The Potential Is Strong with 'The Acolyte', Which Gives 'Star Wars' a Spirited New Small-Screen Spinoff

Jedi are being eliminated by a mysterious warrior in this thrilling new addition to a galaxy far, far away from 'Russian Doll' co-creator Leslye Headland.
Sarah Ward
Published on June 05, 2024

When you've just made two seasons of a time-loop TV show about reckoning with the past, what comes next? For Russian Doll co-creator Leslye Headland, another jump backwards beckons. The Star Wars franchise has been telling tales set not just in a galaxy far, far away but also a long time ago for almost five decades; however, across its 11 movies and five live-action Disney+ TV shows until now, it hasn't ever explored the events of as long a time ago as Headland's The Acolyte brings to the screen. As streaming from Wednesday, June 5, welcome to the High Republic era a century before Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace — and into a thrilling new angle into one of pop culture's behemoths.

Although they each date back further, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have become the 21st century's holy trilogy of fantasy and sci-fi fare. They've also all been adopting the same approach to keeping their stories going: stepping through the events before the events that they've already relayed to audiences. So went the Star Wars prequels, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Andor, plus House of the Dragon and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. So now goes The Acolyte as well. The key aspect of the latter isn't just that this eight-instalment series gains the space to jettison familiar faces and spin its narrative anew — it's also that it's traversing more of the world that George Lucas first envisaged in the 70s, and what the force means to more than the usual faces and those tied to them. And, it isn't afraid to question the heroes-versus-villains divide that's as engrained in all things Star Wars as lightsabers, having a bad feeling and droids.

Taking place in a period of peace and prosperity — well, for some — The Acolyte is still home to heroes. Villains are part of the tale, too. But the idea that the Jedi always fall into the first camp and their enemies can only sit in the second is probed. Similarly queried is the notion that anything in the Star Wars realm, let alone everything, is that binary. The premise: Jedi are being eliminated by a mysterious warrior, a setup that is pushed to the fore immediately and initially aligns its emotional response as audiences since 1977 know to expect. But as gets uttered three episodes in, "this is not about good or bad — it's about power and who gets to wield it".

The Acolyte's opening showdown unfolds in the type of cantina that's hardly new to the saga, but the battle itself is. From beneath a mask, a warrior (Amandla Stenberg, Bodies Bodies Bodies) isn't afraid to throw down, throw knives and throw around her ability to use the force, with a Jedi her target. In the aftermath, the robe-adorned head honchos have ex-padawan Osha in their sights. Now working as a meknik, which entails undertaking dangerous spaceship maintenance tasks that robots are legally only supposed to do, she fits the description. Her old Jedi mentor Sol (Lee Jung-jae, Squid Game) isn't so sure, though, especially knowing her past.

Get ready to delve into history: throughout episodes set in The Acolyte's present day, Osha's backstory spills its details, plus a glimpse at how the Jedi work when they're the universe's accepted peacekeepers instead of freedom-fighting underdogs. In the season's illuminating third instalment — with Bachelorette and Sleeping with Other People's Headland handing over directing duties to After Yang's Kogonada after the debut two chapters (Cowboy Bebop's Alex Garcia Lopez and SWAT's Hanelle M Culpepper also helm episodes) — the action also leaps back years prior. Diving into to Osha's childhood in a coven that's use of the force isn't approved of by its regular guardians, it sees the show digging deeper into its examination of who is permitted to possess authority and influence.

The Acolyte remains a Star Wars mystery as well, with why four Jedi are being singled out by an assassin doing their own master's bidding just one question that needs an answer. Who is pulling the strings behind the campaign against Sol, Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix Resurrections), Torbin (Dean-Charles Chapman, Game of Thrones) and Wookiee master Kelnacca (Joonas Suotamo, who also sported Chewbacca's fur Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens, Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi, Solo: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker) is another. As not just Sol but also fellow knight Yord (Charlie Barnett, another Russian Doll alum) and his protege Jecki (Dafne Keen, His Dark Materials) are on the case, only one of these queries receives an answer early.

Five years since the franchise started rolling out Disney+ shows in 2019 with The Mandalorian, as followed by The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor and Ahsoka, the results have varied from exceptional to unnecessary. That said, in whichever TV tale has been expanding this galaxy, casting has rarely been an issue. From an impressive ensemble of actors that also features Manny Jacinto (Nine Perfect Strangers), Jodie Turner-Smith (Sex Education) and Rebecca Henderson (You Hurt My Feelings), Stenberg and Lee are The Acolyte's standouts. While they deliver particularly weighty performances when they're together — portrayals that cut to the heart of the thorny power dynamic that the series keeps laying bare — Stenberg, dealing with a twist on the saga's love of family drama and its echoing repercussions, adds an especially layered turn to her growing resume.

Andor, with its complexity, grit, passion and spy-thriller vibe, remains hard to top as the best small-screen Star Wars spinoff. It was one of the best new shows of 2022 all round. Still, leaving sifting through why giving your all to attempt to stave off a dystopian nightmare is the most-pivotal quest there is to Andor, The Acolyte is a worthy addition to the realm. As it unpacks the hierarchy of light and dark, the grey areas that lurk between the two extremes and what all of those intermediary shades mean if you're not among those setting the rules, it's never afraid of the reality that life, even here, is messy. The force might be complicated in this one, but the potential for The Acolyte is strong.

Check out the trailer for The Acolyte below:

The Acolyte streams via Disney+ from Wednesday, June 5, 2o24.

Images: ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Published on June 05, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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