The Acolyte episode 1 shines in its opening seven minutes

Carrie-Anne Moss’ Jedi Master meets a mysterious assassin in the premiere of the new Star Wars series.

Akhil Arora, a Film Critics Guild member and a Rotten Tomatoes-certified TV critic, who has been reporting on Star Wars since 2015. He has written for NDTV and SlashFilm.

Carrie-Anne Moss, Amandla Stenberg in The Acolyte episode 1
Carrie-Anne Moss as Indara and Amandla Stenberg as Mae in The Acolyte episode 1 // Photo: Christian Black/Lucasfilm

They say you should always put your best foot forward. The Acolyte knows that. The new Star Wars series—which debuted Tuesday on Disney+ with the first two episodes—gets off to the strongest possible start. A mysterious masked assassin (Amandla Stenberg), who’s referenced in the opening lines of text, confronts Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss) in an eatery that brings to mind the Mos Eisley cantina from the first-ever Star Wars movie. (It’s only later in the episode that we learn that her name is Mae.) The fight that follows—Indara tries to prevent it but the adamant Mae goads her into it by attacking everyone on the table—is the best part of the first episode.

The Acolyte creator and showrunner Leslye Headland—who also directed the first two episodes—has talked about how she was inspired by Moss’ role in The Matrix while writing her character in the Star Wars series. And that’s evident from the get-go. The way Indara moves—nay, gracefully glides and climbs the stairs—is so reminiscent of Trinity. It’s a jolt of nostalgia. Like you’ve been thrown back two decades and you’re watching Moss in her iconic shiny black leather outfit, defying the laws of physics and running up the walls in the opening scene of The Matrix. Except here, Indara uses the Force to her will. The key difference is that the Jedi Master is more reactive. Unlike Trinity, she’s not fighting to kill.

Spoilers ahead for The Acolyte episode 1.

Lightsaber vs daggers in The Acolyte episode 1

And that is also her doom. Indara loses her life in trying to protect others and not appear as the aggressor. The choreography of her death is the highlight—the Star Wars series at its most sublime.

After Indara discovers the woman underneath the mask—they have clearly met previously but the Jedi Master wonders what she’s doing here—Mae uses the Force to push her back. As Indara gets up, Mae throws four daggers at her, and the Jedi Master pulls out her green lightsaber to splice them apart. For the first time, it’s clear that Mae is scared. As she draws another blade into her right hand, Indara moves forward with her lightsaber and says, “You do not want to go down this road. This is a fight that you will not win.”

Amandla Stenberg, Carrie-Anne Moss in The Acolyte episode 1
Amandla Stenberg as Mae and Carrie-Anne Moss as Indara in The Acolyte episode 1 // Photo: Christian Black/Lucasfilm

The young warrior uses deception and the Jedi principles to her advantage. Mae remarks that the Jedi don’t pull out their weapon unless they are prepared to kill. Indara lowers her saber in response. Meanwhile, Mae silently draws a second dagger into her left hand that’s hidden behind her back. Just at that moment, it’s revealed that the barkeep (Liam Cook) hasn’t abandoned the place like everyone else. Mae had previously used a civilian as a hostage, so you can sense what she’s thinking.

There’s a pause in the action at this juncture in The Acolyte episode 1. Everything that follows is gloriously executed.

Every beat of Indara’s death is sublime

As Mae studies her options, Indara looks to her and hopes she won’t go down that path. It’s all communicated in tiny glances. Mae throws the blade in her right hand at the unarmed barkeep and Indara uses the Force to stop it. But in the process, she doesn’t see—or feel—the other blade, the one hidden in Mae’s left hand, strike her. She looks down at it and falls to the ground to her demise.

From the moment Mae throws the first dagger, The Acolyte fires on all cylinders. The choreography, the pauses, the silence, the direction, the acting—every beat is perfection. That goes for how the hidden dagger hits Indara offscreen. It’s communicated by the faint sound of the piercing of flesh. That goes for the shots that follow, from the lightsaber turning off and falling with a thud followed by Indara herself dropping to the floor. Kudos to The Acolyte episode 1 cinematographer Chris Teague and editor Miikka Leskinen for putting it together.

Mae may have killed a Jedi, but The Acolyte wants us to understand she’s no monster. It’s why the scene doesn’t end at Indara’s death. Mae walks up to the barkeep, picks up the other dagger, and threatens to kill him. He’s seen her face, so he’s a loose end. But she lets him live after she sees his whimpering child hanging onto the parent in fear for their life. This moment hits deeper when we learn later in the episode that Mae lost her parents when she was young.

The Acolyte throws a lot more at the audience in its opening episode. It ends with an ominous voiceover and the reveal of a Sith stranger, likely the chief villain. But the Star Wars series cannot top what it achieves in its first seven minutes.

Akhil Arora