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acolyte-carrie-anne-moss.jpg

Forget Skywalker: 'The Acolyte' Proves Star Wars' Future Is in its Forgotten Past

By Chris Revelle | TV | June 7, 2024 |

By Chris Revelle | TV | June 7, 2024 |


acolyte-carrie-anne-moss.jpg

I’m a Star Wars fan, but I do not need Star Wars to be a static and inert thing that stays in one mode and never leaves it. I expect the things I love to change, and if the changes result in me no longer being a fan, then so be it. I am happy for the time I have with something, but it does not owe me stagnation. Things should develop, things should grow. That’s how I feel about all the media I love, and as a Star Wars fan, it can often feel like that fictional world is afraid to change. The Last Jedi made some headway in a fresh direction, but The Rise of Skywalker felt like a fearful capitulation. It seemed to say, “Despite this being an imaginative and sprawling universe where anything can happen, the only stories we can tell are about Skywalkers and Palpatines.”

It’s an unfortunate effect of corporate media: artistic output becomes risk-averse and formula-driven, creating stultifying and dull narratives. Andor felt like a turning point, especially for how it carved out an original angle within a familiar framework and told a story that was refreshingly and overtly political. Blessedly The Acolyte joins Andor as a Star Wars property unafraid to depart from the expected and tell a new story with new stakes and new characters. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s exciting how The Acolyte finds thrilling new directions in the marriage of Star Wars’ pulpy past with classic combat cinema.

How to describe the frisson of joy I felt seeing wipe-transitions between The Acolyte’s scenes? It’s a simple touch but an extremely effective one that recalls the charms of the original trilogy without feeling overpronounced. It’s the most overt sign of creator Leslye Headland’s perfectly-measured invocation of the pulp sensibilities of the first three Star Wars movies. There’s also the colorful profusion of aliens and droids again. No shade on the alien-scarce Andor, but I missed that expansive, anything-can-happen, wide wild world of the Star Wars of yore where prosthetics, wigs, and plausible gibberish combined to suggest a universe that contains any being one may dream. Many times the looks were silly or clearly rubber, but it felt akin to the old sci-fi pulps Star Wars was initially homaging.

The Acolyte gives us back that rollicking and colorful universe that keeps the show humming with the possibilities of its universe. My favorites so far have been the pilot droids that can fold backwards into seats, the adorable smartphone-ish Pip that warbles from the protagonist’s pocket, and the Zyggerian Jedi padawan Tasi Lowa. With the snappy writing taking us from planet to planet at an adventurous clip and the actors delivering the economical dialogue with a less naturalistic, more declarative style, I felt transported back to the awed feelings of wonder I had when I first saw Star Wars.

The other part of The Acolyte’s secret sauce is in its references to classic kung fu and Wuxia films. The series leads with these influences by starting the first episode with a fantastic fight between a Jedi and an assassin inside a lofted, two-tiered noodle shop, a distinctly stylish note to start with. The unarmed combat moves quickly, starting at first as a fluid series of interlocking attacks and blocks. The Wuxia “wire fu” style that has fighters leaping impossible distances and heights as if they’re flying melds perfectly with what we know about the Force. It’s a clever choice because the Force has largely been a semi-definite form of magic that can be used to all sorts of narrative ends, so why not use it to give us thrilling hand-to-hand fights? Like the wipes and the colorful space weirdos, it’s a simple but effective choice that reaffirms the best of the classic Star Wars while still moving in a new direction.

One last way The Acolyte looks to the past to move into a new narrative space is by setting its story hundreds of years before the rise of the Empire and its battle with the Rebel Alliance. The show recognizes the freedom this affords by doing away with Star Wars’ most beloved names like Skywalker or Palpatine, and asking fans and newcomers alike to experience new characters. This leaves The Acolyte free to pursue stories without the weighty baggage that comes with the characters we’ve spent many movies with already. This might be the creative decision that won me over the most because one of my largest complaints with Star Wars is about how reluctant the property has been to break away from its classic cast. In the era of the High Republic, we get to spend time with new characters in new roles that have space to breathe and be engaging characters in their own rights. Recent attempts at telling stories within Star Wars’ past like Obi-Wan Kenobi had a strange taste to them because the shows were there to service the lore of characters the audience already knew and loved. Obi-Wan and Baby Leia were fun, but in making itself primarily a platform for nostalgic fan service, it left the original supporting characters feeling sketched out and thin. While The Acolyte is just beginning, I’m happy to say that each of our original heroes has so far been given characterful moments without a big name to serve.

The Acolyte may go the way of many Disney+ series (start strong —> flog a cool idea to death —> fall apart at the end), but it’s been very promising in its choices so far. Whatever happens, I’m happy that Headland is making big swings and giving us something new within a familiar milieu. Allegedly, we’ll be meeting “witches” at some point, and I can’t wait to see how they fit into this fabulous adventure.