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The Acolyte: Disney’s latest Star Wars dud needs to pick up the pace

Published Jun 4th, 2024 12:00PM EDT
Mae (Amandla Stenberg) in The Acolyte.
Image: Lucasfilm

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On paper, The Acolyte sounds like a surefire hit. Not only is this Star Wars series a crime thriller about a dangerous assailant taking out Jedi—it’s also set about 100 years before The Phantom Menace. Free from the shackles of the Skywalker Saga, Disney had a chance to reassess this beloved fictional universe that is creaking under the weight of its canon.

There are traces of that potential throughout this series, which takes place in an age when the Jedi Order is at its most powerful, patrolling the galaxy to right wrongs for the Galactic Republic. The Acolyte comes near the end of the High Republic era, following Jedi Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) as he attempts to unravel the mystery behind an ongoing murder spree which threatens to destabilize the Jedi Order and sow discord with the public.

I had a chance to watch the first four episodes ahead of The Acolyte’s premiere, and I walked away with more questions than answers. Unfortunately, those questions had nothing to do with the actual plot or the murder mystery at the heart of the show. Rather, I wondered how this was the show that so many incredibly talented people decided to make.

Leslye Headland, who previously co-created Netflix’s brilliantly funny sci-fi dramedy Russian Doll, serves as creator and executive producer on The Acolyte. She also has writing credits on two episodes and directed two more. In Russian Doll, Headlead and her collaborators dreamed up some deeply weird, unique, and relatable characters, including Natasha Lyonne as a game developer stuck in an endless time loop on her 36th birthday.

Save for a mystery driving its plot, The Acolyte has very little in common with Russian Doll. That includes the characters, few of whom are imbued with an ounce of ingenuity. Amandla Stenberg, who plays twins Mae and Osha, is charismatic, and does her best to serve as the show’s dueling emotional cores, but she’s fighting an uphill battle. Yes, the Jedi are under attack, but in this era, the Jedi appear to be overstepping the limits of their responsibility. So we’re not really meant to root for the Jedi, but we don’t want to see them murdered in cold blood, either.

The muddled messaging made it fairly difficult to invest in any of these characters, which was compounded by the uninspired writing. Dialogue is often dull and repetitive, characters change their minds (and occasionally their entire personalities) on a whim whenever the story calls for it, and the archetypes are so familiar and played out that none of our heroes or villains feel new or different from any other live-action Star Wars show.

Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett), Jedi Padawan Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen) and Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) in The Acolyte.
Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett), Jedi Padawan Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen) and Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) in The Acolyte. Image source: Lucasfilm

One annoying question I’ve been guilty of asking in the past: Who is this show for? The Acolyte is clearly for Star Wars fans. There are Jedi, lightsabers, crazy alien species, intergalactic travel, and dangerous villains in formidable helmets. The problem is that, much like in Ahsoka or The Book of Boba Fett, they aren’t put to good use.

Four episodes in, I’m struggling to connect. I am excited about the doors that this series opens for relationships and characters that have never gotten their time in the sun(s) of the Star Wars universe, but I’m frustrated that this is where they’re being rolled out. I want to send Sol, Osha, and Mae on an urgent, thrilling adventure, not an overstuffed miniseries bogged down by lore and flashbacks and Easter eggs we’ve seen too many times before.

There are still four episodes I haven’t seen, so I’m holding out hope that the back half of this series can kick on the hyperdrive and give me something to cheer about.

The first two episodes of The Acolyte premiere on Disney+ on Tuesday, June 4.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.