In Review: The Acolyte

Review by Tim Robins

No one is safe from the truth…

The Acolyte - as seen by Fraser Geesin
Art by Fraser Geesin

The Acolyte has faced the slings and light sabers of outraged fandom since its first two episodes premiered on Disney+ earlier this month. We’re now five episodes in, and much of the online audience has the feel of a pack of lions besetting a wounded buffalo. 

The series has been review-bombed to death on Rotten Tomatoes with the result that, as of 20th June 2024, it has an audience score of 17% – that’s less than the score for The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978). This kind of behaviour is one reason I don’t pay much attention to the site – I’ve never heard of the critics and, in instances like this, the audience scores are probably from multiple accounts created by a few aggrieved individuals. 

Still, it’s all very unfortunate because The Acolyte is interesting. 

Star Wars - The Acolyte Image © Disney

The series tells the misadventures of twins Osha and Mae who grow up in a coven of Force witches. It is hoped that they will carry the knowledge and traditions of the coven into the future. It is not to be. The twins don’t share identical ambitions: Osha wants to be a Jedi, Mae wants to fulfil her role in the coven. When the witches are slaughtered, Osha is saved by a Jedi group, while Mae is apparently lost to a conflagration. Flash forward to a still-alive Mae, the titular ‘Acolyte’, out to avenge herself on the Jedi who left her to die.

The Acolyte has plenty of personal conflict and an interesting take on the Star Wars universe. The Jedi, for example, have expanded the ranks since we first met them in 1977. There are women now, and Jedi of colour, and even Wookies. The show dares to question whether or not they are a force, good or bad, although we are invited to see even these polarities as misleading. Some of this feels purposely designed to tread of fan’s shoes, but fans are pretty good at putting their feet in their own mouths. The Star Wars continuity has been jettisoned wholesale in the past.

Star Wars - The Acolyte Image © Disney
Star Wars - The Acolyte Image © Disney

Showrunner Leslye Headland has drawn on the edges of Star Wars continuity to continue the trend in opening the Star Wars Lucasverse to other characters and other ideas. This is entirely welcome. The script draws threads from past lore – hints of witches in comics and novels, and references to the witches of Dathomir in Ashoka. (Dathomir was the homeworld of Darth Maul, although the witches in this series are not aligned to the Dark Side).

The Acolyte sets up an opposition between the Coven and the Jedi based on gender but also how the different groups perceive the Force. The witches see the “force” as more like a thread to be tugged. Some fans have decided this is an outrage and part of a ‘Great Replacement Theory’, in which white men are having their culture replaced by woke words. I can hardly believe it… actually, I can. 

Paul Tassi of Forbes has written “The Acolyte being review bombed on Rotten Tomatoes to an all-time low score is embarrassing. Let me broaden that, all of this is embarrassing, and this is the most unhinged I’ve seen the toxic side of the Star Wars fanbase be since probably The Last Jedi. And by the end, this may be worse than that. Things are long past inexcusable with this kind of behaviour, and it needs to stop. It won’t.”

Star Wars - The Acolyte Image © Disney
Star Wars - The Acolyte Image © Disney

For me, when a show faces me with apparent contradictions, I tend to think of positive, creative solutions to resolve them. That said, The Acolyte has moments that are totally cringeworthy. One is the ritual of ascension by which the young twins are to be initiated into the coven. For a start it’s badly staged. In science fiction/fantasy I really do expect a ceremony of ascension to involve actual ascending, and I don’t mean walking up some steps. The Star Wars universe is so derivative, it could easily incorporate the climax to Robert Eggers’s The Witch (2015).

The Ascension ceremony really falls flat on its face when the witches begin chanting, “The One, The Two…” (cha, cha, cha…) THE MANY!”. The latter is sung as if the witches were contestants on The X Factor. I guess ritual chanting is no longer taught at film school, along with primitive dancing and drowning in quicksand. The entire rocky setting suggests that cave building hasn’t progressed much from the days of the original Star Trek.

Headland has been described (by Kathleen Kennedy) as a “boldly innovative film maker”. Using an outsider to bring life to a tired franchise is an old trick of Hollywood studios. The upside is that, as here, you get a fresh take on characters, settings and story tropes. The downside, as here, is you get a creative talent apparently blundering around a beloved universe like a Banth in a china shop, bringing sacred fan shibboleths crashing to the ground. 

One example is the inclusion of a Jedi Wookie, Kelnacca. The character shot is very much in the background. But for fans, this character is a first, and a revelatory moment.  Writing for Polygon, Joshua Rivera, points out: “‘Wookie Jedi’ is one of the most thrilling Star Wars-related phrases one can utter, a character idea so dope it doesn’t seem legal”. But for the critics, The Acolyte doesn’t give this character its due regard. 

I’m not sure what such critics want. I picture Kelnacca’s entrance should have involved a growling monster looming out of the shadows, only for his fur to be bathed in a halo of light, a commanding figure shot from below and accompanied by roars and snarls. Dialogue would be along the lines of “yes, though Wookies are fearsome, brutish, barely articulate furries, some among them have so many midi-chlorians that they too can master the sublime intricacies of the Force! Truly, Kelnacca is the gentlest of giants unless riled by witchery” etcetera, etcetera.

I am finding the heat death of the Star Wars universe to be a tiresomely protracted affair. There’s an entire generation of viewers who have escaped to new horizons. Whether or not you see The Acolyte as a bright spark or a dying ember in that process will depend on how much you want to embrace the Post-George Lucas Star Wars universe or how much you just want to force choke it to death. As yet, The Acolyte hasn’t persuaded me one way or the other. 

Tim Robins

• The Acolyte is available now on Disney+

Follow the Star Wars saga on

Polygon: Justice for Kelnacca, The Acolyte’s real hero

Forbes: ‘The Acolyte’ Rotten Tomatoes Score Keeps Falling, And Maybe It Should If We Ever Hope To Find Balance In The Force

Forbes: Disney Forced To Reveal Unequal Pay On Star Wars Show ‘The Acolyte’

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