The Acolyte: A Stale, Inconsistent Addition to Star Wars Canon

Set in a past and galaxy far, far away, this new show is available on Disney+ Hotstar.
The Acolyte: A Stale, Inconsistent Addition to Star Wars Canon

Directors: Hanelle M. Culpepper, Alex Garcia Lopez, Leslye Headland, Kogonada

Writers: Leslye Headland, Jasmyne Flournoy, Jason Micallef, Kor Adana, Charmaine DeGrate, Jocelyn Bioh, Claire Kiechel, Jen Richards, Eileen Shim, Cameron Squires

Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Dafne Keen, Jodie Turner-Smith, Lee Jung-jae, Charlie Barnett, Rebecca Henderson, Manny Jacinto

Episodes: 8

Available on: Disney+ Hotstar

When I reviewed Obi Wan Kenobi, I was rather vocal about how the Star Wars franchise needs to move forward, not backwards, to be relevant. The Acolyte, set 100 years before the Star Wars timeline we recognise, doubles down on going back and becoming a humbling existential reminder that perhaps my opinion isn’t worth a single galactic credit.

The first two episodes of The Acolyte hit Disney+ Hotstar this week (the platform shared four episodes with reviewers) and the show kicks off with an energetic Jedi martial arts sequence with Carrie Ann Moss’s jedi master Indara delivering action choreography that seems to have been inspired by the question, “What if Trinity moved like Neo in The Matrix?” It is an exciting sequence and tonally very different from what we usually see in the franchise. It is one of the few Jedi sequences, which doesn’t involve extended lightsaber use. Why am I giving the opening sequence such a wide berth in the review? Because having seen the first four episodes, the rest of The Acolyte is Tauntaun poop.

A still from Acolyte
A still from Acolyte

To its credit, the show barely needs any homework as long as you recognize there’s a galaxy far, far away and the Jedis are the good guys. The first four episodes are set in the time of the ‘High Republic’, 100 years before the Skywalker Saga, and the earliest movie prequel in the Star Wars timeline, The Phantom Menace. This is a time when the warrior-monk order known as the Jedis and the interplanetary government, The Republic, were ruling a relatively peaceful galaxy. However, the murder of Jedi master Indara breaks that semblance of order and peace. Jedis Sol (Lee Jung-jae), Yord (Charlie Barnett), and Jecki (Dafne Keen) must band together to investigate this crime – and their prime suspect is Osha (Amandla Stenberg), a former trainee (Padawan) who has left the Jedi order.

 Now you’d think a murder mystery in the time of the High Republic — with no canon or character baggage — would be a perfect jumping point for a unique Star Wars story; but you would be wrong. It takes less than 30 minutes of run time for the mystery to dissipate, and from there on The Acolyte cannot decide whether it is a Sith origin story, a nuanced take on the Jedi order’s fanaticism hidden deep within its empathetic and ascetic philosophy, or just a low budget, low production, badly enacted filler fantasy adventure with Star Wars slapped on it.

Lee Jung-jae tries to deliver something of a measured performance through the first four episodes. However, even he seems out of his depth in a show that changes its genre, tone and production quality as fast as its characters change their motivations. By the time you’re into episodes three and four, the plot starts veering towards fan-fiction level writing, carrying little weight and even less sense or suspense. If the murderer is revealed in the first two episodes and the secret mastermind is obvious before you hit the halfway mark on the series, then the mystery and suspense benchmarks are about as high as those of the Scooby-Doo series. Halfway into the eight-episode series, episode four attempts a cliffhanger, but personally, I couldn’t care less where The Acolyte goes even though I’ve now watched it mid-way and am somewhere between obligated and committed to continue.  

A still from Acolyte
A still from Acolyte

Barnett as Yord and Keen’s Jecki deliver wooden performances. Most of the characters switch motivations at a whim and the humour is mostly forced. In fact, some visuals meant to horrify or mystify the audience are downright laughable. (Hey Acolyte, King Kong’s (2005) CGI team called, they want their 3D critter renders back. Wait. The Hobbit folks are also calling. They want their spider forest renders back too.)

 Unlike other entries like Andor, which flesh out the Star Wars canon, The Acolyte gives you no reason to care for its characters or its arc. Carrie Ann Moss’s Indara is the only stand-out in this bore of a show; and she dies far too soon. “Always in motion, the future is,” said the iconic Yoda and it must be said that Disney/Lucasfilm should now follow this particular utterance as their guiding principle. In fact, if there is a silver lining to The Acolyte, then that is the fact that once it is over, Disney and LucasFilms executives may perhaps refocus on where the overall Star Wars story needs to go. If you really want to watch more of the past within Star Wars, bet on the Bad Batch, Visions or Tales of the Jedi.

Activate your hyperdrive and run away from The Acolyte for the sake of the franchise. Thank me later. 

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