The Acolyte episodes 1-4 review: "The new Star Wars show plays like Andor meets Obi-Wan Kenobi"

Amandla Stenberg (Mae) in The Acolyte
(Image: © Lucasfilm)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

The Acolyte gets off to an intriguing start, though it stumbles in places and retreads familiar ground from the prequels.

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From the start, The Acolyte has positioned itself as something brand new for Star Wars. Yes, it has all the hallmarks of the franchise – Jedi wielding lightsabers, the Force, and complicated Master-Padawan relationships. But it's also set 100 years before the prequels on the Star Wars timeline, is billed as a murder mystery, and promises to investigate the question of power and who can wield it, rather than the binary light vs. dark that much of Star Wars revolves around. You might, then, be expecting a Jedi show in the vein of Andor, Star Wars' gritty political thriller. 

Ultimately, though, the first four episodes of The Acolyte play more like Andor meets Obi-Wan Kenobi. The new show revolves around dark sider Mae (an excellent Amandla Stenberg), who has a past with Lee Jung-jae's kindly Jedi Master Sol. Jedi are being killed off one by one, and it's up to Sol and a handful of others to get to the bottom of the crime spree.  

The show opens with an impressive duel between Mae and Carrie-Anne Moss's Jedi character Indara. Rather than clashing lightsabers, though, we're instead treated to an inventive fight that involves knives, the Force, and some martial arts-inspired choreography. The sequence is a very effective hook, and a plot twist I won't spoil here soon flips the show on its head. It's an entirely engaging opening to a show that seems poised to question apparent truths about Star Wars as we know it. 

The issue, though, is that it feels like The Acolyte is treading ground the prequels already decisively mapped. We know the Jedi are slow to act, indecisive, bogged down by bureaucracy, and can't handle Padawans struggling with grief and attachments (hello, Anakin Skywalker)  – that's pretty comprehensively covered in Episodes 1 to 3. So, what new ground is The Acolyte going to break? At the moment, it's not entirely clear. That's not to say the show won't forge its own identity going forward, of course – it's just that, from the first four episodes, it all feels a little familiar. 

A shadow rises 

The Acolyte

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

Still, though, there's much to enjoy in the new show. Lee is a stand-out as the wise, gentle Sol, who seems to have his own, more unconventional ideas on attachment. Dafne Keen is also delightful as the matter-of-fact Jecki, Sol's Padawan, while Charlie Barnett is lots of fun as the cocky Yord. Stenberg, though, is clearly the star – a lot is required of her to make her character work, and her performance is seamless and utterly convincing. 

The show's billing as a murder mystery is also something of a red herring, as viewers will soon discover, but the true mystery of the series revolves around the shadowy Sith training Mae. The only clue we have so far is that Mae and Manny Jacinto's Qimir refer to the figure as "he," so let the theorizing commence. We catch only glimpses of him in the first four episodes, and he's a compelling mystery – mostly thanks to the tasks he's assigned Mae to complete (a masked, dark sider villain is nothing new for Star Wars, after all). 

Mae is also an intriguing character in her own right, though an extended flashback to her past unfortunately rushes through a fairly pivotal moment in her turn to the dark side, which undermines her story a little. Still, what we do see of her backstory is intriguing, with Jodie Turner-Smith playing a fascinating mother figure – not only of Mae, but of a coven of Force-using witches (and they have their own, intriguing ideas about Star Wars' cosmic energy). 

The Acolyte also just looks excellent, with its commitment to sprawling practical sets creating worlds that feel real and lived-in, as opposed to the sometimes shallower backgrounds of the Volume. 

Though we go to the familiar Coruscant, too, the visual language of the planet and the Jedi Order is different – the Jedi look much cleaner and shinier than we're used to, and even the Jedi Temple looks lighter from the outside. Lightsabers are not drawn very often, but when they are, they look excellent. This gives the iconic weapon a certain weight, too – when a lightsaber ignites, you know the situation is serious. 

All in all, The Acolyte gets off to a solid start. While it loses some momentum, it quickly regains its footing with a seriously agonizing cliffhanger arriving at the midpoint of the series. Time will tell if The Acolyte manages to stick the landing throughout the back half of the season, but, for now, it's an engrossing – if not as original as promised – adventure in the galaxy far, far away. 

The Acolyte arrives on Disney Plus with a double season premiere this June 4 in the US and June 5 in the UK. You can keep up to date with the galaxy far, far away with our guide to all the upcoming Star Wars movies and TV shows

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Molly Edwards
Entertainment Writer

I'm an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things film and TV for the site's Total Film and SFX sections. I previously worked on the Disney magazines team at Immediate Media, and also wrote on the CBeebies, MEGA!, and Star Wars Galaxy titles after graduating with a BA in English.