On The Acolyte, No Mystery Is as It Seems

Mystery and Star Wars go hand in hand. The franchise has, for the best part of half a century, dedicated itself to answering mysteries big and small about its galaxy—sometimes for good or ill. But rarely has a Star Wars story been a mystery in regards to its genre, and The Acolyte embraces that structure wholeheartedly from the get-go… and then just as quickly flips those expectations on their head.

“Lost/Found” and “Revenge/Justice,” the two-part premiere of The Acolyte, hits the ground running in defying those typical mystery genre tropes with a one-two punch in its opening 10 minutes. First, on the planet Ueda, we witness the murder of Jedi Master Indara (Carrie Ann Moss), at the hands of the Force-wielding assassin Mae (Amandla Stenberg), setting up a mystery that is simply more than just “who killed this Jedi?” Mae almost wants to be known for what she’s doing, cloaked but not in shadow: she waltzes into the bar where Indara is, makes no qualms of showing who she is to her foe, and even growls a challenge at her, instead of striking unawares. There is no mystery here in the sense of a victim and an assailant to be parsed out by clues—at least not by the audience, of course, as action eventually heads to Coruscant we’ll establish the rest of the players in this “mystery”—that will eke out over the course of The Acolyte’s season. What is here is not a mystery, but a catalyst.

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Image: Lucasfilm

The other twist hits us and The Acolyte’s narrative immediately after Mae calmly walks back away from the scene of her crime: light years away on a Trade Federation vessel, Amandla Stenberg wakes up to go about her day. But this isn’t Mae in disguise, this is her sister, Osha, a twin who has some very interesting history that becomes immediately apparent when her day goes sideways with the arrival of a Jedi aboard her employer’s ship. It turns out that not only does Osha have a history with the Order, and was a former Padawan, but now the Jedi have assumed, through witness testimony about the attack on Ueda, that she is responsible for Indara’s death. It’s a classic murder mystery trope, but once again, The Acolyte isn’t interested in playing into those tropes directly. The case of mistaken identity that is clear to the audience is not left unclear to the Jedi for long—neither the Boy Scout stickler for the rules and former friend of Osha, Yord Fandar (Charlie Bennett), that brings her in, nor Master Sol (Lee Jung-Jae), Osha’s former teacher, who is assigned to investigate Indara’s death on the pretense of keeping things hushed up.

It’s here that The Acolyte actually begins to tell you about its true mystery—and while the backdrop of this broader story about the return of the Dark Side to prominence through Mae’s mission as an acolyte on a trial for whoever her masked master is, is there, its biggest question is not about the revenge of the Sith, nor a phantom menace. Neither is it in the fact that Sol’s investigation is not necessarily about bringing Indara’s murderer to justice, but, as Vernestra Rwoh (Rebecca Henderson, and The Acolyte’s only direct character nod to the High Republic novels and comics that inspired its setting thus far) tells him, to ensure the embarrassing news of a Jedi being killed by one of their own, former or otherwise, getting out to their political enemies. No, instead, The Acolyte is a deeply personal mystery, one that brings all these characters—Mae, Osha, Sol, Yord, Sol’s current Padawan Jecki (Dafne Keen), and Mae’s mysterious middle-man Qmir (Manny Jacinto)—mushed together to figure out just how they’re all really connected by their past lives… and how whatever happened to shape them all into the people they are actually went down.

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Image: Lucasfilm

We begin to get snippets of that as Sol, Yord, and Jecki head to try and locate Osha—who, after being detained and shipped off to Coruscant by Yord early on in the first episode, has found herself crash-landed on the icy planet Carlac. We learn from him that Osha was indeed telling Yord the truth, that she had a twin sister, believed to have perished in a fire on their homeworld, Brendok, in the inciting incident that saw Osha recruited by the Jedi. We learn that not only was Sol there, so was Indara—as well as two other Jedi, Torbin (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Kelnacca (Joonas Suotamo). Whatever happened on Brendok clearly haunted the Jedi involved—Sol’s face is carved in grief as he slowly opens up about just how complicated this investigation is beyond its surface, a grief that returns when he finds Osha on Carlac, in a moment that’s equal parts The Fugitive and Clone Wars’ “The Wrong Jedi,” as she pleads to him that she wasn’t responsible for Indara’s death.

But we learn something much more important to make The Acolyte’s personal mystery that much more complicated, and that much more connected to what the series wants to say about the Jedi at this moment in time—a stepping point between their purported apex in the High Republic novels and comics, and the recalcitrant dogmatic bureaucracy it has become by The Phantom Menace: Whatever actually happened on Brendok, the Jedi Order has been lying about it for 16 years—to themselves and their members, to their allies in the Republic, to the people involved in it and hurt by it, like Osha. And now, embodied by Mae and her master’s trials, it’s blowing up in their faces.

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Image: Lucasfilm

It’s this mystery that The Acolyte most masterfully weaves throughout its debut episodes, even as the pace picks up once Osha has teamed up with Sol, Yord, and Jecki to try and stop her sister from killing the rest of the Jedi that were stationed on Brendok. It’s there when Vernestra impresses on Sol just how secret this investigation has to remain, and in each time she pushes back on him simply doing the job of investigating a crime, rather than going with the (threadbare) evidence they have to convict Osha of it. It’s there in the fact that Osha having a sister isn’t included in the Jedi’s files on her from being a former Padawan—peculiar, given that you would think that not only losing a family member in the incident that saw her recruited would be noted, but would’ve become a necessary trauma for her to face and overcome as part of her training. And its there as the action heads to the planet Olega, when we and Mae alike learn directly from Torbin, who has taken a decade-long vow of meditative silence to avoid discussing whatever happened, that he’ll choose death by her assassin’s poisons over admitting whatever part he played—telling her with his final breath that whatever the Jedi did on Brendok, they thought they were doing the right thing.

That marriage between the personal stakes of this mystery—Osha wanting to see what’s become of the sister she thought she’d lost, Sol pushed and pulled between his duty to the Order and his duty as a Jedi, Mae herself being so driven by a need for justice for whatever the Jedi did, pushing her into the arms of the Dark Side—and what The Acolyte wants to say about the Jedi as an institution is brimming with potential. It’s clear that the sparks are only just beginning to fly in these two episodes, especially in Sol and Mae’s brief confrontation on Olega at the climax of “Revenge/Justice”—and Mae and Osha’s similarly brief reunion, when the latter attempts to fire a stun blaster on her sister instead of connecting after all these years. But whatever The Acolyte has planned for its mystery is far more interesting than murder or a case of mistaken twin identities, that much is clear.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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