Did ‘The Acolyte’ Just Introduce a Coven of Lesbian Witches to the Star Wars Universe?

Earlier this week, a rumor started somewhere in the dark corners of nerd internet claiming that this week’s episode of The Acolyte was going to murder Star Wars forever. What exactly would deliver the final killing blow to this decades-old pop cultural behemoth was never exactly clear, but from what I could tell, the culprit was possibly going to be lesbian witches who would do something so gay with the Force that it would fundamentally break the canon of the beloved sci-fi fantasy soap opera. Unfortunately, The Acolyte’s third episode, “Destiny,” doesn’t kill Star Wars with the power of the homosexual agenda. In fact, it’s not even that gay. It’s just another pretty decent episode in a pretty good Star Wars show that has the potential to be a whole lot more.

After last week’s cliffhanger, the decision to flashback to Osha and Mae’s childhood for The Acolyte’s third chapter initially feels like an odd choice. However, it becomes clear pretty early on that showrunner Leslye Headland is attempting to pull off a season long Rashomon effect regarding the tragedy that instigated the plot’s present day murder spree. While “Destiny” may give us Osha’s perspective on the events leading up to and during the fateful fire that reportedly killed her family and placed her in the care of the Jedi Order, Jasmyn Flournoy and Eileen Shim’s script seems meticulously constructed to obfuscate the full truth. We may have a better understanding of the secrets buried within The Acolyte’s central mystery, but full answers still seem a while away.

What “Destiny” does give is a much better understanding of Osha’s childhood prior to her time with the Order. Both she and her twin sister Mae grew up among a coven of witches on the remote planet of Brendok led by their charismatic mother, Anisaya (Jodie Turner-Smith). Unlike the Jedi, this all-women sect refer to the Force as a Thread, a mystical filament that connects all living things in the universe, that cannot be wielded as a tool without affecting others it is tied to. Both twins, the only children present on Brendok, were raised under the expectation that they might one day become the future of their coven, even if Osha doubts whether she wants to dedicate her entire life to these beliefs. There’s also maybe something special going on with the two of them. Throughout “Destiny,” Anisaya and the other members of her coven make references to the exceptional circumstances behind Osha and Mae’s “creation” with the implication being that the two may have been woven into existence from the Thread itself. The exact manner in which this happened and its implications for the Star Wars universe as a whole is yet to be seen.

Mother Aniseya (Jodie Turner-Smith) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, season one, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Mother Aniseya (Jodie Turner-Smith) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE, season one, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Jodie Turner-Smith is an absolute scene stealer in “Destiny.” She flows onto the screen exuding both magnetic charisma and a nurturing sense of calm and wisdom. It’s easy to see why she’s the undisputed leader of this coven and why her presence seems to command such immediate respect. Turner-Smith also serves as “Destiny’s” emotional heart. While there is much about Anisaya we don’t yet know and she may well end up being a far more sinister character than depicted here, much of Flournoy and Smith’s script follows her struggles to raise two very different twins as they enter into adolescence and test the limits of their independence. Buried beneath all the intrigue, mystery, and mysticism is a story about a mother guiding her daughter to take charge of her own destiny even if she might disagree with it.

Also, Anisaya is maybe gay? I mean, I’m pretty sure she is. She does seem rather affectionate towards her fellow witch, Koril, who also carried both Osha and Mae after their “creation.” But this is all disappointingly vague. Sure, viewers with any decent amount of media literacy could probably figure out that Anisaya and Koril are likely together, but The Acolyte never explicitly says so, nor is there any real physical affection between the two women outside of a tender touching of faces. I guess that counts for something? But given the fact that angry nerds spent the last week prepping me for the lesbian murder of Star Wars, I’ll admit I’m more than a little disappointed.

Where The Acolyte does continue to excel is in clouding our assumptions about the Jedi Order. While the two-episode premiere showcased an Order mired in bureaucracy and functionally acting as an intergalactic police force, “Destiny” zeroes in on the uncomfortable fact that at this point in time the Order is essentially a state-sponsored religion. While the Jedi seem to have no real legal authority on whether the witches of Brendok can practice their beliefs as adults, Carrie Anne Moss’s Indara makes it very clear they are explicitly banned from training children in their ways. The hypocrisy is obvious to anyone that’s been paying even moderate attention to Star Wars media over the last two decades. The Jedi not only train children (and in some cases turn them into literal child soldiers), but often take their recruits away from their birth families as toddlers. When Indara and the other Jedi arrive in the witches’ fortress, one of them even shouts in fear that the Jedi have come “to take away our children.” And while some Jedi like Sol may see this recruitment as a welcome homecoming into a culture of people with similar abilities and worldviews, it’s easy to see why other Force traditions would be so terrified of the Jedi’s arrival. There’s also an unsettling colonial subtext in the Jedi’s far-reaching influence. Aniseya rebuts Indara’s citing of Republic law with a reminder that Brendok is not a Republic member-planet, but this doesn’t stop the Jedi from attempting to recruit Osha and Mae into their cause.

It shouldn’t be that radical for a Star Wars text to question whether having a government-sanctioned order of superpowered monk peace-keepers is actually that great of an idea, but few have more pointedly and intelligently interrogated this than The Acolyte. The ideas that Headland is exploring here may be more interested in how we regard the Star Wars mythos itself rather than offering any real insight into our own culture, but it still makes for a smarter and richer story than has been offered by most franchise media over the last few years.

Even still, The Acolyte isn’t perfect. Although I place the blame more so on the script and Kogonada’s direction rather than the two young performers, Lauren and Leah Brady, cast to take on Amandla Stenberg’s younger counterparts, a fair amount of the scenes portraying the childhood bond of Mae and Osha feel stiff and awkwardly staged, which prevents a few major points in “Destiny’s” story from landing with the emotional weight that they should. Thankfully, Mae and Osha feel much more at home when playing off adult actors such as Turner-Smith or Lee Jung-jae, but it still leads to an episode that overall feels uneven due to how much it leans on its child stars to carry the drama.

But, even with that taken into account, “Destiny” didn’t kill Star Wars. It didn’t even bruise it. In actuality, The Acolyte’s biggest sin may just be whether it can live up to its own potential. At the moment, I may still like Headland’s ideas more on paper than I do in execution, but I appreciate that I’ve left each episode with something to think about and there’s absolutely still plenty of time for me to be won over. Anyways, I’m glad to be flashing forward to present day again next week. The end of “Revenge / Justice” promised we’d get Mae going toe-to-toe with a Wookiee Jedi, and I’m getting antsy.

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Nic Anstett

Nic Anstett is a writer from Baltimore, MD who specializes in the bizarre, spectacular, and queer. She is a graduate from the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, University of Oregon’s MFA program, and the Tin House Summer Workshop where she was a 2021 Scholar. Her work is published and forthcoming in Witness Magazine, Passages North, North American Review, Lightspeed, Bat City Review, Sycamore Review, and elsewhere. She currently lives in Annapolis, MD with her girlfriend and is at work on a collection of short stories and maybe a novel.

Nic has written 9 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. While you say that The Acolyte is going to do a Rashomon type storytelling, where different PoVs will be shown, I think it also has some unreliable narrator. Since we’re being shown things from Osha’s PoV, the story is tainted by her biases, and perhaps even the Jedi tampering with her memories.

  2. I enjoyed the episode and watched it with my 7 year old, who also enjoyed it. I think the thing t did most effectively for me was highlight the horrors of the structure of the Jedi order from an outsider perspective and undermine the assumptions the first episodes had set up about the sisters’ respective positionalities. Watching with my kid the idea of the order forcibly testing them and taking them away at 4 or 8 was genuinely chilling. And arguably does undermine some of the foundational assumptions about the moral structure of the Star Wars universe (even as it’s just playing out things that were set up in previous films and have been explored more in the extended universe). *shrug*

  3. I mostly enjoyed the episode again. Aniseya and Koril were definitely a couple. I had one pretty major issue with the story though, and I guess you could write it off to being a Star Wars show, but there is not an 8 year old child in the GALAXY who loved their mother like we’re shown Osha does, who would willingly leave their family behind knowing they’d never see them again. Completely preposterous and breaks all believability. Teenagers might possibly run away from their stifling home life but no child would ever make that decision. That’s part of why the Jedi take kids before they’re old enough to know the gravity of what’s happening to them. It didn’t really make sense that Osha was in such a hurry to find a different way of life or why she’d think that she had to decide her whole life right then when she was a literal CHILD.

    • Interesting. The part that made it more plausible to me was the draw of there being other kids. Maybe it’s because my kid is extremely social (unlike me) and I see them getting antsy after spending just a couple of days with adults and no other kids. I read the situation as Osha somewhat being tempted by surface trappings like the uniforms and the lightsabers but mostly being deeply, fundamentally unhappy in this context where her sister (who seems somewhat controlling/clingy and to have a mean streak, at least from Osha’s perspective) is the only other kid she ever interacts with. I definitely can imagine a kid deciding to make that trade-off, even if they might later regret it. Especially in a context where they don’t seem to have experience being separated from their parents(s) much, so it may feel like a more abstract consequence.

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