Why The Acolyte Has To Succeed
Star Wars is one of the biggest franchises in pop culture history having grown to prominence since the release of A New Hope in 1977. With the subsequent entries in the original trilogy releasing in 1980 and 1983, we then entered a 16 year stretch without any on screen Star Wars content. This time period did explore more of the galaxy through books and comics, however these stories still predominantly focused on characters introduced through the original trilogy.
The Star Wars galaxy finally expanded into a new era with the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999. This saw us explore the time of the Republic and the Jedi Order thirty years before the events of A New Hope, also known as Episode IV. The release of The Phantom Menace not only saw the return of Star Wars to the big screen, it triggered an influx of new content based around that time period as well as the period from the follow up prequel films, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
This content, along with the original trilogy, helped to fuel all currently released canon materials be it films, tv shows, comics, books and games up until this point. In January of 2021, Star Wars took the first steps to introduce fans to a new era with the release of The High Republic. This is the brand-new publishing initiative from Lucasfilm, that takes place around two hundred years before the events of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
With The High Republic now released, we are entering the first big expansion to the Star Wars galaxy since meeting Anakin Skywalker in 1999. Sadly though, the vast majority of Star Wars fans predominantly focus on content accessible via film and TV. Some of the best stories within Star Wars can be found within books and comic however they just aren’t as popular as the theatrical product. So, with The High Republic being a publishing initiative, there needs to be a way to introduce this era to those fans only interested in TV and Film. This is where The Acolyte comes in.
First announced at The Walk Disney Company’s Investor Day in December of 2020, The Acolyte is one of several new Star Wars shows coming to Disney+. Where The Acolyte differs from the other announced shows though, is with its setting. Set in the final days of The High Republic, this will likely be our first on screen representation of that era. President of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, gave the following description of the show during the Investor Day presentation.
Leslye Headland, Emmy-nominated creator of the mind-bending series Russian Doll, is a boldly innovative filmmaker bringing her new Star Wars series to Disney+. The Acolyte is a mystery- thriller that will take us into a galaxy of shadowy secrets and emerging Dark Side powers in the final days of the High Republic era.
While we will have had many books and comics based on The High Republic by the time The Acolyte is released, it is significant as it will be many Star Wars fans first exposure to this new time period. Films and TV shows are expensive to create, very expensive. Because of this, studios are often cautious to develop projects outside of what is already successful. This is why all of the films and TV shows from Star Wars have had a direct tie to what is already established, even if they focus on new characters.
On paper then, The Acolyte is the first on screen project from Lucasfilm that is set to break away from what we know and introduce fans to an era in Star Wars never before explore on screen, with a story structured around characters completely unrelated to those we already know.
With how committed Lucasfilm is to the publishing initiative of The High Republic, I don’t think the success of The Acolyte is necessarily essential in order for those stories to bleed into on screen projects. If the Acolyte is successful however, that transition will be kickstarted and we will likely see many more projects green lit from The High Republic era.
Star Wars has painted itself into a corner in recent years with how the Skywalker Saga has progressed. Although it has branched out to introduce new characters it is limited by the overall narrative arch of the movies and therefore is lacking in some areas that fans love. Specifically, I am referring to lightsabers, Jedi and Sith. Part of what made the prequel trilogy so special was seeing the Jedi at their peak. Lightsabers and lightsaber battles were more common during the prequels and fans got to see these epic duels unfold before their eyes. Although there have been duels in subsequent Star Wars films, the thrill of seeing numerous Jedi on screen hasn’t happened again due to the events of Revenge of the Sith.
With Kathleen Kennedy’s description stating we will see “emerging dark side powers”, my hope is that this show will indeed present fans with an epic representation of the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith in a way not yet presented on screen, beyond that seen in The Old Republic video games.
If this show does indeed go down this route, I believe it has the potential to become an instant favourite amongst fans and open the door for more creators to tell stories within this time period. This would in turn, give Lucasfilm the confidence to finally leave the world of the Skywalkers behind and craft stories that can become the basis of Star Wars for years to come.
Which Star Wars product are you most excited for and where do you think Disney will take The Acolyte? Let me know in the comments and be sure to keep an eye out for plenty more Star Wars content in the future.