For much of Star Wars’ existence, the various heroes we’ve watched and played have been good people trying to make the galaxy a better place in some way, or at the very least, find their own place in the universe. The larger conflicts have always put our heroes up against seemingly insurmountable odds, be it an unending war, a magic cult, or dudes obsessed with doomsday weapons and cloning. One of the franchise’s upcoming Disney+ series, The Acolyte, is offering a sizable shakeup by making the villainous Sith the protagonists of its story.
Speaking with Vanity Fair for its cover story on all things Star Wars, Acolyte creator Leslye Headland spoke at length about her goals for the series. Confirmed to be set 100 years before the Prequel Trilogy, the new series will (potentially) star Amandla Stenberg during the era of the High Republic, currently the big focal point of several books and comics. For Headland, the appeal of this relatively untapped era in Star Wars history is what drew her to the show.
“The High Republic is so golden in so many ways,” she said. During the High Republic the Jedi were at their best, and the Republic was devoted to creating Great Works to serve the larger galaxy. But as peaceful as it all seems, Headland knew that the Sith’s rise to power had to start somewhere, and her show will explore how they took advantage of the gaps in the Republic’s might. “What are we turning a blind eye to that could lead to the rise of somebody like Palpatine about a century later? Yes, it’s one bad guy, but it’s one bad guy that completely undermines the entire system of government ... you can’t just end up with George [Lucas]’ Phantom Menace situation if everything is going well.”
In Headland’s eyes, The Acolyte is a mystery above all else, with that mystery being what’s really going on during this so-called peak period. It’s also her chance to bring in even more elements of the Expanded Universe that dominated the franchise before Disney bought it in 2012. Parts of the EU have been slowly incorporated into the new canon over the years, and it sounds like The Acolyte will be bringing even more of that into the fold. In the same article, Kathleen Kennedy teased that Headland was drawing from various “bits and pieces” of that old canon that haven’t been explored onscreen before, which is sure to excite longtime fans.
Among her many EU inspirations for the upcoming series, the big one for Headland is 1991's Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. In approaching Lucasfilm with her idea for a series, she openly admitted to writing Star Wars fanfiction inspired by the novel that introduced Grand Admiral Thrawn. After playing tabletop RPGs with her friends, she’d go and write her OC in different scenarios. “I came hard at that in the ‘90s,” she recalled, “and then got introduced to the Clone Wars animated series. I knew the timeline really well.”
What parts of the EU will be incorporated will remain to be seen, but Acolyte gives Headland plenty of room to work with. While she does feel pressure to make her show great, she also feels a good amount of freedom with it as well, since dealing with legacy characters can be a crapshoot for this franchise. “You could not pay me enough money to try to be in the Luke Skywalker timeline,” Headland laughed. “There’s too much iconography and intensity with those particular characters ... I think I’m telling a story that’s more about a timeline we don’t know much about. Let’s hang out here for a little bit and check out what Star Wars looks like when the good guys are actually in charge. What happens? We know what it eventually leads to, so let’s explore. What are the holes that we can poke into what happened?”
Star Wars: The Acolyte will arrive in 2023 on Disney+.
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