Key art for The Acolyte featuring Sol, Mae, and Indara

The Acolyte Season 1 Is the Force-Fueled Kick in the Pants Disney-Era Star Wars Needs (Review)

Warning: The following review contains spoilers for The Acolyte Season 1, Episode 1, “Lost / Found,” and Episode 2, “Revenge / Justice.”

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One of the valid knocks against Star Wars under Disney is that it’s become backward-facing and stale. But the latest Disney+ series, The Acolyte, is neither of these things.

Related: Is Star Wars: The Acolyte Cancelled?

On the face of it, that’s a ridiculous claim. The Acolyte is set in the High Republic era, 100 years before The Phantom Menace – deeper in the past than any other live-action Star Wars production. That’s not exactly looking to the future. And yes, with this eight-episode series, we’re once again dealing with the same old Jedi versus Sith paradigm that defines much of the canon. So far, so much the same as most other Star Wars adventures, Disney or otherwise.

Yet based on Season 1’s two-episode premiere, The Acolyte ultimately succeeds in moving Disney-era Star Wars forward by using its largely unexplored setting to shake up the franchise’s formula.

The Acolyte Season 1 kicks off with Mae (Amandla Stenberg), the Sith trainee who lends the show its title, on a Jedi-killing spree. The kicker? Mae supposedly died years ago, so the Jedi immediately assume Mae’s twin sister, ex-Padawan Osha (Stenberg again), is to blame. Osha’s former master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) leads a small team of Jedi to bring Osha in, however, his investigation soon uncovers a deeper, more sinister plot that threatens the future of both the Jedi Order and the galaxy itself.

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: as a murder mystery, The Acolyte Season 1 isn’t much to write home about. Sure, showrunner Leslye Headland and her team make a half-hearted effort early on to make us think Osha is the killer, but we know Mae’s the real culprit before the credits roll on Episode 1. Fortunately, The Acolyte is far more compelling as a whydunnit. Even when the pacing lags or the odd plot hole opens up, “dark assassin hunting Jedi for revenge” remains an arresting hook. What’s more, framing the narrative as an investigation lends proceedings a different vibe than the average Star Wars joint (even 2002’s Attack of the Clones, which had story detective elements).

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The Acolyte‘s first season is also pleasantly self-contained. Could a complete Star Wars newbie tune in and follow along? Probably not. Headland expects at least a baseline familiarity with the mythos going in. But compared to other recent efforts, such as The Mandalorian Season 3 or Ahsoka Season 1, it’s very easy to digest. There are no in-your-face crossovers with Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels here. If you’ve seen the first six Star Wars movies, you’ll have no trouble keeping up with The Acolyte Season 1. It’s refreshing, like the “same-but-different” High Republic world itself.

Genre and standalone storytelling aren’t The Acolyte Season 1’s only points of difference from Disney’s wider Star Wars library, either. The show also places a far heavier emphasis on Force-infused martial arts than any Star Wars production, including those that pre-date the House of Mouse. Your mileage will vary on the overall quality of these set pieces – don’t let Carrie-Anne Moss’ presence fool you: The Matrix this ain’t – but they’re competently staged, and at least they’re a break from yet another lightsaber duel.

Carrie-Anne Moss as Master Indara in The Acolyte

The cast certainly gives it their all during The Acolyte‘s many Force-fu sequences. They’re just as dedicated on the pure acting side, too. The entire acting roster generally acquits themselves well, despite Season 1’s somewhat broad strokes approach to characterization and its uneven dialogue. Stenberg obviously has the hardest job of the lot, and she makes a decent fist of the dual Osha/Mae role. Admittedly, she’s occasionally a tad goofy as Mae (particularly when challenging Jedi to throw down), however, that’s kind’ve the point; Mae herself is playing a part, and not always convincingly. However, it’s Lee who delivers the standout turn in Episodes 1 and 2. His is a soulful performance that balances warmth, regret, and resolve.

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As Sol, Lee is the perfect male lead for such a dark story, albeit one peppered with humor (this is still Star Wars, after all). And, fittingly, the root of The Acolyte‘s darkness represents Season 1’s biggest risk: tackling the Jedi Order’s failings head-on. While The Acolyte definitely showcases the compassion and duty traditionally associated with the Order, Episodes 1 and 2 also build on the less flattering, bureaucratic side of the Order introduced in the Star Wars prequels.

Heck, it takes things a step further: The Acolyte‘s two-part premiere hints that even holier-than-thou Jedi Masters are capable of committing terrible crimes, even if unwittingly. More than that, they’ll cover up these crimes to protect the Jedi’s reputation. The Sith are still the bad guys – but as an institution, the Jedi Order may be far more flawed than we ever realized. It’s a tantalizing addition to Star Wars‘ ongoing reckoning with just how worthwhile the Jedi were, even in their heyday. It’s also bound to ruffle feathers, but then sometimes that’s just what the medical droid ordered.

Indeed, the entire Star Wars franchise has long needed a Force-fueled kick in the pants – and that’s just what The Acolyte Season 1 provides.

The Acolyte Season 1 is currently streaming on Disney+, with new episodes dropping Tuesdays.

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Leon Miller
Leon is a freelance contributor at The Escapist, covering movies, TV, video games, and comics. Active in the industry since 2016, Leon's previous by-lines include articles for Polygon, Popverse, Screen Rant, CBR, Dexerto, Cultured Vultures, PanelxPanel, Taste of Cinema, and more.