Opinion

With The Acolyte, Star Wars Is Finally Growing Up

The franchise’s most divisive series just gave us a truly nuanced look at the dark side of the Force.

Manny Jacinto as Qimir/The Stranger in The Acolyte
Lucasfilm
The Acolyte

The Acolyte is not a Star Wars show for everyone, but it managed to find its audience all the same. Though its inaugural episodes were polarizing, everything seemed to click with its fifth episode, which reintroduced Manny Jacinto’s Qimir as a sexy (but still very evil) Sith warrior, aka The Stranger. The Acolyte gained viral word of mouth almost overnight, with a vocal group of fans holding out for a romance with protagonist Osha (Amandla Stenberg).

The Star Wars saga hadn’t incurred such attention since The Last Jedi, the 2017 film that redefined the fandom for better and worse. It won both praise and backlash for its gloves-off portrayal of the Jedi Order, and for exploring desire and repression in the dynamic between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). It was the closest Star Wars had come to “growing up” — or, at the very least, embracing more adult themes — in years. Based on its reception, though, it was clear that the fandom wasn’t quite ready for that.

That may have changed with The Acolyte. In so many ways, the series is a thematic complement to The Last Jedi, embracing its core arguments and dynamics in a fresh way. Its latest episode especially delivers one homage after the next, from Kylo Ren’s musical motifs to visual parallels between Rey and Osha. But the series still sets itself apart from other Star Wars stories, if only because it doubles down on the ideas that even the most divisive stories couldn’t quite grasp.

Spoilers ahead for The Acolyte Episode 6!

Mae and Osha’s conflict is the heart of The Acolyte, but Episode 6 makes a wise choice in focusing on Osha’s dynamic with Qimir.

Lucasfilm

The Acolyte is largely the story of two disparate twin sisters, one trained in the ways of the Jedi and the other as a Sith acolyte. Episode 5 introduced an interesting wrinkle by having Osha and her sister Mae switch places: now Mae can carry out her quest for revenge against the Jedi (who may or may not have caused a tragedy in her youth), while Osha herself is stuck with Qimir. The Acolyte’s latest episode dedicates a lot of time to the latter development — and anyone who bought into the romantic implications in Rey’s dynamic with Kylo found a lot to love.

No shade to The Last Jedi, but The Acolyte succeeds in every area that “Reylo” failed. Perhaps it’s because Qimir is positioned as a clearer metaphor for the seductive power of the dark side, and the ever-conflicted Kylo was never really meant to serve that purpose. Either way, Osha’s corruption in Episode 6 is refreshing, if only because it offers us the most “adult” take on Sith corruption we’ve ever seen in live action.

Osha’s rapport with Qimir is about more than just good chemistry and sexual tension (though there’s plenty of both). These characters have a complicated relationship with the Jedi Order: Osha still holds herself to the standards she learned in Jedi training, but Qimir argues that the lessons the Jedi teach are inherently harmful. He’s invited Osha to let go, to stop denying her most powerful emotions, and to open herself up to the power that they can offer her. After a lifetime of suppressing guilt and grief, who wouldn’t be seduced by that? As a result, their rapport works on two levels: with clear physical chemistry along with thematic empathy.

The Acolyte creates a more nuanced reading around the dark side, allowing the franchise to embrace more adult themes.

Lucasfilm

The Acolyte paints a nuanced portrait of the dark side — not just through the brutal bloodshed in Episode 5, but through the quieter meditations on desire, power, and pain in Episode 6. Just like its portrayal of the Jedi, which is much darker than previous Star Wars stories, The Acolyte is thriving in the grey areas. And unlike the films of the sequel trilogy, it’s not just lip service: these characters feel multi-faceted because they’re actually allowed to express emotions other than anger or fear. In The Acolyte, desire and loss are also powerful drivers, but Star Wars hasn’t always explored those feelings beyond the surface level. Even with so many unanswered questions, our characters’ motivations feel clear. That allows The Acolyte to push the franchise into unexplored territory, and tell a story that can appeal to more mature audiences.

The Acolyte is streaming on Disney+.

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