The Acolyte is a cop show in disguise, and it's the perfect genre for Star Wars’ expansion

Lee Jung-jae as Master Sol in The Acolyte
(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

After The Mandalorian’s homage to Westerns and Andor’s foray into political drama, The Acolyte brings crime TV to the Star Wars universe. Kicking off with a murder investigation, the first two episodes are structured like a cop show, portraying the Jedi Order as a worryingly flawed galactic police force.

Set 100 years before The Phantom Menace, The Acolyte leans into the prequel trilogy’s critique of Jedi culture. Restricted by bureaucracy and inflexible rules, this era’s Jedi are an arm of the Republic government. One of their roles is law enforcement, tackling Force-related crimes. So when Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss) is murdered by a Force-user, the Coruscant temple sends two Jedi to arrest the prime suspect: former padawan Osha Aniseya (Amandla Stenberg).

We quickly learn that Osha is innocent. The real killer is her long-lost twin sister Mae. However it takes a while for the Jedi investigators to figure this out, in a story that utilizes familiar cop TV tropes while highlighting the fallibility of the Jedi.

Good Jedi, bad Jedi

The Acolyte

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

Consider our introduction to Osha’s former teacher Sol (Lee Jung-jae). He’s depicted as empathetic and kind, contrasting with the no-nonsense Vernestra Rwoh (Rebecca Henderson), a senior authority at the Coruscant temple. When Vernestra informs him of Osha’s supposed crimes, she’s openly concerned about political backlash if the story gets out. A homicidal ex-padawan could damage the Order’s reputation.

"Discretion is important," she says, emphasizing the need for a swift arrest. Her dialogue is peppered with noticeably un-Jedi-like law enforcement buzzwords like "suspect" and "custody." Sol, meanwhile, struggles to believe that Osha would commit murder – a belief rooted in lingering feelings of trust and affection for his old padawan, a level of attachment that’s frowned upon in Jedi culture.

Sol’s role echoes Qui-Gon Jinn’s clash with the Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace, setting him apart from his more conservative peers. In the narrative language of crime TV, this conflict also establishes Sol and Vernestra in two archetypal roles: the maverick detective and the strict police chief who tries to keep him in line.

Doubting the allegations against Osha, Sol insists on joining the by-the-book Yord (Charlie Barnett) in his investigation. And like so many maverick detectives before, Sol’s hunch is proven right. While Yord was content to arrest Osha after minimal questioning (and dump her on a disastrously unsafe automated prison transport), Sol’s trust in Osha leads them to identify the true culprit. His emotional attachment turned out to be a strength, not a weakness. 

Sabers up

Carrie-Anne Moss as Master Indara in The Acolyte

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

Sol is actually a rather subversive take on the loose-cannon cop archetype. These characters tend to be rebellious antiheroes who succeed by breaking the rules, often to the point of violence. But Sol is calm and thoughtful, repeatedly trying to de-escalate confrontations.

The Acolyte’s first scene highlights a direct analogy between Jedi lightsabers and a police officer’s gun, with Mae telling Master Indara, "A Jedi doesn't pull her weapon unless prepared to kill." With that context in mind, Yord is worryingly quick on the draw. At one point he reaches for his lightsaber because he assumes Osha is armed, when really she’s just retrieving her droid. 

Later when he and Sol track Osha to the snowy planet Carlac, Yord approaches with his lightsaber ignited and ready for use. By comparison Sol avoids violence as much as possible. Even when Mae attacks him in episode 2, he fights defensively and never draws his weapon, attempting to reason with her and gather more information.

The show isn’t exactly subtle about framing Sol as a "good" Jedi, inviting comparisons with his more hardline colleagues who prioritize obedience and tradition over independent thought. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is an edgy critique of copaganda storytelling (let’s leave that to Andor), but The Acolyte is already making some smart choices in its use of crime drama tropes.

Individual Jedi may mean well, but their methods are shaped by problematic moral dogma. And on a structural level, they’re tools of the Republic government. This sets the scene for a law enforcement drama where the people making and enforcing those laws aren’t necessarily in the right.

The Acolyte airs weekly on Disney Plus. For more on the show, check out our spoiler-filled guides to:

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a critic and journalist specializing in geek culture, TV, and film. Previously a staff writer at the Daily Dot, she now freelances for a wide variety of outlets including TV Guide, Atlas Obscura, Inverse, Vulture and BBC radio. She also co-hosts the movie review podcast Overinvested.