The Acolyte Review: The High Republic Makes a Promising Live-Action Debut

Showrunner Leslye Headland explores new mysteries in the Star Wars universe.

Note: The following is a review of episodes 1-4 of The Acolyte.

Disney ‘s purchase of Lucasfilm and the resulting Star Wars stories started on an inarguable high note with The Force Awakens. Then, controversy and divisiveness over its sequel, The Last Jedi, most of it from a vocal minority, led to over-correction, botched storylines, and widespread disappointment in the result, The Rise of Skywalker. While live-action Star Wars has faired significantly better on Disney+ with The Mandalorian and Andor, results have remained uneven at best (see: Ahsoka, The Book of Boba Fett, Kenobi).

There is a vast reservoir of stories, none directly or even indirectly connected to the Skywalkers and their galaxy-changing actions, untapped. One of those stories forms the basis for The Acolyte, a promising, if flawed, entry set during the final decades of the High Republic, the Galactic Empire’s immediate predecessor.

Created by Leslye Headland (Russian Doll), The Acolyte opens with a dynamic, wuxia-inspired confrontation between two high-level Force users in a cantina. One, Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss), seeks a peaceful resolution, while the other, Mae (Amandla Stenberg), seeks retribution. A Dark Force user with a powerful, offscreen mentor – whose identity remains a series-long mystery – Mae proves herself to be Indara’s equal or better, using the Jedi’s compassion against her before escaping unscathed.

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Mae’s initial prominence, however, gives way to Osha (also Stenberg), her twin sister and an ex-Jedi disciple working as a low-level mechanic aboard Trade Federation freighters. Initially suspected of Mae’s crimes, Osha becomes embroiled in the Jedi’s plans to locate Mae, joining her old master/mentor, Sol (Lee Jung-jae), his newest Padawan, Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen), and an unimaginative, mid-level Jedi Knight, Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett), as they world-hop across the High Republic searching for Mae.

Unraveling the mysteries of Mae and Osha’s origins, Mae’s mentor and their plans to undermine the high-flying Jedi Order, as well as the High Republic’s complacent enforcers of law and order, The Acolyte often feels like a breath of fresh air for the Star Wars universe. The absence of the Skywalkers and their internal family squabbles helps, of course, but so does the seemingly simple decision to set The Acolyte around an entirely new set of characters with their own problems, struggles, and conflicts.

Setting the series a century before the fall of the High Republic allows Headland to answer long-standing questions regarding the Jedi Order’s eventual fall to the Sith and their allies. From the get-go, it’s obvious this version of the Jedi Order suffers from a terminal case of hubris, far more eager to extinguish what it considers minor threats than to risk exposure of any flaws in its perceived power. This Jedi Order has succumbed to the calcifying effects of bureaucracy, the results foreordained, but as yet unknown – if not necessarily unknowable.

Any critique, however, regardless of its insight, doesn’t matter unless its interwoven with its characters, their choices, and how they impact the overall story. Too often, likely due to limited episode runtimes or low production budgets, character decisions seem to be motivated less by interior psychology than story or plot demands. Crafting motivation for the choices characters make, specifically Osha or Mae at different points, goes a long way into up-converting characters from two to three dimensions. It helps that the cast sells their performances as best they can despite the 180° turns mandated by the next action beat.

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In addition, an over-reliance on under-rendered, cheap-looking CG backgrounds makes an occasional, unwelcome appearance. However, by now, Star Wars fans attuned to Disney+’s streaming preferences won’t — and shouldn’t — be surprised. At most, they’re infrequent distractions counterbalanced by Mae and Osha’s journey, the live-screen debut of the High Republic’s decline and fall, and the resolution of The Acolyte’s central, overarching mystery.

The first two episodes of The Acolyte are now streaming on Disney+, with new episodes premiering every Tuesday.



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