‘The Acolyte’: The $180 Million ‘Star Wars’ Prequel Is a Shocking Waste of Time

‘The Acolyte’: The $180 Million ‘Star Wars’ Prequel Is a Shocking Waste of Time

The heroine of The Acolyte can’t accept that which was lost, and the same struggle plagues the Star Wars franchise, which has vainly attempted to recapture the magic of George Lucas’ installments—the iconic original trilogy as well as the messy prequels—ever since it was sold to Disney in 2012.

The latest tale in the galaxy far, far away is set a century before Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace, and dispenses more of the ho-hum characters, mythological convolutions, and second-rate action that have become, over the past decade, the property’s stock and trade. An adventure concerning a young woman with deep ties to the Jedi she once sought to join, it’s the umpteenth example of the fact that not all sagas need to go on indefinitely—and especially not via formulaic prequels.

(Warning: Some spoilers ahead.)

One hundred years before the rise of the Empire, the Galactic Republic rules the universe with the aid of the Jedi Order. Despite their position, the lightsaber-loving good guys are hardly invincible, as is proven when a masked figure enters a watering hole on the planet of Ueda and demands a fight with Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss).

This unknown female warrior wields the Force, and her actions don’t go unnoticed by the rest of the Jedi, who subsequently identify the combatant as Osha Aniseya (Amandla Stenberg). The only catch is, Osha is working as a meknek (i.e., a mechanic who repairs spaceships’ outer-hull problems) on a freighter, and she denies having anything to do with the crime. Even so, she’s arrested by a group of Jedi led by Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett), who knows Osha from her prior time spent training to become a Jedi.

Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett), Jedi Padawan Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen) and Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae)

Christian Black / Disney+

As is soon revealed, Osha was rescued 16 years earlier by the Jedi from her home world of Brendok, where her family died in a terrible fire started by her twin sister Mae. Osha was then groomed to be a Jedi by Master Sol (Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae) until she realized that she couldn’t do the one thing—get over her past trauma—necessary to fulfill her education. Sol is presently teaching little kids how to harness the Force (“a power we must respect”), and he’s stunned to hear that his former padawan was responsible for the recent attack.

Still, he has little means of refuting the charges, especially once he learns that there was a mutiny aboard her prison transport ship and that Osha was the sole person who didn’t make it off the craft before it crashed. Convinced she’s alive, he takes his current padawan Jecki (Dafne Keen) to wintery Carlac. There, they find and rescue Osha, who’s now having visions of her dead sibling, who claims to have slain Indara and pledges to “kill them all.”

While there might be multiple potential explanations for these events, The Acolyte doesn’t bother teasing its central mystery, instead divulging that Mae (Sternberg) survived the murderous conflagration she started as a kid. Working with an accomplice named Qimir (Manny Jacinto), whose weirdo shadiness isn’t nearly weird or shady enough to be interesting, Mae serves a cloaked master whose identity is hidden from us as well as her.

Why she does this is anyone’s guess, but her dark lord has taught her the ways of the Jedi and has goaded her into seeking revenge against the four masters who were present on Brendok when her clan perished. A flashback-heavy third episode details the specifics of that calamity: Born to a coven of witches ruled by Mother Aniseya (Jodie Turner-Smith), Mae and Osha were destined to follow in their ancestors’ footsteps until Osha decided she didn’t want to be permanently paired with her clingy sister. The Jedi’s arrival, and Osha’s interest in enlisting with them, was the spark that ignited the tragedy.

The Acolyte dramatizes all of this with a preponderance of exposition (marked by the usual silly sounding names) vocalized by people in typical Star Wars alien make-up, all striped skin, horned faces, and strange eye colors.

Created by Leslye Headland, who shares directing duties with Kogonada, Alex Garcia Lopez, and Hanelle Culpepper, the series looks the same as every preceding Disney+ effort, meaning it’s full of CGI that’s both technically assured and largely flat and lifeless. Its diverse environments are generally drab, and no matter how well it blends its foreground characters and artificial backgrounds, it feels stagey and small. That should come as a surprise, considering The New York Times reported that the series’ budget was a whopping $180 million—more than most major blockbusters. It also comes across as more than a bit redundant; if you were betting that Osha would have a unique pint-sized droid companion who bleeps, bloops and blurps in a language that only she can comprehend, it’s time to collect your winnings!

Sternberg is more comfortable playing the furiously vengeful Mae than the blandly upright Osha, while Lee does a riff on a tired type as the noble and kind-hearted Sol. The Acolyte’s main problem, however, isn’t acting but basic conception. Considering how lethargically it’s laid out and how dreary its early surprises prove to be, there’s simply no great reason to care about this pre-Luke and Leia story.

A photo including Dafne Keen and Paul Bullion in The Acolyte

Jedi Padawan Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen) and Master Lakshay (Paul Bullion)

Christian Black / Disney+

That goes for its combat as well; although Sternberg and Moss’s initial scuffle is energized by the latter’s stoic martial-arts techniques, any thrills are undercut by derivativeness. Cantinas, Jedi temples, oceanside cliffs, Wookiees, and grungy starship interiors are all part of this regurgitated package, and the familiarity of so many of these elements is not just dispiriting but borderline puzzling, since they indicate that this sprawling fictional world has undergone no evolution—of culture, technology, fashion, etc.—between this show and the ensuing series installments.

Over the course of its first four episodes (which were all that were provided to press), The Acolyte offers a few modest reasons to stay tuned, beginning with the secret identity of Mae’s puppetmaster, who’s discussed in ominous terms and who demonstrates his formidable powers during his big on-screen introduction. Yet at this late phase in Star Wars history, that’s hardly enough to warrant weeks upon weeks of investment in a show that exists less because it has a novel tale to tell than because Disney believes the franchise brand must be perpetually extended—and that accomplishing that goal requires merely a grab bag of colorful light sabers, bizarre E.T.s, and sinister baddies.


The Daily Beast

Leave a Reply