review

The Acolyte review: A middling Star Wars series with promise — ignore the toxic fans

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Mae (Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+.
Mae (Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. Credit: Christian Black ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd/Christian Black / Lucasfilm Ltd.

It’s an unfortunate quirk of modern fandom that even before a series is released to the public, throngs of so-called devotees to a franchise will see fit to “review bomb” a show or movie without having seen it.

The multitude of one-star reviews left on Google point to how awful fans can be when they think there’s a “betrayal” of something they alone feel ownership over.

Star Wars has a particularly emotional and sometimes toxic fandom.

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They write about outside “agendas” pushing in, and “ruining” their thing, which is always code for they don’t like that there are now women/non-white/LGBTQI/insert marginalised community daring to take up space, let alone as, shock horror, leads.

They talk about how Star Wars has been hijacked by some nefarious “woke” or “political” force even though Star Wars was always political.

George Lucas meant the original film to be a critique of the American military campaign in Vietnam.

It’s astonishing that these fans don’t realise that in this equation, they’re the dark side.

The Acolyte is a Star Wars series.
Lee Jung-jae from Squid Game is a lead in The Acolyte. Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd./Lucasfilm Ltd.

The deranged reaction from some quarters sometimes means that there’s an instinct to counter that hate by fawning over something that doesn’t really deserve to be fawned over.

You want to be hyperbolic when, really, The Acolyte, which has as its main characters a black woman (Amandla Stenberg) and an Asian man (Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae), is just a perfectly fine and amiable Star Wars streaming series.

It’s not amazing, but it’s not terrible. It’s definitely not one-star. It exists where most cultural output exists, in the middle, instead of the internet’s demand that everything is either the best or worst thing ever because otherwise no one will pay attention. The middle is fine.

Set 100 years before the Skywalker era, The Acolyte is the story of twins Osha and Mae (both Stenberg). Osha was once the Padawan (an apprentice) of Jedi Master Sol (Lee) but has since left the order. Mae was presumed to have died as a child.

When Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss) is killed and witnesses say Osha was the culprit, they realise Mae may not be so dead after all.

Original bad-arse, Carrie-Anne Moss.
Original bad-arse, Carrie-Anne Moss. Credit: Christian Black ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd/Christian Black / Lucasfilm Ltd.

It’s a story about two sisters who are two sides of the same coin, the yin and yang, the light side and the dark side of the Force. It’s a familiar dynamic steeped in the mythology of Star Wars — unlike the best-reviewed Star Wars series, Andor, which was a gritty Force-free political thriller.

The Acolyte gives fans another space to bathe in the world of the Jedi and their mysterious powers but also asks questions about the way the Force can exist outside of the organising structures of the Jedi or the Sith Lords.

It’s an examination of power, which the early episodes (four were made available for review) hint at, and it’ll be interesting to see how deep down the rabbit hole the remainder of the season goes. Certainly, the pacing and momentum pick up with each episode.

So many lightsabres.
So many lightsabres. Credit: Christian Black ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd/Christian Black / Lucasfilm Ltd.

Some Star Wars movies and shows can be a little too binary in how they deal with good and bad when the most effective ones (such as Andor) are much more comfortable in the grey zone.

The show has a supporting cast of Jedis that get to show off their lightsabre skills including Dafne Keen (Logan), Charlie Barnett (Russian Doll) and Rebecca Henderson (also Russian Doll). Jodie Turner-Smith plays a figure with a connection to Osha and Mae’s past and Manny Jacinto (The Good Place) plays a smuggler character that will surely turn out to be something more otherwise it’s a waste of casting.

Leslye Headland created the show and if she’s able to bring even 30 per cent of the creativity, smarts and curiosity of Russian Doll, which she co-created with Natasha Lyonne, then there’s promise in The Acolyte.

But it is Star Wars and while writers are given a certain amount of latitude while in the sandbox, it’s still a tightly controlled playdate.

Rating: 3/5

The Acolyte is streaming now on Disney+ with new episodes available weekly

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