‘The Acolyte’ Series Premiere Recap: “Lost/Found” (Episode 1)

Imagine a galaxy teeming with intelligent life, its geographic vastness matched only by its cultural and genetic diversity. Imagine a storytelling canvas capable of accommodating virtually any kind of genre-based narrative: high(ish) fantasy, hard(ish) sci-fi, war stories, samurai sagas, Westerns, spy thrillers, buddy comedies, you name it. Now imagine that for some reason, every story you’ve ever seen told in that universe on screen took place in a time span roughly equivalent to the run of the Tonight Show

To paraphrase a franchise that would get very angry to be paraphrased in this context, The Acolyte boldly goes where no Star War has gone before: the distant past. Set a hundred years prior to the rise of the Empire (the fact that House of the Dragon is set a hundred years prior to the rise of Daenerys Targaryen is purely coincidental I’m sure), this show gives us our first substantial canonical televised glimpse of the enormous expanse of time during which the Jedi were on top.


Amandla Stenberg stars as Osha Aniseya, an ex-Jedi padawan now working as a meknek — an outer-space grease monkey with the incredibly cool but probably mostly dangerous and boring job of walking around outside starships fixing whatever needs fixing. Stenberg also stars as a longer-haired doppelgänger of Osha who murders a Jedi Master named Inara (Carrie-Ann Moss, doing appropriately Matrix-y things). 

For quite some time I believed the two were one and the same, and that Osha moonlights as an assassin when she’s not fixing shield generators. But after she’s arrested by her old friend Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett) and his elaborately foreheaded padawan Tasi Lowa (Thara Schöön), it becomes clear she genuinely has no idea who killed Inara, and even less of an idea why anyone would think it was her.

The answer to the riddle lies in Osha’s backstory. She came to the Jedi Order at the relatively late age of eight, after her twin sister Mae burned down their family home, leaving Osha the sole survivor. Or so it seemed at the time. Knocked unconscious by the crash of the hijacked prison transport on which she is trapped, Osha sees a vision of a still-living Mae, black-eyed with malevolence. Not only does Mae cop to killing Jedi Master Inara, she says her plan is to kill ’em all. A mysterious figure with a telltale red lightsaber at the end of the episode intones darkly that an Acolyte, presumably like Mae, is capable of killing not just Jedi, but the Jedi dream. 


Since the show is set a hundred years before the advent of Darths Sidious and Vader, the Jedi dream is alive and well. Clad in bright whites and yellows, every Jedi we meet appears the very model of space-samurai rectitude, from Inara to Yord and Tasi to Osha’s old master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) and his new padawan Jecki (Dafne Keen) to Sol’s stern superior, Master Vernestra (Rebecca Henderson). 

Sol’s our main man here. Every moment we spend with him, he seems to be offering trainees gentle encouragement or reminiscing fondly about Osha or just generally being a sweet-seeming guy.  It becomes apparent within second of watching this guy teach a bunch of adorable Jedi younglings what a coup the casting of Squid Game star Lee is in this role. Millions of people already love this man’s face. Who better to cast when you’re trying to show the Jedi at their best.

When Sol catches up with Osha and the show seems to be ready to do the old “I didn’t kill my wife!” “I don’t care!” bit from The Fugitive, he uses the force to stop her accidental fall from the cliff where he’s cornered her. He believes her story about Mae, even though he also believes he saw Mae die. Which is right and which is wrong?


Honestly, I’m having a hard time giving up on the idea that Mae lives on only within Osha, and that Osha is responsible for the murder. Why? Because an amnesiac killer Jedi trying to solve a crime she herself helped commit, in one way or another, is more interesting than a wrongfully accused protagonist. But neither hairstyle nor geography would appear to allow for this possibility.

So we get what we get: a straightforward mystery with a pure white-hat detective, a woman accused of a crime she didn’t commit, a bunch of adorable little guys, and some moderately successful sci-fi action sequences — a vaguely wuxia-ish barfight, a bunch of gnarly criminals staging a mutiny, the Fugitive riff at the mouth of the tunnel on the cliff’s edge. Creator-writer-director-showrunner Leslye Headland’s script operates mostly in the stiff mode of the prequels, a style I personally don’t mind at all but which doesn’t exactly lend itself to compelling human drama unless you’re dueling your best friend on a lava planet. It’s fine, I suppose. At least it’s not paced like it’s on quaaludes, like a certain other live-action Star Wars show beginning with the letter ‘A’ I could mention. (Not Andor, that’s the good one.)


I say this next part with a Rebel Alliance insignia tattooed on my right arm, lest you question my bona fides: You have to be a bigger Star Wars fan than me to really get much out of this, I think. I don’t mean you have to like the original three or six Star Wars films more than me, because that will be difficult for you to do; I mean you have to be a FAN. With the exception of Andor, all of the Star Wars Universe shows I’ve watched feel like scripted attempts to recreate that windowless Star Wars hotel effect for people in the comfort of their own homes. A lot of people who can’t afford a few thousand dollars can manage a Disney bundle, and these shows give them the opportunity to hang around in that world.

But that’s all they do. Based solely on this premiere, The Acolyte isn’t the airless continuity rejiggering of Obi-Wan Kenobi or the baffling MST3K-level misfire of Ahsoka, but nor is it a show that feels, I dunno, necessary. Considering that it’s the first live-action Star Wars thing set outside the lifespans of the characters from the original trilogy ever, the potential to redesign what the Star Wars Universe looks and sounds like for another era seems like a massive dropped ball just for starters. The default state of Star Wars shows seems to be “expensive action-figure playset.” Here’s hoping The Acolyte sets its targeting computer for “engaging drama” instead. You can put cool creatures in an engaging drama, too.

Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling StoneVultureThe New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.

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