New Characters, Old Story: Our Review of ‘The Acolyte’

Posted in Disney +, TV, What's Streaming? by - June 04, 2024
New Characters, Old Story: Our Review of ‘The Acolyte’

Set a full century before the events of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the new Disney+ series The Acolyte, which debuts with two episodes on June 4th, brings to live action for the first time the timeline of the High Republic days of Star Wars lore. This provides this series with a huge advantage over previous Star Wars series that have played on the streamer in that it does not have any live-action mythology that it needs to fit into to fulfil an overarching story.  The Acolyte feels like a massive breath of fresh air for Star Wars lore in that outside of perhaps one character that has been introduced in Star Wars novels about the High Republic, everything here is new, something not glimpsed since Star Wars: Rogue One. While  Rogue One still had to fit into the overall mythology, whereas The Acolyte can move around more freely.

The series opens with an attack on the Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss). After details of the fight emerge, the main suspect is identified as an old Padawan of Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae), Osha (Amandla Stenberg). But upon tracking down Osha, Jedi’s Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett) and Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen) discover that she has been working as a ‘mechnik’ on a transport ship across the galaxy, having walked away from the Jedi way of life. While being transported back to Coruscant, another attack occurs against another Jedi connected to Osha’s homeworld of Brendok. It’s at this point that Osha and Sol realise they are dealing with someone they had both presumed long dead, Osha’s twin sister Mae (also Stenberg). But while Osha fell into the world of the Jedi, Mae has been raised on the teaching of something far more sinister. As the Acolyte she follows a shadowy figure, whose identity is even unknown to her, simply known as The Master.

I’m wary to go any further into the specifics regarding the plotting of this highly anticipated series, as everything described here is included in the first two episodes that introduce the series. But needless to say, the stakes do escalate further. Episode 3 delves into the past of the twins and expands their story, while Episode 4 sets up what I presume to be a massive battle over the final four episodes between the Jedi and the mysterious masked force user who fallsto the dark side, years before the arrival of the first Sith Lord. There’s plenty here to intrigue Star Wars fans though as we get the first liveaction appearances of Vernestra Rwoh (Rebecca Henderson) and a Wookie Jedi with the introduction of Kelnacca (Joonas Suotamo).

The success of this series mainly falls on the shoulders of the two leads. Most of the heavy lifting falls directly on the shoulders of Amandla Stenberg as she tackles two separate characters and must develop individual personalities for each. Fortunately, as her development through appearances in The Hunger Games, The Hate U Give,  up to indie darling Bodies Bodies Bodies have proven, she is definitely up to the task. Through the first four episodes bestowed upon us for this review, she delivers two entirely believable and ultimately likeable performances, despite Mae’s devious deeds. 

Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae had the tough task of learning how to speak English for The Acolyte. That learning curve may have resulted in the more deliberate pacing of his speech patterns in the series. But this only adds to the stoic nature of Sol, one of the more reserved Jedi we’ve seen depicted on screen. It’s a solid performance and a nice change of pace from previous Jedi, though Sol is given some opportunity to show off his skills with the force as well. I’d be remiss to not shout out the spunky and endearing performance from Dafne Keen as Jecki Lon. Jecki could quickly become a fan favourite along the lines of a young Ahsoka Tano.

Given a much less restrictive sandbox to play in with The Acolyte, creator/showrunner Leslye Headland has taken full advantage, developing a series rich in ancient Star Wars lore that also manages to include Jedi Witches and the inner workings of the High Republic. Much like Dave Filoni before her, you can tell Headland’s love for the source material runs very deep and she filled her writer’s room with writers with varying degrees of Star Wars knowledge to keep everyone else honest. The result is an extremely well-paced and thought-out series that should engage and delight Star Wars fans of all ages and interest levels. And yes, it’s an incredibly diverse cast, and that may be upsetting to some who want to decide to call it “woke Star Wars” without even watching. But those “fans” are simply going to be missing out on the best new Star Wars series since The Mandalorian.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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