New Star Wars Prequel Series Confirms Unexpected Return of the Jedi Connection

Star Wars: The Acolyte will give some screen time to a blast from the past from Return of the Jedi.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Anniversary Poster
Photo: Lucasfilm

Part of the fun of fandom is becoming obsessed with background characters that have nothing to do with the main narrative. Star Trek fans still aren’t over the Klingon Chef from Deep Space Nine and Dune readers imagine the further adventures of minor Sardaukar warriors after the defeat on Arrakis. But no franchise has catered to its fans’ nostalgia better than Star Wars, with its emphasis on bringing back deep-cut background characters from the movies, like Ponda Baba or Bossk, in new ways.

From The Mandalorian to Obi-Wan Kenobi to Rogue One, the franchise rarely misses a beat when it comes to easter eggs, cameos, and callbacks to the saga’s past. Unsurprisingly, this trend will continue with the upcoming Disney+ series, The Acolyte.

In the latest issue of Empire, The Acolyte showrunner Leslye Headland revealed the main characters of her show, which is set 100 years before The Phantom Menace and follows a former Jedi padawan and her master as they investigate a series of crimes that will eventually tie into how the Sith infiltrated the Republic in the Prequel Trilogy. Among the lead cast is Dafne Keen, best known as Laura from Logan and Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials, as a Theelin Jedi.

“David Bowie meets Star Wars” is how Keen described her character to Empire: “I have a little mullet, I have horns, it’s cute.” For Headland, the idea sprung from seeing the very first Theelin character, Rystáll Sant (Mercedes Ngoh), in Return of the Jedi. You may remember Rystáll as a dancer and backup singer during the Max Rebo Band scene in the Special Edition version of that movie. With her flaming red hair, horned head, and striking spot pattern, Rystáll was a standout in a controversial extended musical sequence.

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Other Theelins have made appearances in Star Wars media since 1997. Corellian half-human/half-Theelin hybrid Shug Ninx made his debut in the Han Solo-focused novel The Hutt Gambit, bounty hunter Latts Razzi appeared in The Clone Wars, and Sith Lord Darth Phobos challenged players in the first The Force Unleashed video game. But outside of these and a few other scattered appearances, Theelins remain background dressing, most recently popping up in scenes of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

According to Headland, when given the keys to her own Star Wars series, she leapt at the chance to bring Theelins to the forefront of The Acolyte in the form of a powerful Jedi. “Dafne’s character could definitely kick my ass,” said Charlie Barnett (Russian Doll), who also plays a Jedi character.

The inclusion of a Theelin is just one of the many ambitious ideas Headland pitched for the series. For example, she describes The Acolyte as “Kill Bill meets Frozen,” invoking a very unlikely film pairing. “It is sort of a joke,” Headland explained. “But it was my elevator pitch to Kathy [Kennedy]: ‘I want to take that revisionist version of female villains that you see in a fairy-tale media and tell it through that lens.” The showrunner also teased wuxia-inspired fight sequences on the show.

To that end, Headland has assembled a stellar cast, including not only main characters played by Amandla Stenberg of The Hunger Games and Lee Jung-jae of Squid Game, but also After Yang‘s Jodie Turner-Smith and The Matrix‘s Carrie-Anne Moss. The series will also bring at least one character from The High Republic series, Vernestra Rwoh, to live-action, played by Rebecca Henderson (Russian Doll). And, of course, the series will also feature plenty of interesting background characters, giving future fans new things to obsess over.

Star Wars: The Acolyte is currently slated for a 2024 release on Disney+.