watched over 200 episodes of The Clone Wars and Rebels, as well as several shorts and episodes from other Star Wars shows. Andor was the most mature vision of the franchise we’ve ever seen, thanks to creator Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, The Bourne Identity), but it was also a slow burn narratively. (And it was still about a character we briefly met in Rogue One, itself a prequel story about finding the Death Star’s blueprints.)

The only baggage The Acolyte has to deal with is the trail of middling Star Wars shows behind it. That alone may turn off some audiences. But I’m hoping people recognize it as a fresh start, a world beyond Skywalkers and nostalgia bait. The Acolyte is a reminder of what makes Star Wars great: exciting and pulpy storytelling on a cosmic scale.



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