The Acolyte Proves It's Telling a Different Kind of Star Wars Story With Just One Scene

This story contains major spoilers for the first two episodes of The Acolyte.

Of all the possible things The Acolyte could have referenced in its premiere episodes, Scream was probably not on anyone’s radar. The opening sequence of Disney+’s latest Star Wars streaming series begins not with a massive ship crawling through space, but with a cloaked figure named Mae (Amandla Stenberg) strolling along on an idyllic planet and stopping to ask a villager one simple question: “Where’s your Jedi?” She enters a cantina, finds the local Jedi—Master Indara, played by Carrie-Anne Moss—drinking with some patrons, and declares, “I’m here to kill you.” What unfolds thereafter is a decidedly intimate and exceedingly well-staged martial arts battle wherein the young assassin follows through on her promise, taking down a proficient, lightsaber-wielding Jedi with a couple of ordinary knives.

Whether the parallel is intentional or not, Wes Craven’s meta-slasher film introduced a character played by Drew Barrymore in its opening scene and then killed her off within moments, as a way of shocking the audience and establishing the stakes of what’s to come. The same thing happens here—Master Indara isn’t just a Jedi, she’s a Jedi played by Trinity from The Matrix, a sci-fi icon, who gets dispatched in similarly surprising fashion. We think we know the beats of what a Star Wars story should be, and yet The Acolyte is here to upend those expectations.

Even The Acolyte’s premise bucks a trend. Post-The Rise of Skywalker, most of the Disney+ Star Wars series have set their stories in the gaps between established events. The Mandalorian, Book of Boba Fett and Ahsoka all take place after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi; Andor and Obi-Wan Kenobi fall between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One. As exciting as these shows can be, they’ve all been narratively dependent on some aspect of the so-called Skywalker saga, and every glimpse we’ve gotten of unexplored reaches of the galaxy far, far away has been bracketed by some cameo whose significance required casual viewers to read a deep-dive explainer about the lore of various animated series.

In its first two episodes, both of which hit Disney+ this week, The Acolyte does not suffer the same fate. It’s set a century before Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, in an age known as the High Republic era. So far, there’s nary a Skywalker to be found; the Jedi we do see are at the apex of their power, a formidable peacekeeping force of monastic warriors stationed around the galaxy. (The question “Where’s your Jedi?” implies that in this era, every neighborhood has one.)

The High Republic era has been depicted before, in tie-in novels, comics and audiobooks, but this is the first time we’ve seen it in live action; that in itself makes The Acolyte feel new. But there are also signs that the series, created by Russian Doll showrunner Leslye Headland, intends to raise questions about whether the Jedi are maintaining galactic peace in a way that does more harm than good; in the first episode, two high-ranking Jedi confer about Indara’s murder and immediately agree to keep it a secret, so that the Jedi Order’s “political enemies” can’t use the news of a rogue Force user against them.

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