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The Acolyte serves up a fresh galaxy of adventure, mystery, and pathos — but is it queer?

'The Acolyte' serves up a fresh galaxy of adventure, mystery, and pathos — but is it queer?

(L-R, front row): Yord Fandar (Charlie Barnett), Jedi Padawan Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen) and Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. ©2024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.
Courtesy of Lucasfilm

While queerness has long been evident in the new series’ cast and crew, fans have wondered if it will translate to screen. Now we know.

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The arrival of any new Star Warsproperty is always met with plenty of anticipation, and (sorry) a new hope that it will persist in creating the feelings of magic and wonder that have made the franchise the ultimate pop culture juggernaut that it has remained for nearly 50 (yes 50!) years.

But perhaps no Star Wars property has grabbed the attention of queer audiences more than its latest offering,The Acolyte, because while the plot details have largely stayed under lock and key at Disney HQ, the cast and the crew bringing this latest chapter to the screen is full of familiar faces in queer spaces.

Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Given that the series was created by Leslye Headland, the out queer executive producer behind Russian Doll, Single Drunk Female, and Heathers, there were immediately high hopes that it would finally give fans some real queer representation. This anticipation and hope were only heightened when the cast was announced. Leading the series (we would come to find out in dual roles) is out actress Amandla Stenberg — and she was just the tip of the queer cast iceberg. Also starring in the show are out stars Charlie Barnett, Rebecca Henderson, and Abigail Thorn, alongside queer faves like Carrie-Anne Moss, Dafne Keen, and Manny Jacinto.

At last the show heads to Disney+ today and we’ll finally get answers to all our questions including: What is The Acolyte all about, how will a show set 100 years before the events of the other Star Wars movies and TV shows feel differently — and the same — and of course, just how queer is it? PRIDE watched the first four episodes and we have answers.

(L-R): Vernestra Rwoh\u00a0(Rebecca Henderson)  and  Master Sol\u00a0(Lee Jung-jae) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. \u00a92024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Courtesy of Lucasfilm

But first, let’s step back a little and set the stage. The Acolyte, as mentioned, takes place a century before the whole Skywalker saga during a time known as The High Republic era. It’s a time long before the Clone Wars and the genocide of the Jedi, where these warrior priests walked openly in the world, and were seen as both the spiritual leaders and the enforcers of law.

While recent entries in the Star Wars cinematic and television canon have chipped away at the reputation of the Jedi as galactic paragons, The Acolyte lives firmly in this gray area, where the bureaucracy and the hubris of believing that the Jedi agenda is always right can foster resentment, and even lead to tragedy. It can also serve as the impetus for revenge and salvation for two very different, but special (i.e., Force-wielding) women.

Mae\u00a0(Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. \u00a92024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Without giving away some of the joys of discovery in watching the series, The Acolyte pivots around a series of murders and a pair of sisters, Mae and Osha (Stenberg), caught in a complicated, political, and spiritual (you may even call it a dyad if you’re a Star Wars nerd like me) web.

Because we are in an entirely new timeline, and part of the galaxy, the show also introduces us to a whole new cast of characters, including Jedi Masters Indara (Moss), Sol ( Lee Jung-Jae), and Vernestra Rwoh (Henderson), and padawans Jecki Lon (Keen) and Yord Fandar (Barnett). On the opposing side, we meet Mae’s co-conspirator Quimir (Jacinto). One of Star Wars’s greatest strengths has always been its intriguing characters, cool names, cooler costumes, and, of course, they’re all brimming with repressed emotion — or exploding with it.

The Acolyte carries on this tradition, and both Osha and Mae, which is in no small part to Stenberg’s irrepressible charisma are instantly relatable and intriguing for very distinct and different reasons. Sol exudes warmth and sadness. Jecki is both plucky and hilariously sarcastic, and Indara is, well, Carrie-Anne Moss and there is no scenario in which we wouldn’t be instantly on board.

(Center, L-R): Yord Fandar\u00a0(Charlie Barnett) and Jedi Padawan Jecki Lon\u00a0(Dafne Keen) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. \u00a92024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Courtesy of Lucasfilm

It also maintains the look and feel of classic Star Wars, leaning into that believed ‘70s aesthetic including the elaborate screen wipe transitions and the gritty lived-in world. The aesthetic lives somewhere between the realism of Andor and the glossiness of The Mandalorian, and that works in a way that grounds its reality, without feeling too much like homage of pastiche to the past. One thing is clear: Headland watched a lot of Star Wars, and it shows.

Where the show really breaks with the other series’ and movies is by setting it firmly outside the stories we’ve seen told in this medium. In fact, it feels much more like one of the Star Wars novels, telling a discrete, and yet connected in a larger sense, story set in the galaxy, far, far away. While previous shows sometimes have shown the constraints of canon, this one feels more breezy and free to tell the story it wants to tell. In this case, it’s a tale of two women caught up in and divided by the sheer gravitational force of the Jedi’s political power, and how that power can create blind spots for those wielding it. And at its center is a pretty compelling mystery — just not the one you’re expecting from the show’s synopsis.

(L-R): Master Sol\u00a0(Lee Jung-jae) and Yord Fandar\u00a0(Charlie Barnett) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. \u00a92024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Ultimately, all of this world-building, casting, style, and story make for another thrilling, if more intimate, watch. But the question remains, is it queer? The answer is yes, overtly and implicitly. Many of the characters are queer-coded, and the connection between Osha and Jecki is guaranteed to launch a thousand ‘ships. Having only seen the first four episodes, it’s unclear if that will develop, but like the soon-to-be shippers, we certainly hope so. There is also an, ahem, shirtless moment in the first episode between Sol and Yord that raised our eyebrows, but again, it’s a wait-and-see.

However, what’s undeniably queer, and is revealed in the first episode, is that Osha and Mae were raised by mothers, and more of that back story is eventually revealed, although we won’t spoil it here. Just know that in Headland’s Star Wars, we are here and queer.

(L-R): Jedi Master\u00a0Indara\u00a0(Carrie-Anne Moss) and Mae\u00a0(Amandla Stenberg) in Lucasfilm's THE ACOLYTE, exclusively on Disney+. \u00a92024 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Frankly, we can’t think of a better way to settle into Pride Month than watching ourselves reflected on the biggest and most beloved of screens around the world.

‘Star Wars: The Acoyte’ premieres today on Disney+, watch the trailer below.

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Rachel Shatto

EIC of PRIDE.com

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.