The Spool / Reviews
The Acolyte opens new doors in a Galaxy we know well
Disney+'s new Star Wars series dares to suggest the Jedi fallibility, risking fan backlash to open up the universe.
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“Brief, they made a monk of me;

I did renounce the world, its pride and greed,

Palace, farm, villa, shop, and banking-house,

Trash, such as these poor devils of Medici

Have given their hearts to—all at eight years old.”

So jovial monk Fra Lippo Lippi tells his listeners in Robert Browning’s poem of the same name. It pokes a bit of fun at the lifestyle choices the narrator “made” as a child, a child with no real other options to choose from. Scooped up from the streets and entered into a sacred order with the strictest rules imaginable, rules that can only backfire, it’s not that wild a leap from Browning’s winking narrative poem to our modern-day cultural texts. Namely, as ever, Star Wars

The Acolyte, the latest in the television offerings of the Star Wars universe, is great. Let’s get that out of the way immediately. Created by Russian Doll co-creator Leslye Headland, The Acolyte strikes boldly from the get-go. It opens with a stunning fight sequence and one meaningful little thesis: “Hey, what if the Jedi aren’t that great?”

The Acolyte (Disney+)
Charlie Barnett is the Jedi you’re looking for. I mean, come on. (Lucasfilm Ltd)

It’s not an entirely new concept. The Clone Wars made great strides in the “What if this semi-religious order with child soldiers and an army of custom-made human shields were kinda the bad guys?” department. So, too, have the Prequels, Sequels, and much of the wider world of comics and novels, both Canon and De-Canon. Nonetheless, the Jedi Order is meant to be and very much presented as The Good Guys. They use the Force wisely, maintain peace throughout the galaxy, and are very cognizant of public goodwill and how to sway it. 

Osha and Mae (Amandla Stenberg) are twin sisters torn apart by a childhood tragedy. Osha trained as the Padawan of Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) while Mae was presumed dead. Years later, Osha has left the Jedi and a very alive Mae, trained by a mysterious nameless Master, is on a mission to kill Jedi.

In response, Sol and his current Padawan Jecki (Dafne Keen) reconnect with Osha. Together, they seek to find Mae, stop her quest for vengeance, and discover who trained her in the first place. The Jedi don’t like to share. 

The Acolyte (Disney+)
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, all doorways came equipped with their very own Manny Jacinto. (Lucasfilm Ltd)

Headland pitched The Acolyte as “Frozen meets Kill Bill”. It’s as accurate and pithy a description as the show could hope for. Separated sisters with very different outlooks and a woman on a mission to destroy those who destroyed her life, The Acolyte sets its twists and turns in a refreshingly little-addressed era of the Star Wars timeline: The High Republic. Any time someone mentions the good old days when the Jedi were the head honchos? It’s now. The Jedi train in glorious, naturally lit fitness studios on Coruscant and wear immaculate white and gold robes, existing in a sort of elevated smugness. It makes it easy to see why Mae would hold them in contempt, and Osha would feel like she had to leave. 

Stenberg is the shining star of the series, and not solely because she gets to embody identical twins who are nonetheless visibly different characters. Osha is a classic Star Wars smart-aleck with mechanical skills and an easy manner that covers up her deeper hurt. Mae, on the other hand, is a walking wound, a trained warrior who still can’t stop herself from flinging headfirst into battles where a cooler head is necessary. The show swiftly and smartly establishes that, yes, Mae and Osha are two different people. Thus, the plot can move with their backstories and separate interactions without an overarching “But can everyone see Mae?” pseudo-mystery. There’s more than enough mystery to go around without that sort of thing in play. 

The Acolyte (Disney+)
Being a Jedi is a sacred honor and all that, of course. All I’m saying is makeup tutorials could be a nice side hustle for Dafne Keen. (Lucasfilm Ltd)

Allies that play into the best Star Wars tropes without creating carbon copies surround the twins. As Master Sol, Lee is a reluctant father figure to Osha and Jecki. He knows he’s not supposed to care for them but can’t suppress that part of himself. An established warrior, Sol certainly gets one of the well-done fight scenes. However, he also engages in sweet moments, leading a class of younglings in mediation and getting momentarily thrown by their answers. You know, like everyone who works with kids.

In Osha’s crew of Jedi are Jecki, whom Keen imbues with just the right amount of sassy teen energy, and Yord (Charlie Barnett). The latter is a newly-minted Knight with whom Osha trained at the Academy and who may hold more feelings towards his old friend than he should. Mae’s companion on her missions is Qimir (Manny Jacinto), a charming smuggler-type who possibly knows more about Mae’s Master than she does herself. Nary a Skywalker seen! It’s like a miracle! 

The Acolyte (Disney+)
Lee Jung-jae faces the most dangerous of all Jedi duties. Child care. (Lucasfilm Ltd)

The Acolyte will make some viewers angry. It does no one any good to pretend otherwise. Even Headland has noted the same. Whether it’s the genders or races of the main characters, the audacity to suggest that the Jedi could be wrong, or even just Michael Abels’ stunning “It’s Star Wars, but not STAR WARS” score, someone can and will find fault and be loud about it. The Acolyte, however, will stand on its own against those critics, a strong and stunning new entry into the Star Wars canon. 

Let’s end as we began, with Browning and Fra Lippi, and some advice that might have saved the Jedi and the whole galaxy a lot of trouble in the coming centuries. 

“I’m grown a man no doubt, I’ve broken bounds:

You should not take a fellow eight years old

And make him swear to never kiss the girls.”

The Acolyte makes a monk of Disney+ beginning June 4.

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