By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
One of the more intriguing Star Wars projects on the horizon is The Acolyte, an upcoming Disney+ series from the creator of Russian Doll.
Here is everything we know (so far) about The Acolyte.
What is The Acolyte?
Kathleen Kennedy announced The Acolyte during Disney Investor Day in 2020.
“Leslye Headland, Emmy-nominated creator of the mind-bending series Russian Doll, is a boldly innovative filmmaker bringing her new Star Wars series to Disney+. The Acolyte is a mystery thriller that will take us into a galaxy of shadowy secrets and emerging Dark Side powers in the final days of the High Republic era.”
What is The Acolyte about and when is it set?
The Acolyte is set in “the final days of the High Republic era,” meaning the story will take place in the time leading up to the events of Episode I – The Phantom Menace. In an interview with The Wrap, Headland spoke about her admiration of The Phantom Menace and how this shaped her approach to her own Star Wars series.
“What I can say is the reason it did appeal to me personally is that I was 18 when ‘Phantom Menace’ came out and I was a very, very big ‘Star Wars’ fan. And I know there were varying reactions to it. And certainly there were a lot of people that had grown up with the original trilogy who were disappointed by it. But I actually was very intrigued by why George Lucas had started us at that particular point. I kind of wondered, but what happened to lead up to this? That’s kind of where my ‘Star Wars’ fan brain went was like, ‘How did we get here?’ And why are the Jedi like this? When they are in power, why are they acting this way and how is it that they’re not having the reaction that you would think they would to Anakin’s presence and what Qui-Gon Jinn is saying about how passionately he feels about training him and bringing him into the fold. It’s like, even the discovery of Darth Maul is kind of met with this like, ‘Hm, interesting’ kind of feeling. So I just think for me, my brain has always buzzed around that area and wondered what’s going on here — or what has been going on here.”
In being set before The Phantom Menace, The Acolyte will be the earliest set Star Wars live-action project in the timeline. More recently, animated shorts in the Tales of the Jedi series have taken place before Episode I and the mammoth The High Republic publishing initiative has shed light on the state of the galaxy and the Jedi Order 200 years beforehand, but this era has yet to seen in live-action.
A recent plot summary of The Acolyte reads as follows:
“A former Padawan reunites with her Jedi Master to investigate a series of crimes, but the forces they confront are more sinister than they ever anticipated.”
While vague, this plot description sheds some interesting light on the project. The investigation teased by this summary aligns with Kennedy’s statement that the series will be a “mystery.”
A 2020 report from Variety stated that the series will be “female-centric.”
Who stars in and is making The Acolyte?
In July 2022, Star Wars announced that Amandla Stenberg (star of the incredible Bodies Bodies Bodies) will lead The Acolyte. Stenberg will play the aforementioned “former Padawan” discussed in the official plot description.
A press release on November 7 confirmed that Stenberg will be joined by Lee Jung-Jae (Squid Game, City of the Rising Sun), Manny Jacinto (The Good Place, Top Gun: Maverick), Dafne Keen (Logan, His Dark Materials), Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen & Slim, Without Remorse), Rebecca Henderson (Russian Doll, Westworld), Charlie Barnett (Arrow, Russian Doll), Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones, 1917), and Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix, Memento).
At Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023, Joonas Suotamo was confirmed to play a Wookiee Jedi named Kelnacca. Suotamo notably played the original Wookiee Chewbacca in the sequel trilogy and Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Rebecca Henderson will play Vernestra Rwoh, a Miralan Jedi who has appeared in a variety of High Republic stories, including Light of the Jedi, A Test of Courage, Race to Crashpoint Tower, Out of the Shadows, and Mission to Disaster.
Leading the series behind the scenes is showrunner Leslye Headland. Headland serves as creator, writer, director, and executive producer on The Acolyte. She is best known for Russian Doll, the acclaimed Netflix series she created with Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler.
In assembling her writers’ room for The Acolyte, Headland has prioritized a staff diverse in race, gender, sexual orientation, and familiarity to Star Wars lore.
“What I noticed was that most of the scripts, the samples that I really responded to, they were Star Wars fans. Most of the people that I met with were people that were either really big fans of the franchise, but maybe not as familiar with [‘The Mandalorian’ and ‘Clone Wars’ producer Dave] Filoni’s work and ‘Clone Wars’ and hadn’t played the video games. And then there were people, like myself, that have watched all of ‘Clone Wars’ and played ‘Fallen Order’ and played ‘Knights of the Old Republic.’ And I’ve also done a lot of RPGs, including ‘Edge of the Empire.’ So I kind of felt like I was very into ‘Star Wars,’ so I didn’t necessarily look for people who were as into ‘Star Wars’ as I was, as much as I was interested in why people were interested in ‘Star Wars.’ So it wasn’t I sought out people specifically who had not, it was more that I was looking for people who I responded to their work anyway, and then I was like, ‘What’s your way into “Star Wars”? What are the parts of it it that you find the most interesting?’ And everybody had a different answer.”
Putting the pieces together: What could we see in The Acolyte?
The Acolyte will debut in 2024 on Disney+ and recently concluded production in May 2023.
The footage shown at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023 provides hints at what the show could entail.
The footage begins with a group of Jedi younglings of various species being trained by a Jedi Master in High Republic era white robes played by Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae. This occurs in Coruscant, the capital of the Republic that was introduced in live-action in the prequels.
The trailer shifts gears to a mysterious hooded figure, who confronts a Jedi played by The Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss in a bar. The fight isn’t like anything seen in Star Wars to date, with the two exchanging blows like something out of a kung fu movie. The phrase, “Close your eyes. Your eyes can deceive you” can be heard.
The footage continues and shows various High Republic era Jedi, including Charlie Barnett’s character. There’s also a Neimodian who appears in the trailer, the same species as Nute Gunray in the prequel trilogy. This may suggest that the series will provide insight into the Sith’s collaborations with the Trade Federation.
The standout image from the trailer though was a shot of several (~10) Jedi lined up igniting their lightsabers simultaneously, some of which were yellow blades.
The information that The Acolyte is “female-centric” and focused on the “Dark side” raises the possibility of seeing Nightsisters in the series. For those unfamiliar, the Nightsisters, also known as the Witches of Dathomir, were a clan of female Dark side users who have appeared in The Clone Wars and Jedi: Fallen Order. Asajj Ventress is the most well known Nightsister. Dafne Keen (Logan) appears to play a Sith assassin in the trailer, and commented at Star Wars Celebration at her practice wielding a lightsaber.
Being set before Episode I also raises some interesting possibilities regarding The Acolyte‘s plot. Clearly, the show is focusing on the Jedi, the Sith, and the Force, but, at this point in the timeline, the Sith are believed to be destroyed. However, we know that the Sith, including Darth Sidious and Darth Plagueis, were up to no good before Episode I and were likely operating in secret as they plotted to take over the Republic. The focus on the Dark side and the time in which it is set suggests The Acolyte could tell more to the story of how the Sith rose to power once again.