‘The Acolyte’ Premiere Review: A Refreshing Star Wars Conspiracy Thriller

The Acolyte is the latest Star Wars show to arrive on the back of something of a mixed reception for the franchise of late, with underwhelming ventures for Ahsoka and the latest season of The Mandalorian, but with stellar outings for Andor. Thankfully, The Acolyte is more in the Andor category, taking place at the earliest time in the Star Wars period we’ve seen so far, owing a lot to the look and feel of the much-maligned prequels at times, but reception of such has switched in recent years to the point where a reappraisal has meant that they have their backers, with star Amandla Stenberg stating Revenge of the Sith is her favorite.

The aesthetic, particularly among the Jedi and the Temple, is very strong, and it’s very good to have that feeling back, especially after one minor complaint of Andor is that it didn’t feel Star Wars-y enough, with the distinct lack of lightsabres, prominent aliens, and hokey nonsense. For those who felt the lack of those things was an issue, The Acolyte has that in spades – right down to the scene transitions, which feel straight out of the prequels. It’s very George Lucas, and Michael Abels’ score fits the whole High Republic aesthetic perfectly. 

Amandla Stenberg as Mae in The Acolyte
Mae (Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE. Image courtesy of Lucasfilm.

There are Jedi who have left the Order before Anakin Skywalker and there are Jedi who will leave the Order after Anakin Skywalker. Stenberg’s protagonist, Osha, finds herself pulled into a mystery when a lookalike murders a Jedi and starts a kill-list: out for revenge using the Jedi’s own code of honor against them. Quickly arrested, Osha sets out to prove her innocence and learns to reckon with the fact that her twin sister, Mae, who was separated from her by a tragedy when she was young, is still alive – and has emerged as a dangerous, lethal warrior.

Mae and Osha – The Yin and Yang of the Force

Both Mae and Osha embody the concept of yin and yang, and it’s clear that showrunner Leslye Headland is interested in exploring the line between the light and dark of the force – the rigid structure of the Jedi Order and the old ways is examined to the point where it deals with it almost as a fault; similar to what George Lucas touched on the prequels which ultimately led to their undoing. We’re a hundred years before The Phantom Menace after all – there’s not too much change in the grand scheme of things, but here – we get to explore the High Republic for the first time on screen.

Leslye Headland takes over directing duties for the first two episodes and writes the first one. Her aesthetic is everywhere over this show; a wuxia-influenced, action-heavy sequence opens the series that sees Mae go head to head with Carrie-Anne Moss’ Indara, a Jedi proficient in force-fighting. Instantly, the command of Indara makes her the strongest presence in the room – our first encounter with Mae is in a grungy, seedy bar – and at first, she’s instantly out of her depth. Carrie-Anne Moss’ performance instantly calls to mind that of Trinity, and it’s great to have her back. 

Carrie-Anne Moss in The Acolyte
Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE. Image courtesy of Lucasfilm.

The mystery surrounding Mae and her character is touched on here, as well as the past that led to Osha leading the Jedi Order; there’s a lot of world-building to tackle, but The Acolyte flies by, it feels like a 40-minute episode with a tone more in line with that of the Fallen Order games, Osha starts in a similar place to Kal, working on the fringes of the Republic, or in this case the Jedi Order, before being called back into the thick of things. Much of the show’s potential will be built around exploring what led to the downfall of the Jedi being possible in the first place – how can a Sith Lord ascend to power in Coruscant without them knowing it? Yet it avoids feeling like a “connect the dots” a-to-b plotting like the weaker Star Wars entries have felt in the past, it’s its own thing – underdogs vs the institution are the crux for Headland to explore, with the Jedi the institution and the Sith the underdogs. 

Smoothly Crafted, Wuxia-influenced Action in The Acolyte

The action is smoothly crafted, slick and wuxia-influenced, and easily the series’ high point. Lee Jung-jae as Sol feels like the embodiment of the Old Order as an experienced, respected Jedi Master, and his fighting style is designed to match that character – every fighting style feels purposely chosen, purposely unique, Mae’s is different to Osha’s, who’s learning to rediscover her power, and Charlie Barnett’s cocky but by the book Yord is different again, the shirtless eye-candy who we first meet feels purposely upstaged by Jecki Lon, Sol’s current padawan and replacement for Osha. When Osha and Sol eventually reunite it’s with years of regret on Sol’s part – and the dynamic between Jecki and Osha shows early signs of promise, especially with a brilliantly nuanced performance by Jecki. This strong squad of four central characters – Jecki, Yord, Osha, and Sol, make for an unlikely pairing, one drawn out of circumstance.

Yord Fandar and Master Sol in The Acolyte
(L-R): Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett) and Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE. Image courtesy of Lucasfilm.

Despite the vast amount of world-building required, The Acolyte treads the line of being newcomer accessible and one for the fans nicely, you don’t need to be one to enjoy this series, and those who want something refreshing from the universe might find themselves at home. This is mainly because of its central concept allows The Acolyte to not feel beholden to other Star Wars projects, but it takes the shape of its own identity – a conspiracy thriller first, Star Wars series second – whereas too much of the Filoni and Favreau projects have felt like Star Wars first, genre second. This is what they lack compared to the success of The Acolyte and Andor, with The Acolyte being grounded in its sense of adventure – even the early reveal of Mae being alive feels a bit coincidental, it allows The Acolyte to explore the concept of yin and yang in a blunt, but effective way. 

Final Thoughts on the 2-episode Premiere of The Acolyte

The Acolyte looks incredible on the big screen, and it’s a shame that it won’t get that treatment for the whole run, the episodes look magical and fully realistic – bringing the High Republic era to life feels very George Lucas visually, and that’s only a good thing. It’s a natural next step – fast-paced and rich in its inspiration, lifting tones from Twin Peaks, Kill Bill, The Batman, as well as key scenes from The Fugitive and even borrowing heavily from Rashomon, fans can find themselves in good hands. It’s its own thing – and should rightly be praised for it. One of the best projects to come out of Star Wars in an age. 

The Acolyte will be available to stream on June 4, 2024.

Learn more about the latest Star Wars television series from the official website for the title.

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