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The Acolyte Didn't Break the Jedi Order — It Was Already Broken

Leslye Headland's Star Wars show builds on the best part of the prequels.
  • Lee Jung-jae and Charlie Barnett in The Acolyte (Photo: Disney+/Lucasfilm)
    Lee Jung-jae and Charlie Barnett in The Acolyte (Photo: Disney+/Lucasfilm)

    The Star Wars prequels did plenty of wrong (from the dialogue to the pacing), but they got plenty right, too. Arguably the best thing George Lucas came up with for the prequels was the idea of the Jedi Order as a corrupt religious cult, an organization that indoctrinated their members and tied them up in bureaucracy and red tape. 

    This idea has only grown over time, with titles like The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian adding to the Jedi just being the worst. Now The Acolyte is here to present a brand new (onscreen, anyway) era of Star Wars, one that still shares one big thing with the prequels — the Jedi Order still sucks, and it’s always sucked. 

    That last bit is important because when Leslye Headland’s series was first announced, it was sold as representing a different era of Star Wars: the High Republic, a time when the Jedi weren't just strangely tied to the Republic in red tape and bureaucracy, but instead were chivalrous. 

    It was the Star Wars equivalent of Camelot, with the Jedi as the Knights of the Round Table. They were more open about attachments, and spread out over the galaxy instead of just spending their time in their headquarters on Coruscant. Early titles seemed to imply that the Jedi were actually a good thing, the Order just got corrupted with time. Sure, there were conflicts, and some people did see the Jedi as conquerors, but it was their perspective, not necessarily the truth. 

    That's not the case with The Acolyte. Though set at the tail end of the High Republic era, the show argues that the Jedi did not become broken, the order was always this way. Take the very first scene of the first episode — an attack on Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss), who immediately reports that she has "an unidentified Force user" on a comlink. These Jedi act less like warriors or knights, and more like cops policing the galaxy and looking into anything that breaks their norms. Unlike the lightsaber-ho Jedi of the movies, Jedi like Indara or Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) only pull out their sabers when faced with a lethal threat, as a last resort. Not because they are better than real-life cops, mind you, but because they think everyone else is so beneath them, they won’t dignify them with a lightsaber duel.

    There is an inherent hypocrisy at the heart of the Jedi that The Acolyte shines a light on every chance it gets. "The Jedi live in a dream they believe everyone shares with them," Mae's (Amandla Stenberg) enigmatic Sith Master says in the first episode. This is very evident in Episode 3, when a group of Jedi arrive at the Brendok coven of witches with lightsabers, ready to go on the attack, searching for new recruits. 

    Over a century before the Force became a "hokey religion," as Han Solo put it, the Force wasn't just widely known, but legislated. The Jedi used to go around the galaxy profiling everyone who might be a Force user. If that person wasn’t a member of the Jedi, they joined or suffered the consequences. Their dream is one they impose on others. As the opening text crawl reads, during this era "a powerful few learn to use the Force in secret" — secret being the key word. The Order has a monopoly on the Force during the time of The Acolyte, deciding who gets to use it and who doesn't. 

    Given that decades of Star Wars stories have established that the Force is for everyone, even those unaffiliated with the Jedi — hell, Ahsoka even gave us someone who learned to use the Force without being considered "Force-sensitive" — this makes the Jedi Order look more like the Jedi Inquisition. Sure, Masters Sol, Indara, Kelnacca (Joonas Suotamo), and Torbin (Dean-Charles Chapman) arrive politely and keep repeating that they ask permission before taking children, but no one is going to say no — because of the implication. After all, they've already pushed the coven to the verge of extinction just because, as Mother Aniseya (Jodie Turner-Smith) alludes to early in the episode, some view their powers as "dark and unnatural." The mysteriously convenient death of the entire coven doesn't really help the Jedi in this case. 

    Sure, it makes some sense that the Order would regulate Force cults. After all, the Jedi have spent millennia engaged in a war against the Sith, and surely they'd want to make sure they don't resurface again. But the Sith aren't the only ones that study the Force. Throughout the franchise, we've met characters who believe in the Force but aren't Jedi or Sith, from the Sages of Zeffo and the Guardians of the Whills to the Knights of Ren and the Bendu.

    Of course, the High Republic books also added their own new faction with Path of the Open Hand. These all have a different view on the Force, not all of them good or bad. But The Acolyte's Sol and Indara don't care. Anyone outside of their order caught using the Force has to be assimilated or destroyed. It also gives context to the Jedi of the prequels. If they spent so much time during the High Republic era persecuting other religions and extinguishing them, it makes sense that by the time of the prequels, they'd have no more enemies, so they rot from within.

    What seals the fate of the Brendok coven is that they have children, the Jedi's most precious resource. We've seen the Jedi take children before; Qui-Gon took Anakin away from his mom just for the Jedi Council to say he's too young and raising many questions. The Clone Wars expanded on this and made it a doctrine of the Order, with kids being separated from their family. Even Obi-Wan Kenobi showed the old Jedi Master reckon with the fact that he once had a family he was forced to forget about. 

    What happens in The Acolyte is different, however, because the child-stealing part of the Jedi Order isn't some old tradition. Sol isn't just empowered by his religion to take kids away for some higher calling; there are actual laws within the Republic that allow the Jedi to test anyone they damn please, and then take them with them — with "permission," of course.

    The Star Wars prequels' best legacy is that they recast the cool space wizards of the original trilogy into flawed, complex characters belonging to a flawed organization. If there was any doubt that the Jedi were paragons of light and good they sold themselves as, The Acolyte shows once and for all that the fall of the Jedi did not just start with Palpatine, but the darkness that eventually ended them was part of the very fabric of the Order.

    New episodes of The Acolyte drop Wednesdays on Disney+. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Rafael Motamayor is a freelance writer and critic based in Norway.

    TOPICS: Star Wars: The Acolyte, Disney+, Amandla Stenberg, Carrie-Anne Moss, Charlie Barnett, Jodie Turner-Smith, Lee Jung-jae, Leslye Headland, Manny Jacinto, Lucasfilm, Star Wars