Star Wars: The Acolyte TV Review

Amanda Stenberg and Lee Jung-jae headline the most original Star Wars project in decades from Russian Doll co-creator Leslye Headland.

Last Updated on June 5, 2024

PLOT: An investigation into a shocking crime spree pits a respected Jedi Master (Lee Jung-jae) against a dangerous warrior from his past (Amandla Stenberg). As more clues emerge, they travel down a dark path where sinister forces reveal all is not what it seems….

REVIEW: The reception for Disney-era Star Wars has been uneven, to say the least. While The Force Awakens broke box office records, The Last Jedi became the most divisive sequel of all time, and The Rise of Skywalker pooped the bed for most fans. Still, the anthology films Rogue One and Solo have dedicated fans, which is more than can be said for any of the Disney+ Star Wars series outside of The Mandalorian and Andor. Fans have been once again divided over Obi-Wan and Ahsoka, leading to a muted lead-up to the premiere of The Acolyte. Created by Russian Doll showrunner Leslye Headland, The Acolyte delves over a century before The Phantom Menace to the wholly Disney-created era known as The High Republic. Featuring a diverse cast led by Amandla Stenberg and Squid Game‘s Lee Jung-jae in his English language debut, The Acolyte benefits from not being held down by Skywalker mythology, which allows it to explore a unique angle to the space opera battles between the dueling sides of the Force, resulting in an exciting and action-packed series that is the most original Star Wars has been in decades.

While Disney+ unveils the first two chapters of The Acolyte tomorrow, I have seen the first four episodes of the eight-episode series. Like prior Star Wars series, the episodes vary in length, from the premiere clocking in close to an hour to the fourth episode barely hitting thirty minutes. A lot is packed into each episode, which feels much more cohesive than in prior series, with no subplots or deviations from the main narrative outside of an episode comprised entirely of a flashback. The full trailer for the series gives a good idea of the overall concept of the series, which follows a mysterious warrior who is murdering Jedi and the knights on her trail. The trailer tease looks at the High Republic look, reminiscent of George Lucas’ prequels, and what may or may not be a coven of Nightsisters. Much is revealed in the episodes I have seen, which seems to lead to the first canon appearance of a Sith Lord, something Disney took out of continuity when it absorbed Lucasfilm. I will not divulge how this reveal comes to pass, but the series does some great work leading up to the tense moment.

Before I discuss the show itself, let’s talk about the setting of the High Republic. By taking the story back to before the prequel films, Disney and Lucasfilm are exploring an era never seen before the publication of a series of novels over the last few years. If you have read the books, they follow a conflict between the ruling Jedi and an army of pirates known as the Nihil. Rather than focus on that rivalry, The Acolyte is focused on the perception of the Jedi by the masses. Rather than mysterious warriors and mystics, the Jedi are looked at like a totalitarian regime, with many of the average denizens of the galaxy fearing them the way the Empire would eventually be feared. It is an intriguing perspective to see the tribe often seen as examples of the Light Side as villainous. There are elements of beauracracy and control that are seen in these episodes, but the main Jedi embodied in the form of Sol (Lee Jung-jae), his padawan Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen), and new knight Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett) who are tasked with finding Amandla Stenberg’s character. We see other Jedi, including masters Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss), Kelnacca (Chewbacca actor Joonas Suotamo), and Vernestra Rwoh (Rebecca Henderson), who are examples of the best the Order has to offer.

Star Wars: The Acolyte

Amandla Stenberg portrays twin sisters, something not revealed in the trailers but has since been made known through interviews, named Osha and Mae. The twins represent the two sides of the Force, one serving as Sol’s padawan and the other a darker master. The sisters are the daughters of Mother Aniseya, the leader of a coven of Force witches who may or may not be Nightsisters. We also meet Qimir (Manny Jacinto), a smuggler connected to the Dark Side. All of these characters are immediately interesting to watch. Their introductions have similarities to Star Wars stories from the past with the signature scene wipes, an array of new alien designs as well as familiar ones (nice appearance by the Trade Federation in the first episode), new Droids like Pip, and planets like Coruscant as well as new worlds handily named with on-screen graphics, something rarely done in Star Wars projects before. The action is also quite something. While the Jedi are featured heavily, and we see a lot of lightsabers, the combat uses more martial arts than I was expecting, giving the series a break from the swordplay and gunfire that has consumed the franchise. The fight scenes are well-choreographed and complement the storyline and era.

In addition to creating the series and writing the first episode, Leslye Headland helmed the two opening chapters of The Acolyte before handing over directing duties to Kogonada (After Yang, Pachinko), Alex Garcia Lopez (Cowboy Bebop, The Witcher), and Hanelle Culpepper (Star Trek Discovery) who each direct two episodes. The cinematic quality of The Acolyte sometimes leaves something to be desired, with many outdoor scenes clearly shot on a soundstage, taking away from the scale Star Wars usually has. But, the directors evoke solid performances from the cast, who help make this fantastical science fiction world seem tangible. While Headland oversaw a writing staff of eleven scribes for an eight-episode series, some of their dialogue does not rise above what George Lucas penned himself on the prequel films. Yes, it can be a bit silly, but most of the dialogue works within the confines of this mythology. The solid score by Michael Abels and the cinematography by James Friend and Chris Teague accentuates this. This crew overcomes any limitations on the production design by focusing on the characters.

The Acolyte boasts a solid performance from Amandla Stenberg in the lead roles and an impressive English language debut for Lee Jung-jae. With supporting performances from Jodie Turner-Smitih and Margarita Levieva that I will not spoil here, The Acolyte has far different stakes than any Star Wars project before. By taking a darker angle that involves revenge and murder, this series explores sides of the galaxy we have not seen to this degree on screen before. Death is nothing new in Star Wars, but Leslie Headland’s series looks at it in a unique way for the franchise. While I have only seen the first half of the series and have been burned by the back half of prior Star Wars shows, the consistency of these opening chapters has me more invested in what comes next. I appreciate that The Acolyte is a new era for live-action Star Wars that presents a challenge for audiences to invest in, but this is old school Star Wars: action-packed, full of unique and intriguing characters, and setting up a story that we do not know. The Acolyte represents a new chapter in the Star Wars mythos that will be very fun to explore.

Star Wars: The Acolyte premieres with two episodes on June 5th at 9pm EST on Disney+.

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/star-wars-the-acolyte-tv-review/

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