The Acolyte Intrigues But Doesn’t Fascinate

It’s just another Star Wars show when you boil down to it

Master Lu hunched with a lightsaber
Courtesy of Lucasfilm/Disney+

Oh, Star Wars, I have such a troubled relationship with you. You give me the original trilogy, which sets my highs soaring. Then hinder them with the prequels to incredible lows. The Acolyte does what Star Wars should do yet displays the franchise’s surface-level problems. You can do any genre you want with Star Wars. However, not every genre may work best with the material at hand. The Acolyte creates a murder mystery with Star Wars. It works to a certain degree, but I don’t have enough faith in the writers, through the history of other Disney+ shows, to think it will go where my expectations are.

The Wooden Jedi

Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss) in a hood, looking back
Courtesy of Lucasfilm/Disney+

The Acolyte wastes a lot of good potential in its opening. A rogue assassin is out to kill a Jedi. The one she picks to assassinate is played by a notable actor who’s known for playing bad asses. Killing them so early wastes perfectly good talent. Luckily, there’s talent to spare. Mae Osha, played by Amandla Stenberg, shows a notable range of emotions. It’s not over or under-acting. Just enough acting to get the job done. She’s the lead performance but not a standout. In fact, everyone’s performance is perfectly standard. It’s not Hayden Christensen levels of wooden, but stilted enough to still qualify as Star Wars. Surprisingly enough, for as bad as the sequels were, they may have had the best performances from each actor. From Daisy Ridley, to Adam Driver and John Boyega., everyone has a distinct personality. Here, everyone is a bit flat. What can you expect from a show about a bunch of Jedi? Jedi are boring monks who don’t invest in personal connections. Next to Stenberg’s performance is Lee Jung-jae, who plays her former master. He’s believable as a Jedi master who shows a little more emotion than the stiffness of a typical Jedi. 

A Fantastic, Yet Dry World

Amandla Stenberg and Lee Jung-jae get directions from showrunner Leslye Headland in The Volume
Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Like the performances, the show feels stale, like the prequels. That should make sense, as this is a prequel to the prequels. Set one hundred years before The Phantom Menace, The Acolyte is a Star Wars show that feels a lot like Kenobi, where everything is shot in The Volume, an egg-shaped hangar set that captures the background not with a green screen but with a fully rounded 3D set. It’s an upgrade from the green screen visual effect artists have been using consistently. First, there was a matte painting background with models spliced against multiple layers of film. Then, the green screen came along, surrounding the actors in a sterile environment. Now, there’s The Volume, a tool that immerses the talent in a 3D-rendered set. Technologically, it’s utterly incredible. It’s the future. Visually, it can be bare. 

You can tell when the actors are in The Volume because the lighting is basic. There are no harsh color tones or shadows. Instead, there’s a standard color grade that matches each aspect of the actor’s face equally so it can blend into the background. Everything is evenly lit so that whatever world our characters are in matches with the shot’s composition. That’s not to say there aren’t a fair amount of sets involved.

There are small towns to spaceships that look real enough to blend the practical world with The Volume’s world. It looks believable for the small screen and is leaps and bounds beyond what used to be possible. But there’s a sameness in the shots’ composition and style that feels like something more reminiscent of the way George Lucas would shoot his prequels with standard shot-reverse shot angles covering most scenes. 

The flat style is accompanied by basic dialog that gets the plot across but lacks the finesse that Andor had. The discussions are very basic and aren’t meant to be touching, rousing, or insightful. It’s standard stuff that gets one scene clicking along to the next. That’s not to say any of it is bad; it’s just okay. 

I’ve Got a Familiar Feeling About This

The assassin finds her victim
Courtesy of Lucasfilm/Disney+

The story of The Acolyte plays like a murder mystery. Unfortunately, that category has never been my cup of tea. The show has character development that unfolds slowly. The story begins with a murder. A Jedi has been killed, and the murderer is out to get more. The killer bears a striking resemblance to former Jedi Mae, Osha. An investigation is launched where Osha is to be apprehended. When her former Master, Sol (Lee Jung-jae), is informed of her involvement in the murder, he ventures out to apprehend her so he can get to the bottom of what’s going on. As the story progresses and the mystery unfolds, it builds intrigue, but I feel like I’ve been here before.

So far, The Acolyte is building to something that could be fascinating. I hope the morals of Star Wars’ standard kids formula doesn’t bleed its way into the writing. There could be a real reason in this plot why the Jedi are being taken down one by one. What that reason is shall be revealed in later episodes. So far, I’m intrigued but not hooked. The final image from the second episode feels more like silly fan service than it does have something to say. It’s an “Oh cool, they made that live-action” scene. I’ve been here before with Star Wars. I’m expecting a grand finale, only to be disappointed. I’ve been there with The Mandalorian, Ahsoka, and The Bad Batch. Whatever reason the assassin is out to kill Jedi will probably simplify itself down to a plot from the Sith. Let’s hope it doesn’t go there. So far, there seems to be more to it, but I don’t want to give too much away. 

As this is a Star Wars TV show, there is a sameness to it. Yes, it’s a different idea. It’s a story set before the Skywalkers or Death Stars. It’s something that can draw an audience in beyond nostalgia. If this were any other show played for a different IP, I would feel even less excited. It’s my interest as a Star Wars fan that makes me intrigued to see something from Star Wars that doesn’t connect to its cinematic universe. Unfortunately, most of the show’s potential gets bogged in stilted dialog and a production line quality to it. 

Unlike Mando or Andor, The Acolyte doesn’t have a unique cinematic stamp to it to make it stand out. The Mandalorian had the benefit of being the first Disney+ show to have used The Volume. Also, it had Ludwig Göransson’s score to accompany it. Something every other Star Wars composer outside of John Williams, of course, fails to match. Andor was almost all practical sets giving it a grittiness to it. The Acolyte feels more like Ahsoka and Kenobi, where its style is flat and dialogue basic. So far, it’s more original than the two, but not far more. The Acolyte is a mediocre start to a new Star Wars story. What secrets the show still has yet to uncover will hopefully be a mystery worth solving. 

Written by Mike Crowley

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