The Acolyte Proves the Jedi Are More Interesting When There Are Less of Them

The Acolyte has a lot going for it, but is it also robbing the Jedi of some of their magic?

Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett), Jedi Padawan Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen) and Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE
Photo: Christian Black | Lucasfilm

This Star Wars: The Acolyte article contains spoilers.

In The Acolyte, the unfolding story makes one thing very clear: The Jedi of the Galactic Republic may have been guardians of peace and justice, but they also caused a lot of problems by sticking their noses into other people’s Force business. While The Phantom Menace and the ensuing prequel films helped to reveal how dogmatic Jedi policies and weird bureaucracy led to galactic chaos, The Acolyte is, somewhat by accident, suggesting there’s an even bigger problem: What if there are simply too many Jedi?

On a thematic level, The Acolyte is a successful critique of the consolidated power the Jedi wield, and how their monopoly on Force knowledge led to all sorts of injustices, and, possibly, paved the way for the return of the Sith. But, on an unintended meta-fictional level, the problems of the Jedi are reinforced in The Acolyte in another way. By having so many of them on screen, we start to wonder what made the Jedi so interesting in the first place.

When Master Sol leads a team to Khofar to find the Wookiee Jedi Kelnacca, he brings with him the following people: his Padawan Jecki, his former Padawan Osha, Jedi Knight Yord, and four additional Jedi, seemingly for backup. This means, in total, if we count Osha, there are eight people trained as Jedi on this mission, seven of which are active Jedi. So, when we factor-in Kelnacca—who is slain offscreen—as well as Mae and the mysterious Dark Lord, that means in this episode, the only characters who are not apparently Force-wielders are Qimir and the little rodent creature, Bazil. (Though many fans are convinced that Qimir is the secret Sith Lord, so maybe only Bazil isn’t a Force-wielder here.)

Ad – content continues below

While it’s superficially awesome to see so many Jedi and Jedi-adjacent people in a new Star Wars adventure, this many high-powered characters paradoxically lowers the stakes. When we see the whole team of Jedi walking through the wilderness of Kelnacca, it sort of evokes a similar scene from The Fellowship of the Ring; only in this fellowship, every single person is a powerful wizard.

Committing the same mistake as the prequel trilogy before it, The Acolyte robs the Jedi of some of the mystique that made them so great in the first place, simply because we spend so much time with so many of them. The success of the original Star Wars trilogy can be attributed to many things: The music. The humor. The casting. The groundbreaking VFX. But when it came to the coolness of the Jedi, scarcity is what made the Force so compelling. In the first two films, the only Jedi-ish characters are Obi-Wan, Yoda, Darth Vader, and Luke’s nascent status as the heir to it all. By Return of the Jedi, we have to throw Leia into that pantheon, but, for the most part, all the other major characters, from Han to Chewbacca to Lando and the majority of the Rebels, are regular folks. They don’t exist in the mystical privileged class of Jedi, thus making the contrast of the Jedi more compelling. 

With the prequel films, Star Wars slid toward its Jedi-heavy habits, which are on full display in The Acolyte. As decried at the time, The Phantom Menace lacked a Han Solo-ish everyman, and throughout those three films, only Padmé Amidala and Jar Jar Binks stand in opposition to the preponderance of Jedi and Sith characters. And yet, even though the prequels gave us a whole army of Jedi battling on Geonosis, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mission to track down Jango Fett was a lone quest. One gets the sense that, had this investigation happened in the time of The Acolyte, Obi-Wan would have had seven other Jedi with him.

We know on a gut-level that the four spare Jedi on the Khofar mission are redshirts who exist onscreen just so they can be (likely) slain by the mysterious Sith Lord, which, in theory, should make us worried. If this villain can kill all these random Jedi, then wow, he must be powerful. But if so many Jedi are just being used as lightsaber fodder, it also shatters the magic of seeing a Jedi appear on screen in the first place. In the original trilogy, and even the sequels, there’s an air of mystery that follow the Jedi who appear onscreen, about who they are and their journey. We’re made to feel like it’s a huge moment when they show up to fight the bad guys. In The Acolyte, they’re disposable and many of them are nameless.

In fairness, The Acolyte is a show about the nature of the Force and the behaviors of the Jedi. Analogously, it’s like a hypothetical Doctor Who spinoff set on Gallifrey or a Star Trek series that somehow only features Vulcans. (Or again, a Lord of the Rings story in which everyone has the same powers as Gandalf.) While this kind of thing is okay for the world of Harry Potter (several wizards on a mission), so many Jedi automatically pull the credibility and the tension out of the writing. Obviously having a lot of Jedi in a show about the Jedi in the High Republic was a requirement for the premise of the series to work, but the way the Jedi behave in episodes 3 and 4 of The Acolyte makes them seem more like bored cops in robes than mystical warriors who can wield a power that exists beyond the reach of the rest of the galaxy’s citizens. 

In the first episode, when Carrie-Anne Moss’s Master Indara took her time drawing her lightsaber, the wonder and awe of the Jedi was briefly redefined. Jedi only ignite their weapons when they have decided to kill—a very cool detail that hasn’t really been explored onscreen before and that speaks to the power and responsibility of being a Jedi Knight. This is to say The Acolyte has a lot going for it, and Amandla Stenberg’s take on Mae wielding the Force (or the Thread) is certainly a welcome change from what we’ve seen before. And yet, only Mae, her “good” sister Osha, and the shifty Qimir seem like truly, fully formed characters.

Ad – content continues below

For all of his classic charm, in episode 4, Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) feels lost in a crowd of other folks with lightsabers. You can easily imagine a series just focused on Sol (or Indara, or hell, the tragically underused Kelnacca) being much more compelling. But because of the samey-ness of most of the Jedi onscreen, when all of them assemble together, each suddenly feels like the same character. Having all the Jedi dress differently from each other might break canon at this point. But it would be a start.

Star Wars: The Acolyte is streaming now on Disney+.