'Star Wars: The Acolyte' Finds a New Galaxy Within the 'Star Wars' Universe

Created by Leslye Headland

Starring Amandla Stenberg, Lee Jung-jae, Manny Jacinto, Dafne Keen, Charlie Barnett, Jodie Turner-Smith, Rebecca Henderson, Dean-Charles Chapman, Joonas Suotamo, Carrie-Anne Moss

BY Matthew Simpson Published Jun 4, 2024


Star Wars has had problems for a while now. The various Disney+ series have been a mixed bag, but one thing they all have in common is that, critically maligned or acclaimed, they all tend to start strong. The problem is that starting strong isn't enough, and more than a few of the series have fumbled their endings.

The other problem is that nearly all the Star Wars series have focused on the same period, set about a decade after The Return of the Jedi, and telling a story about a resurgent empire rebuilding itself under the nose of a naïve, complacent New Republic. They're nearly all interconnected; they're all making references to the movies we grew up with, and they're all clearly headed to the same place. The issue is that, collectively, they almost exclusively serve to make the Star Wars universe — a literal galaxy worth of stars — smaller.

Enter Star Wars: The Acolyte, the latest series headed to Disney+. This ambitious and expensive new entry in the franchise seeks to respond to at least one of these problems — and it mostly succeeds. (In the first four episodes critics were given, anyways.)

Set in the age of the High Republic, some 100 years before anyone had heard the name Skywalker, the series follows a small group of Jedi investigating a series of murders. At the centre of the mystery are twin sisters Osha and Mae, both played by Amandla Stenberg. One is angry and vengeful; the other wants to be left alone to live her life. It's a familiar setup with a few unique twists that I won't spoil here, but Stenberg is excellent in both roles, giving each sister a distinct personality and body language.

As Luke had Obi-Wan, Osha has a mentor in Lee Jung-jae's Sol, a wise older Jedi with ties to her past. Lee, made world-famous in the 2021 Netflix series Squid Game, is the clear standout of the cast. He embodies things about the Jedi that the best of the old masters also did: empathy and intuition. They play great roles in Sol's life, as do his memories and grief.

In a brief but memorable exchange with his Padawan learner Jecki (Dafne Keen), where she asks why he doesn't let go, Sol reminds her that memories are lessons to be learned from — and it's clear he not only means it, but he feels it in a way that many Jedi we're familiar with did not. Sol's ties to Osha and Mae's past trouble him and inform his choice to reconnect with them and investigate the crimes at hand. Lee's performance is made all the more impressive considering that he also learned English for this role.

The rest of the cast members are memorable as well. Keen's Jecki forms a sisterly bond with Osha that gives them some nice material to work with and illuminates both of their characters and Sol. Charlie Barnett is on hand as Yord, a newly minted Jedi Knight who is so by-the-book it's a wonder he isn't literally carrying it around with him at all times. He serves as an excellent foil to other characters with more creative minds.

As Mother Aniseya, Jodie Turner-Smith maximizes her already otherworldly on-screen presence portraying the leader of a coven of force witches. Her character and the entire coven expand the lore of Star Wars in some new and exciting ways, even going so far as to offer a new perspective on the Force itself.

Unfortunately though, aside from one memorable fight scene, Carrie-Anne Moss, playing the Jedi Master Indara, doesn't have much to do in the first four episodes. However, she's still Carrie-Anne Moss and she kicks ass.

As mentioned, Disney only provided four episodes of the eight-episode series for review, and while The Acolyte does start strong, a mystery such as this can be made or broken by its ending. Couple this with the uneven track record of Disney+'s Star Wars series, it's safe to say I have some trepidation going into the final four episodes.

The first half of The Acolyte is very good, with the third episode (directed by Kogonada) being a standout and providing the backstory that ties most of the characters together. And while there are familiar setups, the series is so far good enough to give me hope that it will subvert or even defy my expectations rather than simply fulfill them. Series creator and showrunner Leslye Headland is, if nothing else, keeping the series on track and consistent. When it comes to the multiple timelines the series plays out in, she has a clear vision of where she wants it to go.

There's a lot to celebrate in The Acolyte, as well. Namely, it's entirely separate from any existing Star Wars stories, meaning that, while it's recognizable as a Star Wars entity, there's no danger of a character we already know showing up just for synergy's sake. Since the story is a new style for this franchise, there are no Easter eggs to look out for either. As a result, the series truly stands on its own in a way that most of the Star Wars films and series do not.

Moreover, The Acolyte introduces a new droid, Pip, who communicates with beeps like R2-D2 and BB-8, but is a hand-held mechanics multi-tool. Pip is adorable and has some great exchanges with Osha, and if Disney doesn't sell a million of them, then they aren't even trying.

The casting is also noteworthy, not just because the ensemble offer stunning performances but also because they represent the diverse world as it is today. There are already rumblings from small men online about woke-ness, but pay them no mind — it's legitimately great to see the Star Wars universe truly become as diverse as our own.

The Acolyte seems tailor-made to address the recent problems of Star Wars directly. Its story is physically and temporally isolated from the rest of the universe, but unmistakably, it's still Star Wars. It opens up a whole new era for storytelling in some interesting ways, including our first good look at what the Jedi Order looks like in peacetime. Ultimately, the first half of The Acolyte gives me enough to be hopeful that they won't fumble the ending.


Latest Coverage