Is ‘The Acolyte’ Exactly What Star Wars Has Been Missing?

Star Wars has had a rough few years on Disney Plus. For every Andor, there’s a Book of Boba Fett. Even the former poster child for the service, The Mandalorian, has begun to lose audiences with its most recent season. This left all eyes on The Acolyte to impress fans and pull casuals back into the fold. But was it able to succeed?

The Acolyte has a much darker premise than most Star Wars shows. Taking place 100 years prior to the events of The Phantom Menace, the series follows a former Padawan (Amandla Stenberg) forced to ally with the Jedi Order and her former master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) after dark circumstances arise. However, things quickly take a turn for the worse as they realize they’re dealing with forces far more sinister than they could have ever expected.

The time period alone already gives The Acolyte a leg up when compared to its fellow Disney Plus shows. There’s been a push in recent years to connect many of the shows in the Star Wars universe, in no small part due to the influence of Lucasfilm’s Chief creative officer Dave Filoni. While all the cameos and Easter eggs have been a joy to fans, it’s left casual fans feeling like they need to play catch up in cases like Ahsoka.

By setting The Acolyte at the very end of the High Republic era, long before the name “Skywalker” ever graced the suns of Tatooine, the series is able to tell a story entirely detached from the established Star Wars canon fans have grown to expect from the Disney Plus shows. The series takes full advantage of this throughout its first few episodes, telling a truly unique story unable to be found anywhere else in the franchise.

This doesn’t mean that The Acolyte is completely divorced from Star Wars lore. The series holds many secrets that hardcore fans will be overjoyed to see in live-action. However, those elements serve a unique role in the story that helps distance it from the films and other Disney Plus shows.

The first mistake of The Acolyte is that it doesn’t take this premise far enough. Despite being set a century before the Star Wars films, the level of technology seen in the galaxy far, far away seems to be stagnant. Aside from a few architectural differences, nobody would be blamed if they thought the Disney Plus series took place only a handful of years prior to The Phantom Menace.

That all being said, the entire cast of The Acolyte gives their A-Game. With multiple big names on the roster, from Amandla Stenberg to Dafne Keen, it’d be easy to imagine some members of the cast could get drowned out. However, even minor characters such as Manny Jacinto’s Qimir stand tall as worthy members of the ensemble.

the acolyte

Particular flowers must be given to Lee Jung-jae, who gives one of the best performances of any Jedi in the history of the franchise. He’s able to perfectly channel the tragedy and wisdom that Jedi Masters are known for with his portrayal of Sol, while still managing to make the role his own when compared to greats like Alec Guinness.

Another strength of the series is the choreography. Star Wars has never been able to satisfy everyone with its lightsaber duels in live-action, no matter how iconic. The prequels were lambasted in their day for feeling like there was no weight to anything that was happening. In contrast, some view the fights in the original trilogy that fell more in line with samurai duels as far too slow for a space opera.

The Acolyte strikes a balance that hasn’t been found in any Star Wars project not made solely on a computer. It’s thrilling and fast-paced, but still believable within the rules set by the series. This is largely achieved by a surprisingly sparring use of lightsabers, with the series preferring to use the Force and hand-to-hand combat for its most important scenes.

The dreaded Disney Plus pacing issues sadly drag the series down. Much like its Star Wars contemporaries, The Acolyte fares better than most six-episode Disney Plus shows. However, it’s clear the company still struggles with pacing out their high-budget projects over six episodes, with the first four ranging from breakneck to a snail’s pace.

Not much can be said about the story of The Acolyte in this review. It’s certainly good, perhaps one of the best of any Star Wars show on Disney Plus sans Andor. However, the mysteries inherent to its premise prevent much further discussion. What can be said is that the show respects the viewer’s intelligence, and questions become answered before they become stale, allowing new ones to flow into their place at the end of every episode.

The Acolyte isn’t a perfect show. It’s also almost certain its best or worst parts stretch beyond the episodes graciously provided for this review. However, it’s a refreshing change of pace that redefines how franchises like Star Wars should use Disney Plus (or other streaming services) to supplement their tentpole releases with standalone stories, not glorified side missions for their most popular characters to cameo in.

RATING: 8/10

The Acolyte premieres June 4, 2024 on Disney Plus. Stay tuned for the latest news regarding the future of the Star Wars franchise and make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more content!

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