The Acolyte review: Star Wars leaves Skywalker saga behind, and is better for it

The Acolyte (Disney+)
Amandla Stenberg as Mae in The Acolyte, the actor takes on two roles in the series and leads it well. (Disney+) (Christian Black / Lucasfilm Ltd.)

The Skywalker saga has been left behind in favour of a new story from a galaxy far, far away. Like Kylo Ren says in The Last Jedi, sometimes we have to let the past die — but that can also be a good thing, as The Acolyte proves.

The new Star Wars series is set in a time long before Anakin Skywalker fell to the dark side, before Order 66, and long before Luke Skywalker rose up to meet his destiny and save the galaxy from the Empire's clutches. Instead of that story, or anything with loose ties to it like The Mandalorian, viewers will get to explore a world that is familiar but also different through Mae and Osha (played by Amandla Stenberg).

Set against the backdrop of the High Republic era, viewers will examine a time of peace and prosperity for the Jedi Order and how everything is threatened when an ominous darkness begins to rise. Our story opens with Mae, the titular Acolyte who is out for blood against the Jedi over a past transgression.

Her sister Osha used to be part of the order, but now lives a quiet life as a mechnic on the outer rim of the galaxy. A quiet life, that is, until Mae sets out on her quest for revenge, leading Osha's former Jedi Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) to investigate.

The Acolyte (Disney+)
The Acolyte is reminiscent of old school Star Wars, but still brings something new to the table. (Disney+) (Christian Black / Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Stenberg leads the cast well in both roles, lending each character their own quirks and habits. Similar they may be, but Stenberg never feels like she is phoning it in with either role. Mae and Osha aren’t the same even if they look it, and it’s intriguing to see how Stenberg approaches the light and dark in both characters.

Read more: The Acolyte cast hail Amandla Stenberg as an ‘amazing leading woman’

The actor is supported by a large ensemble cast, including Lee Jung-jae, Manny Jacinto, Dafne Keen and Charlie Barnett. Lee slots easily into the typical father figure we've often seen in the franchise as Master Sol, and is an apt scene partner to Stenberg. While Jacinto, who stars as smuggler Qimir, suits the role he's been given because he provides a similar level of entertainment value as he did in his star-turning role in The Good Place.

Keen and Barnett's Jecki and Yord also feel right at home in this time period, even if it may take time to really get to know their characters and warm up to them.

From the four episodes given to press, it's clear that The Acolyte has an old school Star Wars feel to it, helped no doubt by the fact creator Leslye Headland is a fan and wanted to come into the series from a fan's perspective.

It’s obvious from the cinematography to the characters and the script that a lot of thought has been put into the series to make it pay homage to George Lucas’ iconic films, but still ensure that it stands on its own merit.

The Acolyte (Disney+)
The Acolyte centres on the story of twin sisters Mae and Osha, with Amandla Stenberg leaning into the light and darkness of both characters. (Disney+) (Christian Black / Lucasfilm Ltd.)

There’s no over-reliance on fan service or callbacks (or should we say foreshadowing) in the first half of the season, and The Acolyte fits into the franchise while also adding something new to it. There's some excellent action sequences —though they feature sparingly in the show— and there are also interesting beats to the narrative.

What other critics think:

Variety: The Acolyte Joins Andor as Another Star Wars Success on Disney+ (6-min read)

The Hollywood Reporter: Amandla Stenberg in a Disney+ ‘Star Wars’ Spinoff That Shakes Up the Formula (4-min read)

The Independent: Atrociously creaky dialogue holds back a refreshing take on Star Wars (5-min Read)

The Telegraph: The Star Wars universe expands once again with juicy Jedi revenge thriller (3-min Read)

Episode 3 is the only one that feels a touch out of place, not because it doesn't do interesting things to Star Wars lore (it most certainly does) but as a flashback episode it feels like its shown to viewers a little too soon to have as much of an impact as it could.

Regardless, The Acolyte relies on one large mystery: who is pulling Mae's strings? By this, we mean the masked Sith leading her down a dark path. The character only makes brief appearances in the first four episodes, and though they're intriguing enough to want to know more about they're also hard to judge when there's so little to go on.

Hopefully Headland's decision to play the long game with viewers will ultimately play off.

  • 📺 Where to watch Acolyte: Disney+ from 5 June

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 4/5

  • 🍿 Watch it if you liked: Andor, The Mandalorian, the Star Wars films

  • 🎭 Who's in it?: Amandla Stenberg, Lee Jung-jae, Dafne Keen, Charlie Barnett, Rebecca Henderson

  • How long is it? 8 x 30-50 minute episodes

  • 📖 What’s it about? In the High Republic era, the Jedi Order is at its peak but where there is light there is also darkness and a new threat rises. Mae is out for revenge against the Jedi who wronged her, and she will stop at nothing to wreak her vengeance.

This article originally appeared on Yahoo TV UK at