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Star Wars The Acolyte review: An enthralling new era packed with mystery and intrigue

Star Wars The Acolyte review: An enthralling new era packed with mystery and intrigue

Star Wars: The Acolyte restores the franchise's intrigue and magnetism

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” was a phrase that once held an air of mystery that’s somewhat been lost with time. These days, those words mark our return to a galaxy that we’re all too familiar with.

But that sense of intrigue and magnetism is once again restored in the excellent Star Wars: The Acolyte, a new eight-part series set to premiere on Disney Plus on 4 June in the US or 5 June if you’re in the UK.

Set roughly 100 years prior to the events of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, The Acolyte is exactly what that aforementioned phrase states, set a long time ago. In fact, this is the first time that the High Republic era has been explored in a live-action setting meaning that for many of us, this series may mark our first contact with the time period.

With that in mind, the galaxy is quite literally showrunner Leslye Headland’s oyster - and she certainly makes the most of this creative freedom, weaving a story that is both quintessentially Star Wars whilst being wholly new.

Take a look at our interview with The Acolyte’s Dafne Keen, Charlie Barnett, and Rebecca Henderson below.

I adore Star Wars, but even I tire sometimes of the reliance on fan service and nostalgic cameos included just to secure a rapid-hit dopamine rush. Certainly, these things have their place but series like Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Book of Boba Fett felt so overly reliant on such tricks that they lacked any real sense of identity. That’s why Andor was such a breath of fresh air. Showrunner Tony Gilroy had a story to tell, one that he didn’t constrict by bogging it down with some of the franchise’s usual modern day tactics.

The Acolyte has, in a way, been created with a similar mindset. Described by Headland as Frozen meets Kill Bill, it’s clear that The Acolyte was also created with a story-first mindset. That pays off in leaps and bounds as each of the four episodes I’ve been able to watch all feel well-considered, with each episode offering as many answers as they did plot twists that raised further questions. Pacing done to a T.

The Acolyte is so much more than a good story though. Headland has a clear understanding for what it is that fans actually want, and it’s not cheap thrills. With this insight, she’s able to imbue the series with that same level of intrigue and magic many of us might have felt watching A New Hope for the first time. Yes, it helps that generally many of us know far less about the High Republic but even still, from new lightsaber styles to the creation of a formidable new villain, Headland is weaving new threads within this world that I’m sure will get the George Lucas seal of approval.

Star Wars: The Acolyte /
Disney Plus

The Acolyte centres around Jedi Master Sol, portrayed by Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae, who hears word that a former apprentice (portrayed by Amandla Stenberg) may have committed a string of murders, targeting fellow Jedi. This review will remain spoiler-free so I’ll refrain from saying too much more but I will tease that from the get-go, The Acolyte’s rapid pacing will have viewers theorising about a new topic from week to week.

Lee Jung-jae is delightful as Sol, a truly mesmerising new Jedi Master to add to the roster. Sol isn’t quite as stoic as Qui-Gon, nor as playful as Obi-Wan. He’s not as wise as Yoda, nor as by-the-book as Luke.

Sol’s very personal connection to the investigation he’s involved in leads to a palpable simmering tension beneath the surface of his every action and word. It’s clear that, as a respected member of the Jedi Order, Sol is trying to uphold those ideals the Order is founded on but at the same time, he’s losing composure. It’s an arc that by the series’ mid-point is heating up, and it’s great to see Lee showcase what he’s capable of.

Star Wars: The Acolyte /
Disney Plus

If I was to praise every individual performance, we might be here all day but I can safely say that it’s a strong affair across the board. I particularly found myself drawn in by Charlie Barnett’s Yord Fandar, a Jedi Knight whose steadfast dedication to the Jedi Order I found myself fascinated by. You just can’t help but feel that something truly formidable is going to come along to challenge that stoicism. Will Yord remain as controlled as he does in those opening episodes? It’s a prospect that’s captured my attention, for sure.

Jodie Turner-Smith’s Mother Aniseya, the leader of a coven of witches - not to be confused with the Night Sisters - is equally mesmeric when she debuts in the show’s third episode, as is Amandla Stenberg’s Mae, a character who is complex beyond reasons why I can explain here in this spoiler-free review.

Mae is a formidable assassin, and Stenberg does a fantastic job in the premiere’s opening fight sequence, but so too is she a puppet on a string for our nameless Sith Lord. In those opening four episodes, this figure is as elusive as they have proven to be in the show’s marketing campaign. To begin with, brief yet menacing glimpses will have to tide fans over, but worry not. Chaos will come. We could be looking at the most exciting villain Star Wars has had in years.

Star Wars: The Acolyte /
Disney Plus

That’s intensified by the real sense of risk in The Acolyte. No one is safe. We’re not dealing with well-established characters that we know get from point A to point B. Obi-Wan was never going to face impending peril in his titular series. Here though, there’s not a single chess piece on the board that feels protected by plot (or timeline) armour.

The Acolyte has truly got it all. From epic lightsaber duels to adorable droids and everything in between, these are the jigsaw pieces that make Star Wars what it is, and yet Headland places those pieces together in a way that feels both familiar and new. Offering excellently paced episodes and a thrilling story packed with twists, turns, and revelations, The Acolyte doesn’t disappoint. Finally, someone has figured out what it is that made the golden age of Star Wars so special.

Star Wars: The Acolyte premieres on Disney Plus on 4 June 6pm PST/9pm EST in the US or on 5 June 2am BST in the UK.

Featured Image Credit: Disney Plus

Topics: Star Wars, TV And Film, Disney, Reviews