“Your Faves Are Going Down.” Leslye Headland Breaks Down The Acolyte’s Shocking Reveal.

The Acolyte showrunner talks Qimir, cortosis, and more.

Image of Dafne Keen and Charlie Barnett in The Acolyte.
The Inverse Interview

Leslye Headland has read your Acolyte fan fiction.

The showrunner behind one of Star Wars’ most divisive series is notably (and smartly) offline, but as a lifelong Star Wars fan, it’s important to be well-informed. That’s especially true after the bombshell in The Acolyte’s fifth episode, which revealed that Qimir — an unassuming grifter played by The Good Place star Manny Jacinto — is actually a ruthless Sith in disguise. He’s also impossibly, distractingly hot, a fact that has already inspired a handful of viral video edits. Headland’s friends even sent her a fanfic that “ships” Qimir (also known as The Stranger) with The Acolyte’s main heroine.

“I was absolutely surprised at how prescient it was,” Headland says. “I read it and I was like, ‘OK, damn. OK!’”

Headland is only mildly surprised by this wave of fervor. The showrunner tells Inverse she beefed up Qimir’s role once she saw the actor’s first screen test (more on that later), but the speed at which the Internet rallied around his character, despite his many misdeeds, still took her by surprise. In Episode 5, “Night,” The Stranger confronts — and promptly slaughters — the group of Jedi sent out to apprehend him. A handful of fan favorites die by his hand, all so that he can switch out his former apprentice Mae (Amandla Stenberg) for her Light-sided twin sister, Osha (also Stenberg).

“There will be riots in the streets if I don’t [go further]. Here we go. I guess I’m rewriting an episode.”

It’s the kind of episode that resets the board in a major way, with many fans rightfully asking what comes next. Headland, of course, remains coy about The Acolyte’s final act, but in a conversation with Inverse, the showrunner breaks down the series’ biggest secret, the tensions between Jedi and Sith, and bringing The Stranger to life.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Headland at a screening for The Acolyte.

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

You’ve been vocal about making The Acolyte accessible to both core fans and novices. Did you expect Manny Jacinto’s arms to be such a huge draw for the series?

[Laughs] Yes. And Manny did, too. His character design was a long process. I mean, it was for everybody, but specifically for his character, to create a new Sith. Sith have been done so well, so it was very difficult to say “All right, this is a guy in hiding. This is the guy that moves differently. This guy’s helmet has a different purpose...” and having to unpack that. I remember we were showing him a Qimir costume sketch, and it just showed his arms a little bit, and he was like, “No.” He’s not a guy that says no very often. He’s very collaborative. He’ll do anything for you. I was surprised. But then I saw his first screen test with the whole outfit, and I was like, “Ha, ha, ha!”

This is an interesting tidbit: Originally, even up until shooting, The Stranger was not in a lot of the rest of the season. He was much more of a tee-up for a second season arc. But I saw Manny’s screen test early on in pre-production, and I just thought, “There will be riots in the streets if I don’t [go further]. Here we go. I guess I’m rewriting an episode.” Manny was so impressive in every aspect.

The Acolyte’s creative team spent a long time building The Stranger’s look.


So much of Qimir was understanding how to use your body and not just standing there in a suit or being encumbered by a suit. We were like, “We have to get him in something flowy.” As soon as I said he didn’t have armor, everyone lost their mind. “How can you not have armor?” I was like, “Why would you wear armor if you’re not going to get hit?” It’s like the Elden Ring costume. The Elden Bling. When you summon people, you always summon the people that aren’t wearing anything, and it’s like, “These people are fucking crazy.”

I’m so glad you brought that up because right now, my boyfriend is playing Elden Ring


And when he’s about to start fighting a boss, he’s just like, “Fuck it.” And he just takes all his characters’ clothes off. “I’ve got to fight with no armor on. No fear.”

Yeah, you have to go in with that offensive attitude, especially with those bosses. You can’t be getting back and panic rolling. You have to be aggressive with them. You have to roll into things.

“If I can get Manny Jacinto, this will work. If I don’t, this character won’t exist.”

So the bloodbath in Episode 5, was that rewritten to accommodate more of The Stranger, or was that always his grand entrance?

He always took over Episode 5. He was always going to kill Jecki and Yord. The red shirts were supposed to be a misdirect. Like “Oh, he’s going to kill all those people.” Nope, he’s killing people left and right. It was just so important to be like “We don’t know who’s going to survive this.” I have so many of my favorite little moments that Manny does in that episode, but when he kicks Mae down and she goes down to her knees, I’m always like, “Jesus.” It still scares me because I know he’s probably not going to kill her because that’s the main character, but because he just killed a main character, I’m also a little scared.

It is funny that even you were watching like “What’s going to happen?” I guess that’s a credit to Manny’s work.

As a filmmaker, in my head, I’m like, “I’m positive this is going to work. If I can get Manny Jacinto, this will work. If I don’t, this character won’t exist. We’re going to have to start from scratch and figure out something else.” I was so grateful he did the show, but he surpassed my expectations. There’s some sort of mixture of strength and existential dread and violence in him... And then his little statement of purpose that comes right before that moment, you’re like, “Man, somebody must have fucked this guy... Somebody must’ve tried to take this guy’s freedom.” Because he is not fucking around in terms of protecting himself and what he has to do. He sees Jedi specifically as the faction that is keeping him from being free to the point that he could break a Jedi’s neck while making complete eye contact with another Jedi and just have that be it.

The Acolyte’s fan favorites, Jecki and Yord, were always meant to die: “It was just so important to be like, ‘We don’t know who’s going to survive this.’”


I read a theory on Twitter about his statement of purpose: Qimir’s desire for freedom and power almost feels like his religion. For him, killing is almost this act of worship. Was that part of how you wanted to break down the spiritual differences between the Jedi and Sith?

I don’t know if it’s exactly like that, but I would argue that Manny’s character is more in-balance than Sol’s character, especially when he says, “I’ve accepted my darkness. What have you done with yours?” Sol is just in full-on repression mode at this point. He’s deluded himself into thinking that he has achieved balance. As Qimir says in Episode 2, “The Jedi only think they’ve found peace.” Maybe that’s not true for all Jedi, but that’s his point of view. That’s what allows him to do what he did to survive and to keep his way of life. Not just a way of life. His actual life.

One thing Chris Cowan and I talked about a lot when we were doing the fight choreography was when you’re fighting for survival, it’s never a fair fight. Cowan didn’t give me this note, but somebody was like, “God, that’s so dirty to kill Jecki in that way,” and my thought process was: Well, if you’re fighting for your life, is it dirty? I think for the audience, you’re supposed to be like, “Holy crap. What an evil dude.” But I think for Manny’s character and the character work that we did around him, it was all about “I know that I’m doing the right thing for me. This is how I’m going to protect myself and keep myself in hiding. The only reason I’m coming out of it is because there’s this thing I really want,” which is the pupil.

“The reveal is not ‘Oh, it’s Jason Mendoza.’ ... The reveal is ‘Your faves are going down; welcome to your new fave.’”

Did you have to fight hard for certain elements, like the triple stab or the neck snap?

No, but I think the reason I felt like we could get away with so much in Episode 5 was because we had the four episodes before it. We were building this understanding of “OK, this is what the High Republic is like in live action. This is what the Jedi are like at this time. We’re going to kill Carrie-Anne [Moss] so that you know the Jedi are going to take some L’s and that people are going to die.” With Episode 5, I felt like we could go really hard because we had built all this other stuff.

I do think it’s kind of cool that there’s a lot of, for lack of a better term, self-awareness among the Star Wars franchise. There are certain Disney rules like “Oh, yeah, you’re not going to kill that character. How could you?” And not only did we kill that character, but we killed the character in such a shocking and frankly upsetting way — and then didn’t even really give her a hero death either. I mean, she has the hero’s death because she gets Qimir’s helmet off before she dies.

But she doesn’t get a huge triumphant moment after.

For me, that’s the reveal. The reveal is not “Oh, it’s Jason Mendoza.” If that’s what you’re getting from it, then I don’t know how to help you. The reveal is that a dead body falls, and you see this guy. The reveal is “Your faves are going down. Welcome to your new fave.”

It’s like you almost want Jecki to get out of the way so that you can finally see the guy behind her…

Yes, yes! That’s the thing. That’s exactly right. You want to put the audience in that position. If he took his helmet off and had a big villain monologue that would absolutely be a letdown. But we put the audience in the position where they’re like “I just want her dead body to show me what’s going on.” So you have immediately betrayed the character that you have claimed to like or have been rooting for — or maybe you didn’t like her and this is the thing that is giving you life. Regardless, you’re in a position where your loyalty to that character, at least for the next five to 10 seconds, has to be tossed aside in order to take in the thing that you knew was going to happen.

Jecki’s death sets up The Stranger’s final reveal, a complex moment that Headland wanted to feel like a betrayal.


After watching The Stranger fight, a lot of people are talking about cortosis. Were there any other Legends elements that you wanted to integrate into The Acolyte?

Oh, that’s a really good question. It’s a spoiler, though... but cortosis was a big one. It’s a tricky thing because you respect George Lucas in the sense that you don’t want to weaken the power of a lightsaber. It’s almost hallowed in that sense, not just within the series, but in pop culture. But cortosis was such a great new element, and I had always thought of it as such a cool thing to incorporate. [Lucasfilm lore consultant] Pablo Hidalgo and I worked a lot on the machinations of it before we started designing it. It was very important that it be breakable, that it basically not be super hard. It’s why Jecki can get the helmet off him so quickly. It’s kind of a brittle thing. There’s also a limited resource of it, which is why he doesn't have a whole suit of armor, and it only works for maybe a minute. We worked really hard on what it would look like, because we didn’t want it to look too powerful or too goofy. Pablo, [visual artist] Rob Bredow, and I talked a lot about it. So that’s the cortosis story, but the other Legends stuff we can talk about after the finale.

The Internet is quietly shipping Osha and Qimir. What can we expect from their relationship now that they’re stuck together?

How do I answer this? Well...

Are you into the good girl/bad guy pairing?

I mean, enemies to lovers, baby. But I don’t even think this is “good girl against bad guy.” I think it’s more like... OK, I’ll put it this way. I always really loved the line in A New Hope when Obi-Wan says “Vader was seduced by the Dark Side.” Always loved that word, “seduced.” I can also say that I was sent one fanfic — which I’m really glad has already started — and I was absolutely surprised at how prescient it was.

I think I know the one that you’re talking about because I saw it on X [formerly known as Twitter], and I was like, “Already?”

Somebody sent it to me, and I also thought, “Already?” I mean, it was like Wednesday. The show had not been out 24 hours, and I read it and I was like, “OK, damn. OK!”

Listen, I’m not hugely in that world, but I do think that when people get into their own imaginations — whether they’re playing Elden Ring or they’re writing fanfic — they can come up with a lot of really, really fun stuff. People who love Star Wars really love worlds. They love living in it, they love taking their time watching it and looking at every little detail, and then dreaming about it and imagining it, and sometimes that comes out as people writing fan fiction, and sometimes it’s very smart fan fiction.

Mae is officially done as The Stranger’s pupil, potentially paving the way for her twin sister Osha.


In that same vein, there are bits of the Kylo Ren theme that play throughout the episode. Can you speak to that connection, or is that something we have to wait and see?

Ah, wish I could. It is there on purpose, but I can’t tell you why, and I can’t go into what it is. But you shall see.

We’re officially more than halfway through The Acolyte’s first season. What can we expect from the final episodes?

I would say all the dots start connecting. The synapses start firing, especially after the switch between mentors for Episode 6 and going into Episode 7 and 8. There’s more action; there’s more lightsabers. It’s got a lot of the stuff that we’ve already had, but if there’s anything different about the second half of the season, it’s darker. It gets increasingly more emotional. Where we had to start big in the first half of this season to, again, build that world, like, “Here’s where we are. Here are a bunch of new people. There are no references to other Star Wars media.” Now, in the second half of the season, the pieces are all on the board. Now they’re going to start making moves that are going to inform an endgame, and I think that always ends up being pretty emotional at the end of the season or the end of any story.

The Acolyte is streaming on Disney+.

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