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The Acolyte returns to Star Wars' roots in the best way possible

Leslye Headland's new Star Wars series is a throwback to the roots of the franchise built by George Lucas

Star Wars: The Acolyte
Image credit: Lucasfilm

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For many fans, Star Wars: The Acolyte — to give the upcoming Disney+ series its full official title — is a new beginning for the beloved sci-fi franchise, with creator Leslye Headland finding a new space (at least in terms of Star Wars on screen) to tell her story about darkness emerging from the light side of the Force. The truth of the matter is, however, The Acolyte sees Star Wars returning to its roots in the best way possible.

Let’s be honest: Star Wars has a tendency to become very self-referential very quickly. That’s to be expected, perhaps, from a franchise built out of a nine-part storyline that begins with Episode 4 and hinges its big reveal in the very next installment on a reversal of what was minimally-established backstory from the previous film. That’s not a complaint: this kind of hyper-referential text is entirely in keeping with the pulp inspiration George Lucas was pulling from when creating Star Wars in the first place, after all. As the property has expanded into multiple outlets — books, comics, TV shows, movies, and more — however, this tendency has only gotten stronger, leaving Star Wars as a surprisingly foreboding destination for newcomers who aren’t prepared to get deeply invested in something pretty much from the start.

Thankfully, this is where another core piece of Star Wars’ DNA comes in — and where The Acolyte enters the conversation, as well.

Before Star Wars was… well, Star Wars… it was a wonderfully, beautifully fun idea: an established filmmaker riffing on some of his favorite sci-fi tropes and doing something new with them. That core concept — that someone with a unique point of view can play with existing toys and come up with something different — is what drew audiences to Star Wars in the first place, and it’s what is behind so much of what the hardcore Star Wars fanbase loves about the property today.

That very basic idea is also what’s driven arguably the biggest success that Star Wars has seen in the past couple of decades, The Mandalorian — again, a new piece of storytelling from an established filmmaker coming in and playing with toys to create something that isn’t just the next chapter of a pre-prepared tale. Sure, The Mandalorian has, as it’s gone on, become more and more about the self-referentiality and interconnectivity of the franchise (to its detriment, I’d argue), but that first season…? That’s the good stuff right there, it’s basically plugging familiar silhouettes and ideas into something altogether its own, and as with the original Star Wars, its success speaks for itself.

The Acolyte is clearly doing the very same thing, for the first time since The Mandalorian. Leslye Headland, who’s proven she can handle sci-fi in a fun way with Netflix’s Russian Doll, is taking her love of Star Wars iconography and telling a story that purposefully doesn’t meaningfully crossover into any other ongoing movie or show, but instead stands alone and tells its own story — a story that will be infused with Headland’s point of view as a filmmaker. As the brand used to put it, “A Star Wars Story,” but one that exists for more purpose than simply leading into the next series, movie or generic piece of content… something that, as with the original movie, is there to tell a story in as fun and individual way as possible.

In many ways, The Acolyte feels like its success or failure will speak to the future Star Wars as a whole. If it’s a hit, then perhaps we’ll get to see more projects that similarly follow in the footsteps of George Lucas’s original movie and promote unique filmmakers with their own voice telling their own stories for more than just one brief animated short. And if it isn’t… well, there are no fewer than four movies that promote the Shared Universe Mythology on the way already. Perhaps there could be even more.

The Acolyte premieres on Disney+ June 4. Watch the trailer here.

Get ready for everything coming up with our guide to upcoming Star Wars movies & TV shows, or dive into the past with our Star Wars watch order.

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Graeme McMillan

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Popverse staff writer Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.