Star Wars: The Acolyte - Master Sol and Vernestra Rwoh
Image via Lucasfilm

The Acolyte Highlights Disney’s Big Problem With Streaming Shows

The Acolyte isn’t exactly the home run I was hoping for, one that instantly makes the High Republic era of the Star Wars timeline as attractive as the remarkable novels and comic books released over the past few years, and I’m blaming a recurring issue that’s been plaguing Disney Plus shows for a while now.

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While most fans are too busy debating whether the new live-action Star Wars series is breaking the canon (no, the Legends stuff isn’t canon anymore) or fully embracing it, I’ve been quite frustrated by the choppy editing, plenty of awkward bits of dialogue, and the ‘movie-cut-into-short-episodes’ structure that’s (more often than not) barely worked in the past for neither Marvel Studios nor Lucasfilm.

Mind you, I firmly believe The Acolyte’s close examination of the Jedi Order and the dark forces plotting against them roughly one century before The Phantom Menace is far more engrossing on a conceptual level than the middling Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi series, yet it fails to avoid some of the pitfalls that made those disappointing in my eyes. For example, it very much doesn’t look like it cost $180 million in spite of the impressive sets and rad costume designs.

Osha and the Sith Master in The Acolyte

I want to focus on a more widespread problem though: it’s a TV show that doesn’t feel like a TV show. While The Mandalorian learned to walk the line between an episodic and serialized format from the get-go (though we might argue it’s noticeably weaker when it zeroes in on the main plot for too long), all other live-action Star Wars series have had bigger ambitions, offering us the kind of stories we used to watch on the big screen not that long ago, but over several weeks instead. That sounds like a sweet deal, and it kinda is… as long as the writing and editing feel adequate for TV.

Dave Filoni, who’s now also wearing the Chief Creative Officer hat at Lucasfilm, is no stranger to telling big stories that also feel episodic, and his tradition is alive and well with animated shows like The Bad Batch. In Ahsoka, however, he chose to tell a story that, under different circumstances, could’ve been a killer movie. I really liked what he did there, but it’s hard to deny the whole thing felt like one big adventure forced to fit the eight-episode mold that so many streaming services love nowadays.

More than a few comparisons have been established since The Acolyte’s two-episode premiere between Leslye Headland’s series and the Tony Gilroy-captained Andor, which turned out to be the best live-action Star Wars we’ve gotten so far on Disney Plus. For the most part, they’re surface-level similarities, such as the creatives staying away from the tricky Volume tech in most cases and shooting on location as much as possible, or the tone being much darker than the average Star Wars tale. Only Andor appears to understand it’s a TV show first and foremost though; some of its episodes felt ‘incomplete’ or too transitory, yet there were well-defined arcs that made the 12-episode season format make sense. The Acolyte, meanwhile, feels cut at random.

Mae Aniseya in The Acolyte Season 1

Even the people who’ve been openly loving the (admittedly refreshing) series will admit the cuts to credits have been pretty bad so far, like the episodes are hitting an unavoidable time limit which doesn’t respect where the unit of storytelling is at. It’s the kind of annoyance that many viewers find hard to describe despite the impact it has on their enjoyment of the entire thing. A half-solution would’ve been to allow the episodes to breathe a bit more, maybe taking the count down to six from eight. 30-ish minutes simply aren’t enough to build up and pay off the suspense every week. The Acolyte is supposed to be a thriller, but its jumpy pacing and incredibly tight runtimes don’t let it fly and truly get into our heads.

We can predict that, unless the story completely crumbles apart in the back half of the season, The Acolyte will flow much better in one or two binge sessions, as its chapters don’t feel distinct at all, with only the third episode having a bit of an identity due to its flashback nature. Many viewers and disgruntled fans (of the type that still enjoys Star Wars) won’t give the season a second watch though, so this first impression isn’t as good as it could be. You’re free not to buy what’s being sold here, but it’s far more frustrating to enjoy something that’s actively fighting to be worse because of some made-up structural rules.

Ki-Adi-Mundi in The Acolyte Season 1, Episode 4

In a way, The Acolyte and other flawed Star Wars shows highlight we (as in everyone involved) need to get back to theatrical releases as soon as possible. As fun as getting new Mando & Grogu adventures every week for two months has been, Star Wars thrives on the big screen, and new live-action installments need to feel like cultural events again. That said, I’m of the opinion the franchise has also found plenty success on Disney Plus and learned some positive lessons about its flexible limits and what it can do to survive for many more decades thanks to the ‘freedom’ the lack of box office hauls allows.

As always, it’s a matter of telling the right story and finding the right balance and voice for it. But it’s safe to say that Disney and its star studios need to better define what a TV series actually is before putting certain projects through the streaming machine (which is undoubtedly showing signs of fatigue). Marvel Studios appears to be now aware of the power of ‘traditional TV culture’ over prestige shows that are ran like movies, but I’m fearing that Lucasfilm might never learn this lesson before inevitably shifting back to theatrical releases. May the Force be with us, I guess.

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Fran Ruiz
Fran J. Ruiz is a freelance writer for The Escapist as well as other gaming, entertainment, and science websites, including VG247, Space, and LiveScience, with a strong focus on features, listicles, and opinion pieces. His wordsmith journey started with Star Wars News Net and its sister site, writing film, TV, and gaming news as a side gig. Once his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Studies (University of Malaga, Spain) were done, he started collaborating with more and more sites until he became a full-time freelancer on top of an occasional private tutor. There’s no film genre he’s afraid of, but sci-fi and fantasy can win him over easily. Star Wars and Jurassic Park are his favorite stories ever. He also loves the entirety of Lost (yes, even the final season). When it comes to games, Spyro the Dragon and Warcraft III are his all-timers, but he’s the opposite of tied to a few genres. Don’t try to save him from his gargantuan backlog.