Will 'The Acolyte' Be Too Zealot or Just Right?

“Whatever You Think The Acolyte Is, It’s Not”: Star Wars Series Creator Leslye Headland Revels in the First Teaser Trailer
The showrunner behind the Star Wars Original series, debuting June 4 on Disney+, talks about her film influences and love of Legends lore.

Feels a little weird linking to the clearly promotional material for Disney's latest Star Wars story, The Acolyte. But the interview with creator Leslye Headland seems revealing – especially for me, as someone who knew basically nothing about the show before the trailer dropped this week.

First and foremost, it's pretty clear that Headland is a true diehard Star Wars fan. And not just the film trilogies, but the deep stuff. Stuff far deeper than where I venture, for example. That's obviously why she was chosen to do this, but there's always a risk that such a creator is too far in the forest to see the trees of Endor, as it were. Everything she's saying in this interview sounds right, but Star Wars recent history has been that of content that perhaps requires too much work (read: knowing all the backstory by watching hours upon hours of tangential content) to truly and fully enjoy.

Set during the era of the High RepublicThe Acolyte will begin to unravel how an esteemed organization like the Jedi Order could be in its golden age and also on the cusp of the chaos that unfolds in the Skywalker saga. “If Star Wars is about the underdog versus the institution, [in The Acolyte] the Jedi are the institution,” Headland says. “I was so interested in a storyline where the Jedi were at the height of their power — and I don't mean The Phantom Menace, because at that point, there's a Sith Lord in the Senate that they're not picking up on.” Headland wanted to explore further back, when seeing a Sith seemed as likely as encountering a velociraptor. “Like it's a thing I've heard of, but it's not a thing that you would ever consider you'd be interacting with.”

With a darker tone focusing on the duality that exists beyond the simplistic black-and-white view of good versus evil, The Acolyte asks a key question before the fall of the Jedi: “What went wrong?” Headland asks. “And if the bad guys are actually the underdog, it just seemed like a cool reversal.”

It's a good high-level premise, for sure. And the Sith extinction "controversy" seems a bit silly – that is, in the prequels, Jedi Council member Ki-Adi-Mundi famously notes that "the Sith have been extinct for a millennium", and those prequels take place about a hundred years after the timeline for The Acolyte. Maybe our guy Ki-Adi just wasn't in the know about whatever is happening here in The Acolyte narrative – certainly it would seem that few are if we've got Palpatine wandering around without any suspicion... But I'll be honest, when Headland starts talking about the "EU" I was fairly confused at first.

Beyond the other film influences, Headland has infused her love of the original films, current books, and Legends lore into the story. “There were certain things that I really wanted to do. You'll see a half Theelin, half human Jedi, Jecki, played by Dafne Keen, which was always a dream of mine,” Headland says. She first fell in love with the species when Rystáll Sant joined the Max Rebo Band in the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi. “There's also some EU lore that I decided to put in because I thought it was so cool and no one told me I couldn't,” she adds with a laugh. The series will introduce a Zygerrian Jedi and canonize one species that’s yet to be seen, Headland reveals. “There are a couple of really big EU ideas that are utilized both early on in the series and later in the series,” she hints.

No, not that EU – but the "Expanded Universe" of Star Wars content, which the interview, humorously, doesn't really call out. The High Republic stuff seems like it will be of particular import here. Again, slightly worried about that, but we'll see.

On the other hand, we're coming off of some sci-fi content created by another super fan: Denis Villeneuve's Dune 2. And that worked out pretty well, to put it as comically mildly as possible (it's truly awesome). And Headland (and clearly the Star Wars top brass) are clearly aware of the perception/fear that this type of content will be too deep for the more casual fan:

As the first live-action interpretation of the High Republic era, Headland hopes it will be a welcome entry point for newcomers, whether or not they’ve read the books or watched other Star Wars series. “You don't need to know too much to enter the story,” she says.

Also, this sounds promising:

The series is a love letter to some of Headland’s favorite martial arts sagas and samurai films, like Come Drink with Me and Yojimbo, with a fighting style crafted after wushu. Given that the era of the High Republic is a time free of galaxy-embroiling wars, Headland chose to focus her storytelling on more personal conflicts and smaller one-on-one battles to reveal the new characters on-screen.

Andor was very good. But beyond that, Ahsoka was uneven at best. Obi-Wan Kenobi was a mess. The Mandalorian has been great, but The Book of Boba Fett was definitely less so. And then there are the movie sequels, which were a pretty big clusterfuck. And the Solo movie, which was pointless. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Still, the trailer here is promising. Not as promising as The Acolyte's extremely dark first poster, but intriguing. Carrie-Anne Moss doing some Matrix shit? Who says no? A rainbow of lightsabers? Sign me up. Cautiously...