At Long Last, ‘The Acolyte’ Gives Us a Star Wars Series Made by a Lesbian

The following Star Wars: The Acolyte review contains spoilers for episodes one and two.


In November of 2020, Disney announced over ten new series set in the Star Wars universe that would hit the streaming service in the coming years. Among these was The Acolyte, a mystery thriller set over a hundred years before the earliest set film in the series timeline The Phantom Menace. It would be helmed by Leslye Headland, the executive producer of the Netflix time-loop dramedy Russian Doll. The Acolyte was also unique among these announced shows in that it was pretty much the only offering that didn’t center on a previously existing character or serve as a spin-off to familiar shows like The Mandalorian. The Acolyte was an enigma, and that was an exciting change of pace for a franchise that has rightly been criticized in recent years for becoming increasingly self-interested and risk averse.

In the spring of 2023, Headland called her initial pitch for the series “Kill Bill meets Frozen” which is about as wild a logline as I can think of, but, oddly enough, it feels like a pretty accurate description. Although it does comfortably sit within a mystery-thriller framework, The Acolyte is just as much a martial arts revenge story about two sisters dragged into opposing sides of a mythic, centuries long conflict.

The series premiere “Lost / Found” opens up with a masked assailant, played by Amandla Stenberg of Bodies Bodies Bodies fame, attacking Jedi Master Carrie Ann Moss (she has an in-universe name but like, come on, it’s Carrie-Anne Moss) in an alien saloon. The fight that follows is sprawling, dynamic, and wonderfully choreographed. Rather than the familiar lightsaber duels or Old West style blaster shootouts, The Acolyte drops into a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-esque wire-fu set piece that sees Stenberg and Moss performing fantastical acrobatic flips, parries, dodges, and kicks. Given that Star Wars has pretty much always been about an order of magical space monks, it feels strange that it took almost 50 years for the series to try its hands at martial arts cinema, but it’s a natural fit and an absolute thrill to watch unfold.

Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

The fallout of this attack unsettles a universe where the Sith are nothing but an uneasy whisper of the past, the Jedi are at the height of their institutional power, and an attempted assassination on a Master of the Order in such a public setting by a mysterious Force user raises uncomfortable questions. It’s this change-up in the traditional series power dynamics that seems to most interest Headland. While traditional Star Wars narratives have almost always been underdog stories about outgunned heroes fighting against villains wielding overwhelming power, The Acolyte flips the script. The typically heroic Jedi are willing enforcers of the status-quo, and the powers of the Dark Side are forced to work from the shadows to survive. While Headland clearly isn’t trying to paint the Sith and their sinister allies as heroes, The Acolyte does aim to muddy the script a little. Even if it faltered in its execution, George Lucas’s prequel trilogy of films showcased a Jedi Order that was too caught up in political maneuvering and detached from the lived realities of everyday people to protect themselves and others from their enemies. We see the beginnings of that institutional failure here. The Jedi still might be guardians of peace and justice, but they certainly act a whole lot like laser-sword wielding cops, who are quick to judgement and too comfortable falling back on dehumanizing regulation and procedure when faced with harder questions. It’s a far cry from the spiritually attuned and morally altruistic knights that Obi-Wan Kenobi opined to Luke about back in 1977.

It’s in this dynamic shift that Headland allows the central conflict of The Acolyte to really come into focus. The masked assassin is mistakenly identified as former Padawan Osha Aniseya, also played by Stenberg (you should probably be able to tell where this is going), who left the Order under mysterious circumstances several years prior. Osha’s former master Sol, portrayed by Squid Games’ Lee Jung-Jae, is tasked by his superiors on the Jedi Council with bringing her in for questioning, even if he doubts that she is the real assailant in question.

Mae (Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, season one, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Mae (Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE, season one, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

As opposed to his more dogmatic fellow Jedi, Sol comes across as an empathetic man who can express his emotions and affections for those close to him while balancing his spiritual and professional duties. Jung-jae sells Sol’s warmth and wisdom with ease and quickly earns the viewer’s trust as one of the emotional hearts of The Acolyte’s ensemble. Yet, he too is maybe hiding darker secrets. We learn midway through the premiere that Sol was present during Osha’s recruitment into the Order as a child and that during this incident her twin sister, Mae, perished alongside her parents in a violent fire. However, as the Jedi present alongside Sol at this incident begin to drop dead and the masked assailant at the center of the murders is revealed to be a very much still alive Mae, it becomes clear there is much more to this story than we are being told. The Jedi have been covering up something awful, and the consequences of this lie are finally coming to roost. And Mae isn’t working alone. She’s been trained for this quest for vengeance by a mysterious figure who wears a black, grinning mask and wields a red lightsaber.

Stenberg is the clear scene-stealer in The Acolyte. While she hasn’t had the opportunity to do much Parent Trap-style acting off her digital double as of this point in the series, Stenberg still succeeds in selling Osha and Mae as connected but undeniably unique people. Osha comes across as warm and sometimes playful but hides a tired world weariness within her. Mae, in contrast, is steely and deliberate in her actions, driven by a violent passion. In both roles, Stenberg excels. They feel as at home in Mae’s martial arts heavy assassinations as they do in Osha’s melancholic reunions with her former Master and fellow Jedi. While the larger implications for Jedi and Sith history are likely enough to keep most Star Wars die-hards hooked on The Acolyte, the story Headland and Stenberg are telling about these two lost and hurt sisters looks to be the emotional hook that will carry the series going forward.

It also, unfortunately, is where The Acolyte is stumbling the most at the moment. Seeing as the mystery at the series’ center isn’t so much a “whodunnit” as a “whydunnit,” it makes sense that a certain degree of our characters’ pasts will be hidden from the viewer until the pieces begin to fall into place. But at times, it does feel like Headland is asking a bit too much of the viewer given that almost every central character, particularly Osha and Mae, is motivated by secrets that are only beginning to be teased out. While The Acolyte is mostly able to skirt by given how well its cast sells the emotional context of each scene, the degree of narrative withholding Headland is attempting here threatens to undermine a lot of this otherwise strong character work. In turn, this confusion makes some of the rougher editing and pacing decisions made across the two-episode premiere feel a bit more apparent than they might be otherwise. This might all be smoothed over as The Acolyte pulls us deeper into its web of secrets and hidden agendas, but the success of this will come down to execution and in the moment storytelling. Maybe I’ve just been burned by watching too many shows fail to deliver on satisfying answers to their central mysteries, but I’m not quite ready to place my trust in The Acolyte to pull this all off.

Osha (Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, season one, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Osha (Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm’s THE ACOLYTE, season one, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

It does help that The Acolyte looks great though. While previous Star Wars outings offered by Disney+ have often felt claustrophobic in their CG-heavy digital sets or perhaps a bit too grounded to be a part of such a traditionally colorful setting, The Acolyte feels tactile but also alien. Its sets are constructed with a clear attention to hand-crafted detail and are populated with all manner of wonderfully designed alien creatures and droids brought to life with a delightful mixture of creative costuming, puppetry, and digital effects. If you are a viewer that looks to Star Wars for spectacle, The Acolyte has you covered even as it aims for a more intimate take on this universe and not the grand scale visuals that define some of its cinematic counterparts.

But, this is Autostraddle, so you’re likely waiting for me to answer the most important question of all: “Is it gay?”

Well, it certainly has the potential to be. No Star Wars production ever has had this much prominent queer talent on screen and behind the scenes. Stenberg is joined by Charlie Barnett, who formerly worked with Headland on Russian Doll, and Rebecca Henderson, star of Single Drunk Female and Headland’s wife, who both play more straightlaced, by-the-books members of the Jedi Order. And although they aren’t present in the two-episode premiere, we do know The Acolyte will feature trans YouTuber and actress, Abigail Thorn, in a supporting role and that Jen Richards (Mrs. Fletcher, Her Story) will be co-writing at least one episode of the series.

It remains yet to be seen whether any of this will actually translate to queer stories on screen. Even though Headland more or less agreed the series could be “the gayest Star Wars yet,” the jury is still out. Granted, it wouldn’t take much for The Acolyte to claim this title given that its sharpest competition is Andor, which features two (admittedly badass) lesbians in its rather sprawling ensemble. The queerest aspect of The Acolyte so far is a very brief reference to the fact that Osha and Mae had two mothers (who are already long dead by the time the series has started), but we do still have six episodes to go this season, so this all could very well change.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped the ever-present and always obnoxious arm of the Star Wars fandom — who are convinced Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy is on a personal crusade to eliminate all straight cis white men from the Galaxy Far, Far Away — from losing their collective shit about The Acolyte and review bombing the show on various sites and platforms like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. It’s all a part of the unfortunate paradox that the franchise seems unable to escape from. Somehow, despite the series’ fairly lackluster history of queer characters on screen and a slightly better, but still fraught portrayal of women and people of color, Star Wars has managed to become an inflection point for culture war grifters who claim that it’s become a radically queer Marxist text. I fucking wish. (Oddly enough, this description would more or less apply to Andor, but the grifter crowd seem to find that show too boring to actually have much to say about it.)

Given how vocally nasty the fandom has become over the last decade, I respect a publicly visible lesbian like Leslye Headland for agreeing to make The Acolyte in the first place and even more so for casting a nonbinary person of color as her lead. Sure, it may not be an act of extreme bravery to take a showrunner job for the biggest media conglomerate on the planet, but in no reality was Headland not aware of the sort of online abuse that would be thrown her way during her time making this show. The fact that she’s remained such a warm and positive public presence throughout her time working on this show is commendable.

And, thankfully, the show is pretty good! There are some rough patches and, like most mysteries, much of the success of The Acolyte as a whole may come down to just how dramatic the secrets hiding at its tangled web turn out being, but this is undeniably a Star Wars story with a vision, mythic ideas, and loads of visual spectacle. The fact that we have six more episodes to go of Jedi murders, creepy Sith, Force Kungfu, and, hopefully, space gays, is enough to keep me happy at the moment.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

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 8 articles for us.

42 Comments

  1. Spoilers ahead!

    I am outraged at what they did to Carrie-Ann Moss!
    You’re a lesbian, you have the opportunity to work with f ****** Trinity and you do that?! Really?!
    Murdered by a 16 year old?! Seriously?!
    I couldn’t care less about whatever came next, my brain was overcome with rage and incomprehension with each passing second. I kept thinking of CW shows (I wanted to write bad CW shows but that would be redundant), it also reminded me of Secret Invasion and how they killed Maria Hill in the first episode, in the end I was enraged and disappointed enough to go through the hundred steps login to be able to leave a comment on this website just to be able to rant about it!

    Anyway, since I’m a gullible person who grew up on soap operas, I’ll keep watching this stupid show because I still hope Andara will come back as the villain and I hope she wins!

    • I totally agree!! Wtf would they kill her off so quickly? She was by far the best part of those 2 episodes. I almost stopped watching, but maybe they will bring her back? I mean Mae was also dead, supposedly. Why can’t we have this one beautiful thing?

    • 1. She’s almost certainly going to be in the flashback ep(s), we will 100% get to see what happened on the mystery night. People are waaaay too mad about her dying…
      2. I think the implication is all the Jedi who were present on the night of the fire have some sort of guilt around whatever happened so I think that’s one reason it was easier for a teen to kill her — i mean look at what happened with Jedi target #2. She seemed to recognize Mae and it probably shook her up

  2. Yes, FINALLY! I’ve been waiting for so so soooooo long to have some Star Wars made by a lesbo….been at the role of my list!!! 😑. Who you sleep with doesn’t determine if you make good entertainment. Grow the fuck up.

  3. Yes, FINALLY! I’ve been waiting for so so soooooo long to have some Star Wars made by a lesbo….been at the top of my list!!! 😑. Who you sleep with doesn’t determine if you make good entertainment. Grow the fuck up.

  4. I have never read such a non-objective review in my entire life. I don’t care about the sexual orientation of the actors, the director, or the creator of this TV series, I only care if a good quality product is shown. You really have to have a very narrow mindedness to evaluate something by looking at the sexual preferences of those who work there. Is a pizza better if it was made by a straight chef? or is it better if it was made by a gay chef? Bah!! I can say this: bad acting, a banal story, errors and plot holes, dull dialogue, it is very difficult for all these problems to be resolved, even if there are another 6 episodes to go, because we started off very badly.

  5. Excellent review Nic! I enjoyed the first two episodes a lot. The sets and colors were gorgeous and I really like Sol, Osha and Jecki so far. I found the moment between Osha and Jecki to be a little flirtatious so fingers crossed!

    • She’s a lesbian who co-created/wrote/produced a great comedy/sci-fi show called Russian Doll and is now the showrunner behind the new Star Wars series. I’ll add this to my watchlist based on that info and the “kill bill meets frozen” part alone. You’ve got to read at least a few sentences past the headline.

      There was also a recent article on this site about a movie that was written and directed by lesbians that got a valid negative review, as in made by lesbians = not always so great! Happy pride! ️‍🌈

      • @crandpa The first impression of a review is the title, and with that title “At Long Last, ‘The Acolyte’ Gives Us a Star Wars Series Made by a Lesbian”, only the showrunner’s gender is emphasized and not the quality of the show. Which has nothing to do with it. For example “Russian Doll”, it’s really well done, Personally I liked it a lot. The Acolyte on the other hand, looks really bad.

        • “looks really bad.” Meaning, you haven’t even watched the show, but here you are inserting yourself into conversation on a queer site. The show has 93% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes! You are a troll looking to fight. Go fuck yourself.

  6. “Of course, this hasn’t stopped the ever-present and always obnoxious arm of the Star Wars fandom — who are convinced Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy is on a personal crusade to eliminate all straight cis white men from the Galaxy Far, Far Away — from losing their collective shit about The Acolyte and review bombing the show on various sites and platforms like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes”.

    I’m not a Star Wars fan at all and I’m not familiar with most of the movies or the fandom around it. But blame the bad reviews simply on those so called die hard Star Wars fans who in you opinion are all straight hateful cis white men is obviously ignorant and a very easy way out. After 10 minutes of watching I thought: “This is bad.” But I don’t judge anything by the first 10 minutes. I watched the first 2 episodes and guess what I still think it’s bad. Just because there is a lesbian producer involved doesn’t make it better.

    • Indeed. As if Star Wars fandom wasn’t already accepting of Women being in charge, and an African American saving the day on more than one occasion in the OT. The proof is in the pudding as I read one review that claimed that Andor wasn’t reviewed bombed because it must have been too boring to make the effort. I mean, really? This is the kind of argument critics need to debase themselves to in order to justify crappy content? Maybe, just maybe it’s because Andor is actually a better show than the Acolyte has proven itself to be.

      Unfortunately, this seems to be where we are at in today’s society where we are simply reduced down to our stereotypes fostered by the small, vocal, extremists in order for the “other side” to justify pushing genuine dialogue and criticism away. And that’s why things will never improve. Because the media simply keeps enabling that division instead of calling out the BS for what it is.

      There’s nothing wrong with being inclusive. But whatever it is better have more of a tag line than just inclusiveness. The audience is there, but when inclusiveness is all you have, then you are going to fail. The inclusiveness should be the afterthought, and not the main bullet point. A murder mystery that reveals who the killer is in the first two minutes is not a good murder mystery.

      • Well this issue with that 93% is that it is just as disingenuous as the 29% that is the result of the vocal minority review bombers. There are quite clearly media “shills” that get to operate under the review critic banner that most certainly influence scores like that in a positive direction – but naturally, that type of review shilling is ignored. Either way, taking out the extremes on both sides, you have a middling show that clearly does not hold up to creative standards in what makes for a good and engaging TV program. I mean come on, 14 million people watched the debut of Ahsoka, which people have claimed to be less stellar than the Acolyte, so toting the 4.8 million as something positive is clearly not what Disney and the shills should be doing.

      • audience reviews are now at 19% with tens of thousands of reviews, this not a bunch of people review bombing, it’s just a bad show that is getting bad ratings from everyone who has a brain. There are two kinds of people who are arguing that this is good, 1) people who are virtue signaling – this one is you Erin, these mindless npc’s will blindly support anything liberal as great regardless of any and all evidence to the contrary. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you never saw the show. 2) Industry members who must support these kinds of shows and Companies such as Disney in order to continue to get access to releases and keep their job. Get a brain first, then get a life b/c you’ve commented on every person who’s disagreed with you on here. Being Queer doesn’t matter to making good entertainment, it’s irrelevant, stop being a sheep for two seconds and think for yourself.

  7. You know, I’ve never really cared what color a character’s skin is, or what their gender is, or their preference or pronoun. I just want good characters in an engaging story. Heck if you want to include a message in your story, go for it. Some of the most compelling works include and are commentaries of their time.

    But the key to doing that successfully is by having people with the talent and ability to pull it off. And this is where Disney, and Kathleen Kennedy in particular have failed in spectacular fashion. Whether is be hiring someone to write novels off of a Twitter comment, or pitching a movie idea in the most generic fashion possible, the people who have been entrusted to carry on this legacy lack the ability to do any of it.

    And the worst part of all is to deflect any genuine and legitimate complaints of these failings as some sort of anti-DEI sentiment or what have you.

    The simple truth of the matter is that people like Wendig, Abrams, Johnson, and Headland simply lack the capacity and talent to add to, enhance, and progress a history rich IP such as Star Wars. And until Kennedy and the suits at Disney understand this, the failure will continue, and it will be complete.

  8. I really enjoyed the first two episodes of the show. It’s also the first Star Wars thing in ages that I want to watch with my kid — it’s fast-paced, the fight scenes are fun, and it doesn’t require a ton of lore/background knowledge. My kid is biracial and nonbinary, so the representation is part of the appeal, but honestly the main selling point was “Wookie Jedi.”

  9. audience reviews are now at 19% with tens of thousands of reviews, this not a bunch of people review bombing, it’s just a bad show that is getting bad ratings from everyone who has a brain. There are two kinds of people who are arguing that this is good, 1) people who are virtue signaling – this one is you Erin, these mindless npc’s will blindly support anything liberal as great regardless of any and all evidence to the contrary. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you never saw the show. 2) Industry members who must support these kinds of shows and Companies such as Disney in order to continue to get access to releases and keep their job.

    • “audience reviews are now at 19% with tens of thousands of reviews. . .”

      Yes, that’s what happens when a passel of mad man-babies organize in Discord and private Facebook groups to review-bomb a property, and vitriolic morons on Youtube and Elon Musk’s Expensive Temper Tantrum fan the flames of resentment among insecure incels upset about queer girl cooties on their precious fandom.

      Die mad about it.

      • I rated the show 1/10 because the plot is bad, the dialogues are really poorly constructed, there are plot holes… only later I read some articles. Being queer or not doesn’t give you an excuse to avoid criticism, imo (and i’m gay)

      • Review bombs are a thing. But so is Review Shilling to artificially inflate scores as well. And neither are a rebuttal to genuine praises or criticisms of any product. At the end of the day, a small vocal minority of Internet Incels will never be enough to take down a genuine quality product. Most people can and will see past that nonsense and make their own judgement. The fact that the critic scores are also falling, and the audience score is abysmal is due to the fact that there are genuine serious issues in quality with this show.

        Let’s just remember that Star Wars was worth $4 billion for a reason 12 years ago. That reason wasn’t because of Internet Incels, and it wasn’t because of marginalized groups. It was because of a very large group of people who enjoyed the stories they were told and the characters who took part in those adventures. Disney has deflated the worth of the franchise because they have failed to offer what the bulk of the fanbase wants – good stories with good characters. And it has been showing in the reviews and criticisms of their offerings.

        It’s still OK to like these things if they provide you with entertainment. I enjoy the World of Warcraft movie. But I am also honest in the fact that the movie is a complete dumpster fire in terms of cinematic production and it never should have seen the light of day. There’s nothing wrong with either of those facts. The Acolyte is simply a badly produced show. But if you find it fun, that’s great. Most people don’t, and in order to get quality productions in the future, we need to be honest with why this is a bad show. Trying to cover up the lack of quality because “Diversity” only craps on Diversity. We can have Diversity and good quality content – and we should demand that. They Acolyte doesn’t fit the bill.

  10. Wait till you see episode 3. The bad acting will hit you like a punch in the face. The best writing and some of the best acting I’ve ever seen was in Gentleman Jack. A show drenched in LGBT themes does not HAVE to be bad.

    But holy buckets! The lesbian space witches are unbearable, and the young Mae and Osha speak like it’s their first table read. I loved the first two episodes but the mighty have fallen. I can’t believe 3 is as cheesy and dumb as it was.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!