In Its Penultimate Episode, ‘The Acolyte’ Positions the Jedi Order as Colonizers

First off, I’d like to give Leslye Headland a quick apology. Apparently, we shouldn’t be calling the all women Force coven in The Acolyte lesbian space witches. My bad. “Lesbian space witch” is just a really fun thing to say. If we’re just supposed to call them a “matriarchal coven of emotionally close magical women,” I can roll with that.

Regardless of what we’re supposed to call Mother Aniseya and her followers, they’re a major part of the penultimate episode of The Acolyte. After returning to the present for three weeks (including an outstanding fifth chapter that paired 20 minutes of the best lightsaber action Star Wars has seen in decades with brutal Red Wedding-style plot twists), Headland finally pulls back the curtain to reveal the truth behind the traumatic events that forever altered Osha and Mae’s childhoods.

“Destiny” telegraphed pretty clearly that we were only seeing a very limited perspective of whatever happened on Brendok 16 years before the series’ start. In the episodes that followed, The Acolyte has seemingly gone out of its way to ask the viewer to consider how much we should trust Osha’s memories of these events. Was she simply missing important context about the fire that consumed her family home and the Jedi’s role in it? Or has she been made to believe a lie? Ever since Manny Jacinto’s swaggering Sith villain made his violent debut, The Acolyte has been signaling loudly that what actually happened to Osha on Brendok is an even murkier truth than we might have thought given Mae’s accusations that the Jedi have brainwashed her sister and Sol’s increasingly suspicious behavior.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say “Choice” bears the burden for much of the success of The Acolyte’s overall narrative. The violence that unfolded that night and the Jedi’s role in it sets off Mae’s present-day murder spree and was clearly traumatic enough to force two Jedi into exile and two others to maintain a decades-long coverup. There’s also just the simple, real-world fact that The Acolyte has spent two months teasing out this reveal and viewers have been getting justifiably antsy.

And “Choice” mostly manages to pull it off. While the events portrayed here don’t quite live up to the most nightmarish expectations and many of Kogonada’s clunky directorial decisions from “Destiny” are still present, “Choice” tells an unsettling and morally murky story about how a mostly well-meaning man inadvertently causes a violent catastrophe.

Perhaps the biggest reveal in “Choice” is that almost the entirety of the blame for the violence on Brendok rests on Jedi Master Sol’s shoulders. I remarked in my review of The Acolyte’s premiere that Lee Jung-Jae’s performance helped showcase a Jedi who was willing to let his compassion and care for others guide his decision making rather than adherence to dogmatic procedure or bureaucracy. Even “Choice’s” sister episode “Destiny” made sure to show how Sol’s patient and welcoming treatment of Osha was a key factor in her wanting to leave her family for the Order. Sure, previous episodes have hinted more and more that Sol might be a more flawed character than we previously believed, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how much “Choice” damns him. To be clear, “Choice” isn’t saying that Sol is an evil man, and this would have been an easy trap to fall into for a series that plays so openly with a binary understanding of morality. Instead, Sol’s arrogance, ignorance, and impatience leads him to make a series of flawed, if well intentioned, decisions that culminate in tragedy.

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

“Choice” opens with Sol stationed on a thought-to-be-uninhabited world alongside present-day Jedi murder victims Indara, Torbin, and Kelnacca. The tedium of their mission, essentially a lengthy geological survey to determine why a formerly desolate planet now hosts an abundance of plant life, is interrupted when Sol stumbles upon a pair of twin girls wandering through the woods. In secret, he follows them back to their home and witnesses what he believes to be abuse and indoctrination by a coven of witches. Based on this partial knowledge, Sol determines that he must rescue one of the two sisters, Osha, and take her on as his padawan.

The anti-colonialist themes bubbling beneath the surface in “Destiny” become full on text in “Choice.” Through his role as a Jedi, Sol is able to enact on his misinformed and self-righteous feelings with, even in the best of circumstances, the intent of taking a young girl away from the only family and culture she has ever known. The parallels to real world Christian missionaries and the treatment of Indigenous cultures are clear. Even if someone believes they are doing good work in the name of what they believe to be holy, they are more than capable of causing irreparable harm to people they don’t and don’t want to understand.

Sol not only assumes the witch’s treatment of Osha is much more sinister than it actually is, but he also ignores the guidance of his fellow Jedi to emotionally manipulate her into joining the Order. The moments of empathy shown towards Osha in “Destiny” are revealed to be intentional professional oversteps with a predetermined outcome in mind. Sol has made up his mind about Osha and what he believes is right for her, regardless of her lived reality. This all leads to a failed rescue attempt led by Sol and Indara’s homesick padawan, Torbin, which quickly transforms into a massacre.

Some of what follows feels tragically inevitable. Misunderstanding her powers, Sol fatally stabs Mother Aniseya as she is trying to ferry herself and Mae away to safety. The witches retaliate by collectively possessing the Wookie Jedi, Kelnacca, who violently turns on his peers. Indara manages to free him from the spell but the effect of doing so seemingly kills the remainder of the coven. It’s a violent escalation of an unnecessary conflict and not far off from what many expected was at the heart of the Jedi’s secrets.

What shocks though is just how much Kogonada and Headland twist the knife of Sol’s culpability. In a crucial moment, Sol, despite his professed connection to Osha, isn’t even able to tell one twin from the other. Later, when faced with the difficult choice of trying to save both sisters or just one, Sol willingly decides to save Osha, letting Mae plumet to her apparent death. (A clear contradiction of what is shown in “Destiny” hinting that even more of Osha’s memory of that night might be incomplete or manipulated.)

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

Oddly enough it’s Carrie-Anne Moss’s Indara who stands as the voice of reason and ultimately compassion in “Choice.” Given she was Mae’s first victim and her relatively cold demeaner in “Destiny,” it seemed as if The Acolyte was setting her up to be one of the guiltiest parties in the tragedy on Brendok. However, while Indara mostly remains saddled to bureaucracy and procedure, she is regularly the one the check Sol’s impulses and encourage him to leave the twins and their coven alone. And even though she is ultimately the one to convince Sol to lie to Osha about the deaths of her family, her position ultimately comes from a place of empathy and compassion. Indara points out that Osha just lost her entire family in a single night, she shouldn’t also have her dream of becoming a Jedi crushed with the cruel reality of Sol’s mistakes.

We only have one episode of The Acolyte left and I’m honestly going to miss it. It undeniably has some rough edges, but I love it when Star Wars asks me think about its themes, characters, and mythology instead of just trying to show me a good time filled with recognizable iconography and spectacle. It’s a show that dares to make the viewer uncomfortable and to question their assumptions about some of the most storied concepts in contemporary pop culture and that’s pretty damn cool.

Gays in Space Updates:

  • So, once again, I must report that there were no apparent queers in this episode. Aniseya and Korill still have what could be called a romantic relationship, but given that Leslye Headland doesn’t even want me to call them lesbian space witches, I’m going to assume that they aren’t.
  • Abigail Thorn does appear here though! Well, she was also in “Destiny” but I forgot to talk about her then. And again, while her character isn’t textually trans, I like to think that this is an indication that the witches of Brendok have a more inclusive view of womanhood.
  • Speaking of trans women! Jen Richards co-wrote this episode! Which is pretty cool, right?
  • Also, because I didn’t get to talk about this a few weeks back when it happened, Dafne Keen mentioned in an interview that she believed her character, Jeckie Lon, had a crush on Osha and even hinted that this might be explored in future episodes. I have to think she was trolling given that Jeckie was killed off less than a week after she said this. Does it still count as bury your gays if your gay was never even confirmed to be gay? Who knows, but RIP little gay Jedi.
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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.

1 Comment

  1. When I finished this episode, I was mad and disappointed at such a preventable tragedy. And that’s when I realized I absolutely loved the writing. Because I didn’t leave thinking “oh I watched a Star Wars show and the characters messed up!” My mind instead went past the iconography and was looking at the human choices made. Excellent, excellent.
    A couple of tiny copy edits, hope it helps: “I love it when Star Wars asks me *to* think” and “demeanor”
    Thank you for this lovely piece

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