The Good, the Bad, and the Acolyte


The Good, the Bad, and the Acolyte

In this essay I will attempt to do the impossible: To explain why I personally dislike a show without telling other people they can’t or shouldn’t enjoy it. There will be nuance, there will be some give and take, and I won’t even make any death threats while I’m at it. The fact that I can make that reference is a testament to how the discourse around this show has been so polarizing and awful. Don’t worry, I’m here to bring balance to the force. Just kidding, that was Jacen Solo... 

Nobody? Anyways, the balance I want to bring is that there are things I strongly dislike about this show, but conceptually it is creative and interesting even though the execution is sub-par. I have hope for it after five episodes, but so far it is…not great. Let’s be real though, Star Wars has never been perfect, and many of the issues I see with the Acolyte have actually been symptoms of the franchise for a long time, they have just historical been covered over with more canonical stories and some of the other trappings that the Acolyte seems to intentionally distance itself from, such as the recognized musical motifs. Give us that sweet sweet John Williams brass and we are all quick to forgive writing sins. Maybe it's the difficulty of writing cohesive interplanetary stories that still feel relatable, but the Star Wars we all love has never been free of fault. the Acolyte is just a pretty big example of those faults.

It also bears stating that while some people have taken issue with the show because of its diversity or the gender identity and sexuality of its director, this has caused others to assume that people voicing any criticism of the show must by nature despise the show for that reason, or because they just don’t like what some have called the “Lesbian Witches.”

This take is presumptuous and actually contradictory to what the director–an openly nonbinary and gay person–has said about people who view the show this way.  Specifically, that it is reductive to read into certain aspects of the show to the level that people have, and even says it as a sign people “aren't really paying attention” if that's the stuff they're seeing.

I'm not the first to qualify this nuance in the context of the Acolyte either. There are true criticisms to be levied against this show and Star Wars has come a long way since a New Hope on the diversity front, and I think that is to be commended. The universe started with a primarily white cast except for James Earl-Jones, who was relegated to voice acting. What a waste. It is wonderful to see a pair of black characters headline a series, I just wish they had better writing to work with. 

One of the other criticisms with the show that I have seen is that it allegedly breaks canon. I have no problem with a show “breaking canon” even if that were true. I’m one of those Star Wars guys who views Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy as headcanon but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the new movies and shows anyway. Personally disliking the show for me is completely about the pacing and the writing and, to put it in the context of canon, how the show seems to breaks its own canon. Rather than holding it to an impossible standard of following the volumes of external Star Wars canon, I intend to point out how it fails on its own merits.

Caution, Spoilers ahead

As I said, I do not dislike this show because it is supposedly inconsistent with established Star Wars lore. Star Wars should evolve and try new things. That's how we get Andor. I dislike the show because it seems to be inconsistent with itself, and in a secret twin story, consistency is everything or it falls apart completely. It's not the premise of twins as main characters itself that's bad. The Prestige is one of my all time favorite movies, but the reason that movie was so great was that it was, from beginning to end, paced beautifully without breaking internal consistency. The Acolyte seems like a poorly executed attempt to do some really cool, subversive stuff with established archetypes. The basic stuff is confusing and the secret twists are all telegraphed. Like, please…we all knew it was Qimir under that helmet.

Throughout, the dialogue feels stilted, the editing of the different interweaving plots is disjointed, and the narrative feels like it rushes its way past some pretty obvious things without explanation. It also feels…confused by itself. At times it feels like the show does not know who it wants us to be rooting for, not because of intentional moral ambiguity, but rather due to inconsistent thematic worldbuilding. Things happen and I’m not sure what is going on or who is enacting it, but the way it is written I’m not even sure the writers do either. In the fight in the latest episode, the Master wants to kill the Jedi but then the Jedi are fighting him to keep him away from Mae. It is all very confusing. 

There are multiple times in the show where something will happen and it is not explained, not because it is supposed to be a twist but simply because it wasn’t given enough time or information. For example, in the latest episode, two of the Jedi’s lightsabers just stop working at a key moment in the fight. Apparently it was something called Cortosis armor, which I had to look up and now makes me wonder why everyone isn’t wearing that stuff all the time or why that isn’t explained in the episode.

There are numerous other situations that aren’t explained well or are internally inconsistent. How is Yord ground-bound with a huge leg slice then walking again in the next scene? Why do the Jedi not immediately believe Osha that she didn't murder the Jedi after they just introduced the mind-reading power, and why would Mae attempt a sister-swap in the latest episode knowing this? Why were the Jedi stationed on the Witch Coven’s planet in the first place? Why did Torbin agree to kill himself without any explanation, saying that he was waiting for Mae when she was just there earlier? Why did Mae want to burn her sister alive for wanting to leave? And seriously why did nobody check on the Wookie-Jedi if they hadn’t heard from him in a whole year, and why did they not immediately go check on the poor guy when someone started specifically killing the set of four Jedi that he was a part of? They could have easily

saved his hairy self.

The timing and pacing is also very strange. Multiple times now, once in the second episode and once in the fourth, large groups of characters seem to arrive at the same distant place at the same time even though it doesn't make sense that they would. In the second episode, when Osha crashes on Carlac, there are lengthy scenes on Coruscant that happen before the Jedi come to find her, and she would have been on the frigid planet much longer before anyone showed up but they seem to get there at the same time. This then happens again in Episode 4 when everyone seems to arrive at the Wookie-Jedi’s home at the same time, somehow, even though there were lengthy scenes on Coruscant in between. It takes me out of the story because it feels like something about the chronology is amiss, but not in an intentional time-travel sort of way but just in a kind of way that feels like an editor or storyboard creator should have caught those things but didn't.

I will say, having watched through the first five episodes now, I am hopeful that the series finds its pace. The concept is really cool and the third episode was a slower, more personal episode full of character exposition, worldbuilding, and cool force witches. That episode hit me just right. The issue is that the other three episodes didn’t seem to know what they wanted to do or say so it felt like they rushed through plot so they didn’t have to explain it too much. If the show slows down, builds the foundation, and lets the story unfold like in Episode 3, it will be just fine. Otherwise, this won’t be one I’ll be rewatching. 

By: @Steve_TheCleric

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