‘Star Wars: The Acolyte’ Review: Old Jedi Mind Tricks In A Galaxy Even Farther Away

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers from the first two episodes of Disney+/Lucasfilm’s series The Acolyte which drop tonight at 6PM PT.

It’s a 100 years before the events of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, essentially the whip and buggy days of the Jedi order, where there’s no such thing as light and dark side yet, not even the Sith.

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But there’s a great disturbance in the force in the new Star Wars Disney+ series The Acolyte in which Amandla Stenberg’s Mae, a masked jedi who is going around picking fights with (what will be) four good-spirited jedis, i.e. we open on Carrie Anne Moss’ sage Indara getting offed by Mae “to please the master.” That’s an upsetting kill as Moss is in perfect acrobatic shape in a nod to her high-wire Matrix days. Mae slays Indara not with a lightsaber, but rather with little spears. It remains an open question just how dead Indara is.

“Peace, is alive! I know!” says an aggravated Mae about the tame times to a poison-chemist Qimir (Manny Jacinto) whose services she ultimately employs.

Mae (Amandla Stenberg)
Mae (Amandla Stenberg)

After Mae takes out Indara, we cut to what looks like Mae waking up on a Neoimodian (‘memba them? The green ugly guys from the beginning of Phantom Menace) cargo ship. Was it all a dream? This character, who is now dressed as a mechanic seems much gentler. However, it’s Osha (also played by Stenberg) and she’s soon confronted by two Jedi who board the ship. One of them is Osha’s former Jedi colleague Yord (Charlie Barnett) who accuses her of a crime she didn’t commit.

Like The Fugitive‘s Dr. Richard Kimble, Osha is thrown on a prison rig, which ultimately crashes into an icy planet leading to her freedom (a riveting action scene involving a mutiny by the prisoners who steal away in escape pods, leaving Osha behind). Later on, there’s another big wink to Dr. Kimble: Osha jumps off a ledge during an “I didn’t do it” scene.

Pulled into the pursuit of Osha is her former Jedi Master, Sol (Lee Jung-jae) who teams with Yord and Jedi Padawan Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen).

Meanwhile, Osha has a vision, her twin sister Mae — thought to have died in a fire that took their entire family — is alive. Osha was supposedly the sole survivor and Sol took her as his Padawan. (Though like Ahsoka after her, she would fall out of love with the whole Jedi thing). Sol and associates find Osha who tells them, “Mae is alive.” Well, now, Osha, you’re part of this pursuit for Mae.

Episode 2 finds Mae entrusting the services of an apothecary, Qimir (left), who makes a poison which she uses to kill a cloistered, meditating Jedi, Master Torbin. Apparently, he’s committed evils and has lived away from the other Jedis in guilt; Mae reminding him of such. Sol, Yord, Jecki and Osha ultimately learn, via Qimir, that Mae is alive. Sol confronts her in a kung-fu second episode climax in which he learns, not even Mae realizes who the voice in her head is. Mae, too, is surprised to know that her sister Osha is alive.

But it’s in the end of Episode 1 that we get to hear the silky bass of the phantom menace inside Mae’s mind; his silhouette appears in the distance with red saber. He then booms to her, “Jedi live in a dream, a dream they believe everyone shares. If you attack a Jedi with a weapon, you will fail. Steel nor laser are no threat to them. But an acolyte, an acolyte kills without a weapon, an acolyte kills the dream.” Hence, the title of the show.

Who, oh, who is this guy? The great, great grandfather to Emperor Palpatine? Or Darth Maul’s uncle?

Kudos to Lucasfilm for sticking their neck out on a series set eons before the High Republic. It’s a feat that only a TV show can accomplish and would be too risky and deep universe for a Star Wars feature film. However, from the gorgeous earth tone purple-green production design, you’d never know it’s set in a galaxy 100 years before. You’d think the whole show was set months before Phantom Menace. (Alas, the same criticism can be heaped upon George Lucas’ Episode One in its supped up CGI of the pre-millennium vs. the 1970s production design of the original Star Wars). In regards to pure Star Wars timeline, Tony Gilroy’s Andor comes off appearing more yesteryear (and it’s only set during pre-Episode 4 times) in its dirty industrial Imperial metal and rundown space ports.

The Leslye Headland (Russian Doll)-created Acolyte hits all the right Star Wars motifs, from hooded evil Jedis, twins broken apart (ala Luke and Leia), puppeteers in the shadows and past crimes that continue to have ramifications in the future. While that’s great comfort food for any Star Wars fan, it’s also old hat.

Whereas Andor is unafraid to play to sophisticated, older Star Wars fans in its baroque storytelling, The Acolyte feels like it’s trying to play to an under-15 crowd. Disney walks a fine line with Star Wars. They continually run the risk ala Solo: A Star Wars Story of creating a situation in which fans clutch their pearls over any misstep in mythology. That task is even more daunting now that Disney+ is paring back on series overall; it may be harder to bob and weave on levels of Star Wars drama in order to keep a general Disney+ audience from cancelling their subscriptions. Still, I hope one day we’ll get to see Sam Esmail’s version of Jedis with memory loss and double personalities. Nonetheless, Headland accomplishes what the Star Wars series were originally about: expanding, intriguing universe. Not just evident in Osha’s nomadic ship-hopping ‘mechnik’, but also in what’s next in Episode 3: Hold on to your nerf herders, but the Wookie Jedi are coming.

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