The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Acolyte – Episodes 1-2

By George & Josh Bate

The Acolyte review
Mae (Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

To date, live-action Star Wars shows and movies have taken place entirely during the time period of the Skywalker saga. Whether it be the original trilogy of films in the 1970s and 1980s to more recent Star Wars shows like Ahsoka and Andor, Star Wars stories realized in live-action are situated between the events of Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (or, 32 BBY to 35 ABY for those familiar with date keeping in a galaxy far, far away). Changing this trend is a new Star Wars show that takes place 100 years before the Skywalker saga – The Acolyte. Originally announced by Kathleen Kennedy at Disney Investor Day in autumn 2020, the show from Russian Doll creator Leslye Headland quickly became one of the most anticipated Star Wars projects amidst a slew of other announced shows and movies. Now, after much anticipation and distinct in its setting within the Star Wars chronology, The Acolyte arrives and most assuredly does not disappoint.

The Acolyte begins 100 years before the events of The Phantom Menace and approximately 100 years after the beginning of the High Republic publishing initiative with Light of the Jedi. In the series, the Jedi Order are at their peak of power, serving as guardians of peace for the Galactic Republic. But, in time of seeming peace, darkness looms. When a Jedi is murdered by a mysterious assassin, various Jedi are commissioned to investigate and begin to uncover a darker threat.

The Acolyte review
Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Tonally, The Acolyte occupies a unique space amongst other Star Wars projects. Leslye Headland’s series possesses a maturity and darkness very much akin to Andor. The opening scene sets the stage for a high-stakes narrative and establishes that no one is safe from danger. From there, the first two episodes unfold with the dramatic heft of a mature HBO show and the sense of intrigue that Andor captured so well.

However, unlike Andor, The Acolyte further departs from a narrative groundedness. Much of this departure is due to The Acolyte’s heavy leaning into the prequel trilogy, both in style and tone. The series is populated with an ensemble of Jedi characters and features perhaps the widest array of different species seen in a single Star Wars project ever. Coupled with an array of sprawling locations, aesthetically, The Acolyte feels very much like a story set before George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. Headland manages to craft a unique slice of the Star Wars universe that seamlessly flows from the events of The High Republic novels and comics while brilliantly setting the groundwork for the events of the prequel trilogy. Themes from the prequel trilogy about the morals of the Jedi, their stance on attachment, and their eagerness to assign blame (akin to the arc in The Clone Wars in which Ahsoka leaves the Jedi Order) are all enticingly introduced in these first episodes.

The Acolyte review
(L-R): Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) and Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Like the prequel trilogy, The Acolyte contains a political intrigue and mystery that compels from the very beginning. The most apt comparison in this sense is probably Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, even down to Michael Abels’ fantastic score borrowing certain themes from John Williams’ Attack of the Clones score. When initially announced, The Acolyte was billed as a mystery series and, thankfully, the series more than lives up to this characterization. Like Attack of the Clones, Headland’s series is unafraid to pose questions to the audience and let them linger for a while. However, unlike Lucas’ second prequel film, The Acolyte avoids devolving into convoluted territory, simultaneously retaining a narrative complexity and general approachability. What results is a two-part premiere that evokes the detective elements of Matt Reeves’ The Batman and the comic miniseries The High Republic: Trail of Shadows, and Twin Peaks: The Return. Like these stories, The Acolyte leans heavily into key elements of detective tales and, in turn, becomes a Star Wars show with a unique genre. Much like how Chapter 6 of The Mandalorian was a prison break story, Chapter 9 was a spaghetti western, and Chapter 13 evoked tenets of a samurai film, The Acolyte situates a Star Wars within a specific genre.

As many mysteries do, The Acolyte’s premiere features an unexpected twist. Headland’s series follows in the footsteps of The Mandalorian Seasons 1 and 2 in concluding its first episode on a tantalizing note, as opposed to The Mandalorian Season 3 and The Book of Boba Fett, which did both wrapped up their premiere episodes without a resounding note. Recent promotional footage from The Acolyte gives away an element of the premiere episodes’ twist, but, for those fortunate to avoid the spoiler, a surprise is in store.

Mae (Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

The Acolyte features an ensemble cast led by Amandla Stenberg. Known for her roles in Bodies Bodies Bodies and The Hate U Give, Stenberg seamlessly steps into the lead role of a Star Wars show with poise and versatility. Especially when considered in the context of the aforementioned plot twist, Stenberg’s performance becomes all the more impressive and confirms that Headland made the correct choice in having Stenberg lead this show.

The ensemble that accompanies Stenberg includes Lee Jung-jae, Dafne Keen, Carrie-Anne Moss, Charlie Barnett, Rebecca Henderson, and Manny Jacinto. It’s a testament to The Acolyte’s ability to garner immediate interest that each member of this ensemble stands out as a unique character who we can’t wait to learn more about.

Particular praise goes to Lee Jung-jae, who plays Jedi Master Sol in the show. The Squid Game actor delivers a brilliant performance that taps into the franchise’s idyllic image of the Jedi and evokes the kind of warmth Alec Guinness and Liam Neeson brought to Ben Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn respectively.

The Acolyte review
Qimir (Manny Jacinto) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

However, the most surprising member of the ensemble is Manny Jacinto, who plays a character named Qimir. In a show populated by Force-sensitive characters, Qimir stands out as a seemingly normal civilian. There’s more to Qimir than meets the eye though. Described as a former smuggler turned trader, Qimir has ambiguous loyalties to the dark side and even goes as far as to quote The Sith Code from Legends. Jacinto, known for his roles in The Good Place and Top Gun: Maverick, deftly portrays Qimir with a deceptive innocence and mundanity, of which underlies something more sinister. The direction this character will go in, like the rest of the show, remains a mystery, but Jacinto’s subtle performance and Qimir’s interesting role in the show made him one of the standout elements of the premiere episodes.

With plot twists, a new ensemble of characters, and the task of introducing an era previously unseen in live-action Star Wars, the premiere episodes of The Acolyte take on a lot of different elements. Unfortunately, while ambitious in its novel approach to Star Wars, the first two episodes suffer from unnecessarily brisk pacing. There is barely a moment to breathe or pause as these episodes shift rapidly from scene to scene until their conclusion. Star Wars projects like The Force Awakens have similarly adopted accelerated pacing, but, given the plot-heavy nature of The Acolyte as opposed to the simplicity of The Force Awakens, taking a few moments to slow down is an opportunity sorely missed. Such pacing issues by no means derail how captivating The Acolyte is, but, rather, speak to how this show has kicked off so interestingly that the desire to spend more time with each character and plot thread runs strong.

The Acolyte review
Scene from Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Independent of within-episode pacing issues, The Acolyte excels in embracing the episodic nature afforded by the medium of television. Without getting into spoilers, Headland and company take great advantage of the television format by making each episode stand self-sufficiently and operate as a piece of a larger puzzle. When so many streaming shows, such as Obi-Wan Kenobi, feel like long movies split up into parts, The Acolyte refreshingly feels like a story tailor made for this format.

And yet, despite existing on the television screen rather than a movie theater screen, The Acolyte is strikingly cinematic. The production design, especially that which brings the Jedi Temple on Coruscant to life, is extraordinary, while Headland helms these episodes with a sprawling vision that complements the grandness of the story she is telling. While the general looks of various live-action Marvel and Star Wars projects have come under criticism of late, seemingly no such criticism can be attached to The Acolyte, which visually stands alongside Andor and The Mandalorian Season 2 as some of the most aesthetically pleasing Star Wars shows.

VERDICT: 8.5/10

Taking place 100 years before The Phantom Menace, The Acolyte shifts live-action Star Wars to an entirely new era in a captivating mystery series. Russian Doll creator Leslye Headland embraces the aesthetic and themes of George Lucas’ prequel trilogy to tell a story with the same brand of suspense and intrigue seen in Attack of the Clones. A plot shrouded in mystery and question marks makes for enduringly entertaining viewing, although enjoyment is hindered by far too fast pacing. Amandla Stenberg commands the screen with a versatile performance that becomes all the more impressive when considered in the context of the premiere episodes’ fantastic plot twist. The accompanying ensemble, in particular Lee Jung-jae and Manny Jacinto, bring life to a range of characters we can’t wait to find out more about. Embracing the episodic nature of the medium of television while feeling more cinematic than most Star Wars shows, The Acolyte begins on strong footing and appears to be taking a galaxy far, far away in a new direction, one shrouded in mystery and captivating to its core.

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