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Star Wars: The Acolyte's inconvenient truth: the Jedi are the cops (for all the good and all the bad that comes with it)

Having trouble with Star Wars' Jedi as cops? You must unlearn what you have learned

The Acolyte season 1 episode 3 still
Image credit: Lucasfilm

The Acolyte is here, but we've already got the scoop on the next Star Wars movies, TV shows, and cartoons - including the highly-anticipated (and highly mysterious) Star Wars: Skeleton Crew. And in case you need a refresher on the High Republic, the possibility of Yoda showing up in The Acolyte, or even the entire Star Wars timeline, we've got those too. Amd tell us your favorite Star Wars show here!

The Star Wars TV series The Acolyte on Disney+ is sharing the earliest live-action look at what the Star Wars universe was like, from the gleaming towers of the High Republic to the simmering tensions of the underworld, but the most arresting part of it is how autocratic and government-like the Jedi are.

As The Acolyte creator/showrunner Leslye Headland has said, Star Wars stories are anchored by the idea of the underdog versus the institution, and this show flips the script by making the Jedi the institution and anyone who is not sitting in the Jedi's version of the right path as the underdog, the protagonist... dare I say, the hero.

"It's a really interesting time in the galaxy," says Stenberg. "Because there are no wars, we get to lean into the underdogs and the moral ambiguity of these characters. And so I have the opportunity of playing something that holds a lot of moral and ethical conflict, which I think is my favorite part of Star Wars."

In other words, in the era of Star Wars which The Acolyte sits, the Jedi are the cops - for all the good and the bad that comes with it. The Acolyte is in essence the latest installment of one of television's most esteemed formats - a cop drama. But think less Law & Order, and more like The Wire.

Who are the police in Star Wars?

Star Wars: The Acolyte still
Image credit: Lucasfilm

In the High Republic era, and even the Republic era before the onset of the Clone Wars, policing matters in Star Wars was largely handled by regional security forces - that is the planets themselves, as seen in the Phantom Menace with the Royal Naboo Security Forces. While the Galactic Senate did have an over-arching law enforcement agency known as the Republic Security Force, they were stretched thin and largely didn't involve themselves with individual planets' policing matters.

In its place, the Jedi acted as a branch of the government - acting more as a marshall in the US Wild West, but verging into policing, with the light saber acting as a badge, and the Jedi robes as the uniform.

During the the reign of Palpatine - both during the Imperial era and in the years immediately before it - the Stormtroopers (and their original version, the Clone Troopers) acted as equal parts soldier and police. One of the most iconic lines in the original Star Wars movie is about Stormtroopers interogatting Obi-Wan Kenobi about specific droids they were looking for. If you've watched The Acolyte at any significant length, you could easily see the Jedi resorting to the same time of questioning.

The Acolyte's Jedi as cops

Star Wars: The Acolyte still
Image credit: Lucasfilm

From the debut of Jedi Master Vernestra Rwoh (Rebecca Henderson) as the precinct boss to Sol (Lee Jung-jae) in the first episode, it was all there. SHe informed him of Osha's alleged crimes, and instructed him to quickly arrest her, using police-like words such as putting her into "custody" and calling her the prime "suspect."

That's seen further when the Jedi enter public areas - not so much as the warrior monks from the original trilogy, but like the arriving police surveying the scene, asking questions, and getting to the answer.

It's even more alarming in episode 3 when a group of Jedi intrude on a non-Republic world, that of Brendok, to attempt to enforce Republic laws - even using Jedi mind powers to interrogate others against their will, in search of a crime.

What George Lucas thought of the Jedi as cops

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Image credit: Lucasfilm

Star Wars creator George Lucas has described the Jedi, especially during the Republic era as "monks" and "peacekeepers", and while they're often confused with police or soldiers they weren't; but the way Lucas did define them instead does set up an interesting paradigm.

"They aren’t policemen, they aren’t soldiers; they’re mafia dons," Lucas said in an oral history of The Phantom Menace. "They come in and sit down with the two different sides and say, 'Okay, now we’re going to settle this.' The Jedi weren’t meant to fight wars. That’s the big issue in the prequels. They got drafted into service, which is exactly what Palpatine wanted."

So Lucas is saying the leaning of the Jedi into soldiers is something he wrote to bring about the central conflict in the Star Wars prequel trilogies, and now Leslye Headland is doing that very same thing - but into the other area, policing - with the Jedi in The Acolyte.

Jedi are the cops in Star Wars: The Acolyte (and that's okay)

Star Wars: The Acolyte
Image credit: Lucasfilm

Some fans have criticized and demonized the Acolyte for portraying the Jedi in a light they are uncomfortable with. Headland is open about aiming for that particular nerve among Star Wars fans, just as Lucas veered Jedi into warriors 20 years ago - that felt against type then, and now.

"Because there are no wars, we get to lean into the underdogs and the moral ambiguity of these characters," says Headland. "And so I have the opportunity of playing something that holds a lot of moral and ethical conflict, which I think is my favorite part of Star Wars."

Star Wars: The Acolyte is framing the Jedi as cops not to demonize cops or the Jedi themselves, but to show how institutionalized policing is suspect to error and malignment just the same in fiction as it is in non-fiction. If you're uncomfortable with that, the show is working.

As Ahsoka Tano, herself someone who was a Jedi, then a doubter, and then one against, once said in The Clone Wars, "in my experience, when you think you understand the Force, you realize just how little you know."

Turn back the clock 100 years before the earliest Star Wars movie and enter the era of the Disney+ series The Acolyte. We have everything you need from guides on the cast, the episodes (and their release dates), it's not-for-kids rating, where it fits in the Star Wars timeline, how the show asks who 'deserves' to use the Force, as well as bigger picture things such as a complete Star Wars watch order, and a comprehensive guide to the Star Wars timeline, and all the upcoming Star Wars movies & TV shows on the horizon.

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Chris Arrant: Chris Arrant is the Popverse's Editor-in-Chief. He has written about pop culture for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel, Newsarama, CBR, and more. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. (He/him)
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