“The Acolyte” Creator Leslye Headland on How Her New Series Will Approach the Jedi Order
There has been so much going on in the Star Wars galaxy lately that you need an Imperial TIE Interceptor to keep up. Since the Star Wars Celebration in London last weekend, we’ve gotten fresh glimpses of the upcoming series Ahsoka, learned more about James Mangold’s vision for a Biblical epic-style Star Wars he’s referring to as Star Wars Zero, and the return of Daisy Ridley as Rey in a brand new Star Wars movie from Oscar-winning documentarian and Ms. Marvel director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. This brings us to Leslye Headland’s The Acolyte, the first live-action Star Wars series to focus on those dreaded death dealers of the galaxy, the Sith Lords. Yet The Acolyte will also dare to do something that’s gotten previous Star Wars creators into some trouble; it’ll take a more nuanced view of the Jedi Order, not just their sacrifices and triumphs, but their blindspots and mistakes.
The Acolyte is going to be a different kind of Star Wars show. Think about how the excellent Andor functioned as a heist thriller that also happened to reveal how the rebel alliance began fighting back; Headland’s series is being billed as a mystery-thriller that will “take viewers into a galaxy of shadowy secrets and emerging dark-side powers in the final days of the High Republic era.” The series is centered on a former Padawan (Amandla Stenberg) who reconnects with her Jedi Master to investigate a series of crimes, leading them both into a confrontation with darker forces than they even knew existed.
Headland’s new series boasts a sensational cast—Stenberg is surrounded by Carrie Anne Moss, Jodie Turner-Smith, Lee Jung-jae, Manny Jacinto, Dafne Keen, Dean-Charles Chapman, Rebecca Henderson, and Charlie Barnett. Those ace performers will help Headland and The Acolyte team offer something rarely explored in the Star Wars galaxy; scrutiny of the Jedi order and how they operate. In fact, Headland said that her series shares this trait with Rian Johnson’s 2017 film The Last Jedi. In that movie, Luke Skywalker shocks Rey by being open about his belief that the Jedi Order caused their own demise through their excessive pride. Rey wasn’t having it. It turned out that some folks online (a smaller number than originally advertised, by the way) weren’t having it, either, and took it upon themselves to act like the Praetorian Guards of a “pure” Star Wars mythology. In their view, there was only one way to depict the Jedi Order; as virtuous cosmic samurais for peace. The problem with this view, one might have pointed out, was that none other than George Lucas had cast doubts about the Jedi way of doing business long before The Last Jedi.
Lucas’s exploration of the fallibility of the Jedi was explored most notably in the prequels when Annakin Skywalker began to get swayed to the Dark Side and those in a position of protecting him pretty spectacularly failed to do so. This was made especially vivid in Lucas’s underrated Revenge of the Sith. While the Jedi Council was squabbling over what to do with Annakin, how to punish or expel him, the Sith Lord Darth Sidious was winning him over to the Dark Side by showering him with attention and promising him that, despite whatever the Jedi Council might say, he was the Chosen One. The Jedi Council failed Anakin, Darth Vader was born, and the rest is galactic history.
In a conversation with Collider, Headland discussed the way the Jedi have been explored in the past and how, even despite the backlash Johnson got for his film, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy supported her desire to explore a more nuanced look at the Jedi Order. Kennedy agreed with Headland that for The Acolyte to work, she had to be able to present a picture of the Jedis that was rich enough to amplify the choices Stenberg’s former Padawan makes. Here’s how Headland explained her conversation with Kennedy to Collider:
“But I think when you think you’re going to tell the story about bad guys, and the Jedis might be the antagonist to those Jedis; I think that makes people nervous. But it didn’t make Kathy nervous. And I will say that in that room when I pitched her, it was probably one of the most exciting things because it felt like a conversation and less like I was up for a job. It felt much more like, ‘Okay, but what are you going to do about this? And what are you going to do about that?’ And so I was able to fold in what I know about Star Wars, and what I love about Star Wars, into what she’s always pushing for, which is, ‘What’s the emotional throughline?'”
It’s far too early for us to know what Headland and her cast and crew have come up with for that emotional throughline, but we can be pretty certain The Acolyte will offer something even the most hardcore Star Wars fans need, even if they don’t know it; a fuller picture of the Jedi Order, warts and all, that makes their heroism all the richer for coming from human beings rather than avatars of nobility.
For more on The Acolyte, check out these stories:
Featured image: L-r: Amandla Stenberg, Lee Jung-jae, and director Leslye Headland on the set of “The Acolyte.” Courtesy Disney+. Photo by Christian Black.