Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Acolyte Sets Up A Jedi Conspiracy

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Taking place one-hundred years prior to the Skywalker melodrama we all know and vary between loving and hating, The Acolyte immediately caught my attention simply for being so far removed from the timeline the franchise always finds reason to go back to. Star Wars features a big, big universe, but can sometimes feel shockingly small. Making a show/movie that explores the thousands of years of Star Wars history preceding the Empire is not just a good idea, it’s long overdue, and it made me more interested in a new Star Wars story than I’ve been in a while.

How fared The Acolyte’s journey into a time long, long ago, in a galaxy not so far away?

Sol looking at a hologram from The Acolyte

Despite the review-bombing and declarations of doom by a few anger-farming YouTube grifters, The Acolyte’s dual-premiere is…fine. I wouldn’t say these episodes will wow most Star Wars fans, hardcore or casual, but they do their job of setting up a solid premise for the rest of the season. Even better, the plot point driving the season is not the one I was led to believe would do so when I first clicked play.

The tagline of the show focused on Jedi investigating a murder mystery, so when the first episode kicked off with the murder of Jedi Master Indara, I figured we would spend more time on finding the assassin and figuring out why Indara was a target. By the time the first episode ended, however, we knew exactly who had done it, and by the time the second episode ended we had a very good idea, and all that was left were the specifics to round it out.

Turns out that The Acolyte is not a murder mystery in the form of a whodunit, but rather a more layered mystery surrounding the childhood trauma shared by twin sisters whose fates are converging after years of thinking each other dead.

I very much prefer this plot hook to the one I went into the show expecting. My favorite Star Wars stories have always been the ones that examine the moral spectrum of Force users and the struggles to find a balance between the strict beliefs of the Jedi and the unrestrained passion of the Dark Side. The Acolyte has set up a story where a group of Jedi did something truly terrible to Osha and Mae, and the truth of what happened is now being exploited by whatever sinister figure Mae and her conspirators work for.

As of the end of the second episode, we know a few things; that Osha and Mae lost their parents in some terrible fire, that a task force of Jedi were responsible somehow, and that Mae learned the truth from whoever has set her on the vengeful path.

This sort of plot device will depend heavily on the characters to push the drama, which The Acolyte manages with varying degrees of success. My main critique is that only one of the characters so far properly grabbed my attention, that being Master Sol, Osha’s former teacher. These debut episodes make rather clear that he rescued Osha and advocated for her to be trained by the Jedi because he was part of whatever incident killed her parents. Lee Jung-jae, of Squid Game fame, plays the character a bit understated, which works to great effect because of how those little cracks in his demeanor hint at the guilt and secrets he is keeping.

Mae has a chance to be a highlight, and the show’s fortunes will obviously depend largely on her character. Despite being positioned as one of the main antagonists, she is also set up to be the figure driving much of the plot as she tries to take down the targeted Jedi, and she is also set up as possibly THE most sympathetic figure in the show. She was blamed for the fire killing her parents, she was seemingly abandoned when her sister was rescued, and she is the one who has been taken and exploited for the machinations of whoever her master is.

Osha has some of these same sympathies, and I’m interested to learn more, but I can’t say she grabbed my attention yet. The rest of the cast is fine, but nothing too interesting. With only two episodes aired, there is plenty of time to change minds.

(Though I will also shout out Qimir, played by Manny Jacinto of Jason Mendoza fame, and it speaks highly of him that I do not see Jason Mendoza at all.)

Everything here is going to depend on how the plot develops around Osha and Mae. The Acolyte needs to get their characters right, and they need to get the development of their dynamic right. I wish I had been more immediately impressed by their characters.

The Acolyte also has some awkward writing and editing choices in these premiere episodes. One example comes when we first learn that Sol knew about Mae. He acts totally sure that she is dead, yet some five-to-ten minutes later, when Osha says she knows Mae is alive, Sol immediately believes her. Maybe he was acting more confident than he actually felt when he proclaimed Mae dead, but it’s still a disjointed sequence.

Osha also has her share of strange choices that feel contrived to create drama, but make her come across a bit dumb. Mainly, her tendency to run off and immediately present the most suspicious image she seemingly can. She insists on staying on her prison transport because she trusts the Jedi, yet runs when it crashes and the Jedi come to retrieve her. She goes off on her own and is found standing over the body of the second dead Jedi. Yord is often treated as wrong to be suspicious of Osha, but everything she does is suspicious.

That being said, these are minor pacing issues that don’t detract in any backbreaking way from these episodes. The Acolyte didn’t wow me, but it did maintain my interest with what I hope will be an interesting examination of the Jedi at their peak, and the complexities of the Light Side vs. the Dark Side.

For now, that’s enough.

Images Courtesy of Disney

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