‘The Acolyte’ Review: The Best Disney+ Star Wars Show Since ‘Andor’


Being a Star Wars fan is very interesting. I grew up through the era of the prequel trilogy and thought it was the most boring thing ever. Then I watched the original trilogy, and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. And even though I wasn’t nostalgic about the originals or the prequels, I enjoyed the legacy sequel trilogy for the most part. The franchise had a solid fanbase on the small screen with its animated projects, which didn’t really interest me. That said, the first season of The Mandalorian did do the trick. After the mercurial success of that show, Star Wars totally shifted to the small screen, and they started churning out stuff that ranged from mediocre to abysmally bad. Andor was like a diamond in the rough. And although it seemed like nothing in the franchise could be as good as that, especially in terms of its storytelling, The Acolyte has really, really surprised me.

Disclaimer: The review is based on the first 4 episodes given to the press by Disney+ Hotstar.

Created by Leslye Headland, the series takes place 100 years before the events of The Phantom Menace. The galaxy is enjoying a moment of peace as the Jedi Order and the Galactic Republic are working together to avoid any kind of warfare and ensure that the diverse civilizations scattered all across the universe witness progress. But an assassin called Mae is out to upend this status quo by killing Jedi, starting with Jedi Master Indara. She has a twin sister called Osha, who works as a mechanic. Since Mae is officially dead due to a tragic incident that happened on Brendok 16 years ago, Osha is blamed for the murder and arrested by the Jedi. When Osha’s former mentor, Jedi Master Sol, learns about Indara’s death and Osha’s involvement in it, he is genuinely shocked. So, he decides to reconnect with Osha and get to the bottom of this issue before the High Council’s political rivals use this death against them.

Given how interesting the plot of The Acolyte is, I don’t want to go into the specifics of it and ruin the fun for anyone. All I will say is that the atmosphere of mystery around the story is so thick that it’s thrilling to watch the writers unpack it all at a slow pace, and the repercussions of the revelations feel so daunting that it generates a sense of dread about the truth that connects all the characters. That said, I do want to highlight what I think the show is talking about in regards to the state in which the Star Wars franchise has been for a long time. As mentioned before, the storylines in this epic space opera have been very limited in terms of its scope, as they eventually connect to the Skywalker saga. Even The Mandalorian, which seemed like it had nothing to do with the Skywalkers, became about the Skywalkers at the end of the day. And the overdependence on lore and whatnot seemingly stopped the franchise from growing. That’s why Andor felt like a fresh breath of air, and it looks like The Acolyte is saying that we need more of that.

Mild spoilers for The Acolyte maybe, but the subplot about the Jedi’s insistence on not allowing anyone to use the Force if they aren’t a part of the Jedi Order and plucking any budding Force-user from the farthest corners of the galaxy and compelling them to use the Force in a way that they deem is correct sounds fascistic. Funnily enough, Star Wars as a brand is no different. They don’t want to explore other areas of their own fictional universe. Thanks to Disney, they have a monopoly on what will and won’t work in the world of entertainment. So, artists have no option but to gravitate towards these big franchises and make a living by thanklessly doing episodes of their shows without getting to bring their imaginations to the drawing board. And this practice not only stagnates the storytelling capabilities of the franchise but also harms the artform in general. Hence, at the cost of sounding repetitive, it feels refreshing to see Leslye Headland, Kogonada, Alex Garcia Lopez, and all the artists attached to The Acolyte do a mystery-thriller set in the Star Wars franchise, where the aliens and the cyborgs are weird and disgusting, the world feels lived in and tangible, the action has elements of Wuxia in it, and there’s something surprising at every turn.

The performances from the entire cast are excellent. Amandla Stenberg is an incredibly talented actor, but this is a star-making performance. The subtle changes in her demeanor to play the twin sisters, while also expressing the similarities in their characteristics to show how they are two sides of the same coin, are fascinating to watch. Lee Jung-jae is brilliant. He exudes such a sense of warmth and trust that you do want to become Sol’s student. But the shades of doubt and guilt that he exhibits make you question whether or not he is the good guy he says he is. And while all that is amazing and worth appreciating, I think that Lee deserves a round of applause for learning English and speaking so flawlessly and with such gravitas, just for this role. I’m sure that if I hadn’t mentioned this, you would’ve assumed that he has been a fluent English speaker all his life. But he learned a new language while doing all kinds of Jedi shenanigans! Manny Jacinto is great. Dafne Keen is really good, and I sense some chemistry between her character and Osha, which is cool. Jodie-Turner Smith, Margarita Levieva, and all the mothers of Brendok are ethereal, inspiring, and a little scary. Charlie Barnett’s brand of stoicism is hilarious. Dean-Charles Chapman, Joonas Suotamo, and Carrie-Anne Moss didn’t have a lot of screen time in the four episodes that I got to see, but they were fine. That said, the MVP in the cast, according to me, is Bazil.

It’s probably the recency bias talking, and maybe I was starving for some good storytelling after Andor set the bar way too high, but I really liked The Acolyte. As mentioned before, the underlying commentary about the franchise and franchise storytelling in general caught me off-guard and impressed me. The character designs, the art direction, the production design, the action, the lighting, the editing, the cinematography—all of it had a level of care and passion that’s expected from a show that’s spending millions of dollars to bring these worlds to life. I fell in love with the characters and the actors playing them almost instantly. So, as a Star Wars fan, I am happy and satisfied. In addition to that, I think The Acolyte can act as a good gateway for people who want to get into Star Wars but feel that there’s too much homework to do to “understand” it. The show has cool ships, lightsabers, politics, drama, odd planets, and everything that the IP is synonymous with, while not being burdened by the baggage of the Skywalker saga. Hence, if you want to become a Star Wars fan or if you are already a fan, watch The Acolyte.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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