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Geek Review – Star Wars: The Acolyte (Disney+)

This review is based on the first four episodes of The Acolyte.

**Warning: Spoilers for The Acolyte ahead.**

Jedi Master Obi-Wan ‘Ben’ Kenobi once described the lightsaber as “an elegant weapon for a more civilised age”. Known as the age of the High Republic, it was an era of peace and enlightenment long before the rise of Darth Sidious and the Galactic Empire, when the Jedi Order stood as paragons of virtue and extended its reach to the furthest stars. For Star Wars fans, it was a time that has been a source of fascination for years. 

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Enter Star Wars: The Acolyte, a Disney+ series that transports us to the waning days of this golden age, at a time of growing unease as the Sith (who else?) prepare to emerge from the darkness, about a century before the events of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999). 

Showrunner Leslye Headland, known for her intricate storytelling on Netflix’s Russian Doll (2019-2022), steps into the Star Wars universe with a fresh perspective, promising a series that deviates from the well-trodden paths of the nine-part Skywalker saga. Instead, The Acolyte is a mystery thriller that explores the insidious spread of the dark side and the Sith through a tale of intrigue, ambition, and the gradual erosion of trust. 

The Acolyte

The series begins with a chilling string of Jedi Master killings, orchestrated by an enigmatic Sith Acolyte, a novice under the sinister tutelage of a Sith Lord, and marking the acolyte’s chilling evolution in the dark side’s ascendancy. This mysterious apprentice sets in motion a chain of events that will unravel the very fabric of the High Republic and the heart of the story lies Osha (Amandla Stenberg, The Darkest Minds, The Hunger Games), a former Padawan who reunites with her Jedi Master, Sol (Lee Jung-jae, Squid Game, Hunt), to investigate these killings. 

Driven by internal turmoil stemming from a tragic past, Osha left the Jedi Order years ago though her connection to the Force remains a source of both strength and conflict, especially when her presumed-dead twin sister, Mae, resurfaces as the Acolyte responsible for the murders. Stenberg tackles this dual role with remarkable skill, embodying the light and dark sides of the Force with a captivating intensity. Her portrayal of Mae is a standout, showcasing a fascinating blend of grace and calculated ruthlessness in meticulously choreographed fight scenes. However, Osha’s character, while emotionally charged, occasionally lacks the same depth and intrigue as her enigmatic twin. 

The Acolyte

That being said, it is Osha’s bond with her former Jedi Master, Sol, that adds a poignant layer to the series. South Korean acting powerhouse Lee Jung-jae, who immersed himself fully in the Star Wars universe to prepare for the role, is a refreshing departure from the stoic Jedi archetypes. Drawing inspiration from beloved Jedi Masters like Qui-Gon Jinn, played by Liam Neeson in The Phantom Menace, Lee Jung-jae imbues Sol with warmth, vulnerability, and a complex emotional range rarely seen in Jedi Masters. The show cleverly uses Sol to expound upon the complexities of the Jedi Order and its philosophies, delivering exposition in a way that feels organic and engaging. His expressive performance, even in silence, underscores the profound bond between Master and (former) Padawan that resonates deeply. 

While the series boasts strong performances from its leads, it underutilises yet another talented actor, Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix, Jessica Jones), who steps into the role of Master Indara. Despite her potential to leave a significant mark on the series, the show does not fully capitalise on Moss’ capabilities. Master Indara, renowned for her mastery of ‘Force-fu’ – a combat style inspired by Moss’ iconic role as Trinity in The Matrix franchise – is portrayed as one of the most formidable Jedi but her presence, along with her electrifying choreographed sequences, feels disappointingly brief, leaving fans yearning for a more substantial exploration of her character and abilities.

The Acolyte

As the plot unfolds, it becomes apparent that The Acolyte is a slow burn. An early plot twist, while significant, may not surprise those familiar with the show’s marketing, leading to a somewhat predictable first half. Each episode, ranging from 32 to 42 minutes, feels like it barely scratches the surface of the High Republic’s downfall. The narrative takes its time to build momentum, with significant developments regarding the sinister Sith Lord and the broader implications for the Jedi Order only becoming clearer by the end of the fourth episode, and this slow revelation might test the patience of some fans.

However, the third episode, directed by Kogonada (Pachinko) emerges as a high point, characterised by its visual quality and an emotionally charged storyline that delves deep into the backgrounds of Mae and Osha, revealing their connection to their mother, Aniseya, brought to life by British model-actress Jodie Turner-Smith of Anne Boleyn (2021) fame. Aniseya’s character, reminiscent of The Mother from the novel Star Wars: the High Republic: Path of Deceit (2022), symbolises resistance against the Jedi’s dominion over the Force, echoing sentiments from the era’s more radical groups.

The Acolyte

The Acolyte further caters to High Republic enthusiasts by introducing beloved characters from the Star Wars: The High Republic comics (2021), including Vernestra Rwoh (Rebecca Henderson, Russian Doll), in live-action form. Rwoh, once a young prodigy in the comics, is now a senior member of the Jedi Order. While the show’s deliberate pacing might not resonate with everyone, its mini callbacks to the expansive Star Wars universe are a treasure trove for enthusiasts of the High Republic era.

But what if you’re not well-versed in the intricacies of the High Republic? Fear not, for The Acolyte extends a welcoming hand to newcomers. The references to lore serve as delightful Easter eggs rather than prerequisites, enriching the experience for dedicated fans without alienating new viewers. The series stands on its own, introducing audiences to new worlds like Brendok and Khofar, planets untouched by previous Star Wars films. These new worlds, rendered in stunning cinematography, extend the scope of the galaxy far, far away, while remaining accessible to those unfamiliar with the expanded universe.

While The Acolyte has yet to fully harness the Force’s power in its first four episodes, the groundwork has been laid for a roller coaster journey through the twilight of the High Republic, and one can’t help but feel optimistic that the series will find its footing as it delves deeper into this era. The series may not be a perfect Jedi or Sith yet, but the Force is slowly awakening within The Acolyte, and we await its full power.

The first two episodes of The Acolyte are now streaming on Disney+, with new episodes dropping weekly.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Set in the High Republic era, this intriguing mystery thriller boasts stunning action sequences, but its slow-burn pace and underutilised characters might test the patience of some viewers.

Overall
6.9/10
6.9/10
  • Story - 6.5/10
    6.5/10
  • Direction - 7/10
    7/10
  • Characterisation - 7/10
    7/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 7/10
    7/10