Breaking Down the Dark Shadows Rising in The Acolyte’s New Trailer

Breaking Down the Dark Shadows Rising in The Acolyte’s New Trailer

To celebrate Star Wars Day this past weekend, Lucasfilm treated us all to one more major look at The Acolyte, the next live-action Disney+ series for the galaxy far, far away—one that in equal measure surprises us with a bunch of new tidbits about this new murder mystery among the rise of the dark side, and potently reminds us that looks can be deceiving. Here’s a few of the more intriguing things we noticed.

The Death of a Jedi

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

The trailer opens with an unseen figure saying “last night, a Jedi was murdered.” Official captions for the trailer name this character as Tasi Lowa—perhaps another Jedi, given the context?—but the important thing we see here is that this voiceover accompanies a shot in shadow of Mae (Amandla Stenberg) walking away from a fallen lightsaber, and using the Force to pull a dagger out of the wooden flooring beneath her.

The lightsaber is that of Jedi Master Indara, played by Matrix icon Carrie-Anne Moss. Death flags have been up for Indara since the very first material we saw from The Acolyte, including the fact that its first teaser poster depicted her weapon in a bloodied streak. It certainly seems like Mae is going to take her out early in the series, but there’s some interesting details here: in both the first trailer and the extended preview fans saw accompanied to this past weekend’s anniversary re-release of The Phantom Menace, we see Mae fight Indara in an alien cantina… but that fight takes place during the day.

The lighting of this shot seems to imply that Mae finally finishes her off after nightfall—and the flooring is very similar to the cantina they were fighting in, so it could be the same place, or at least somewhere in the same village. Maybe Mae makes an attempt, fails, and flees, and then returns to take Indara unawares?

A Risen Temple

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Before we cut to a shot of Master Sol (Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae) inside the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, we get to see its exterior for the first time in this period of the Star Wars timeline—and it’s quite fascinating. Of course, the temple still looks like the temple, but it’s the surroundings that are what’s compelling here: the city levels of Corsucant are still below it, just 100 years before the temple is practically consumed by throngs of buildings up and around it.

It’s a very evocative visual even beyond the logistical fact of us getting to see Coruscant’s cityscape grow over Star Wars—the Jedi Order, still in what it believes is the apex of its might in the High Republic, literally having its seat of power be raised up above the people that it serves… and in time, having Coruscant itself, the representation of the Republic’s hubris and corruption, rise up and begin to envelop it the closer we get to The Phantom Menace. That’s symbolism, folks.

There Is Only Passion

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Speaking of the Jedi’s hubris, we move on quickly to spend some time with a very intriguing character who only becomes more intriguing in this brief moment. Qmir, played by The Good Place’s Manny Jacinto, is talking to Mae, and says to her “The Jedi justify their galactic dominance in the name of peace.” Over shots of Jedi Padawans undergoing stylish weapon drills and of Sol walking through a corridor of ray-shielded cells housing prisoners, the message here is clearly that Qmir has something out for the Jedi and their high-and-mighty place in the galaxy. After all, he’s previously been described as being a former smuggler—and someone who relies on ferrying goods across space with as few questions asked as possible doesn’t want wandering magic samurai coming along and tutting at him. Fair!

However it’s what Qmir says next, especially in saying it to Mae, that sparks intriguing: “But that peace… is a lie.” Sharp-eared Star Wars fans will recognize that this is the infamous opening line of the Sith Code:

Peace is a lie. There is only passion.

Through passion, I gain strength.

Through strength, I gain power.

Through power, I gain bictory.

Through bictory my chains are broken.

The Force shall free me.

Created for the classic video game Knights of the Old Republic and eventually canonized in contemporary Star Wars by its inclusion in the Clone Wars episodes “Altar of Mortis” and “Brothers” before going on to be used elsewhere, the Code of the Sith is the dark mirror to the Jedi Code—and of course, in a show that’s all about the rise and return of the Sith in their fight against the Jedi, having a character suddenly say something so specific to our seemingly dark-sided protagonist is going to set alarm bells ringing.

Master and Apprentice

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

After a few more shots from Mae’s duel with Indara, and of Mae dramatically preparing to murder a meditating Jedi, we flash back to the past and see what appears to be a young Mae among the witches lead by the mysterious Mother Aniseya, played by Jodie Turner-Smith. It’s here we explicitly see that Mae was recruited from among them by Sol, and in voice over, it seems that he’s aware from very early on into the investigation of dead Jedi that Mae’s the one behind it, as we return to the present to see a little more of the duo fighting each other.

A Very Cool Ship

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

We saw this ship in hyperspace earlier in the trailer—and later, it’s seemingly implied that this is a Jedi or Republic vessel, piloted by Sol. But it’s just cool to see it emerge from hyperspace and break off into a smaller winged vessel: presumably this is an earlier version of the hyperspace rings we see used by Jedi vessels during the prequels, in order to give non-hyperdrive-equipped vessels away to travel at FTL speeds.

One small but important part of the High Republic setting explored throughout the transmedia initiative has been the idea of a still nascent level of galactic travel and communication—although much of the books and comics we’ve read are set about another 100 years or more before The Acolyte, in them we saw things like the importance of mapping out safe hyperspace routes, the expansion of the Republic’s borders, and even the establishment of interstellar comms networks. It’s just neat to see Star Wars tech evolve over time!

A Small Part of a Larger Plan

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

“I sense this is only a small part of a larger plan,” Vernestra Rwoh (Rebecca Henderson, and the only High Republic-era novel character we’ll be seeing in The Acolyte so far) tells, presumably, Master Sol, as we seemingly go back to that flashback with Mother Aniseya and her coven performing some kind of ritual.

Still in that flashback, we get something even more intriguing—one of the Jedi Sol is with (in previous footage we’ve seen the Wookiee Jedi Kelnacca, played by Chewbacca performer Joonas Suotamo, and Master Indara, so we’ll get to at least see a bit more Carrie-Anne Moss even if she gets killed off early!), named Torbin by the official Star Wars website. His description there is vague, simply just that he’s a Jedi Master at a Jedi outpost, but here we see his eyes turn completely black as he falls to his knees before the witches. Love a creepy dark magic moment!

Cloaked in Flame

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

A hooded figure—who looks young, and by the little part of their hair that we can see, could perhaps even be a young Mae—runs through a forest on fire… in a shot that’s eerily similar to one from the first trailer, where we see an unhooded, adult Mae running through a forest on fire.

Dramatic imagery for dramatic imagery’s sake? An echo to a moment from Mae’s past? Or something else? After all, the very first line of dialogue we heard from the show in the first trailer was Sol telling a bunch of Padawans “Your eyes can deceive you, we must not trust them…”

A Blast From the Past

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Mother Aniseya spits proverbial fire at a young Mae, telling her “Destiny is not decided for you by an anonymous force… if you want to pull the thread and change everything, then pull it.” Under this dialogue we get a bunch of cool shots, like a ship tumbling through the small asteroids in a planetary ring field, a bit more from Mae’s cantina brawl, and Sol reaching out with the Force on a snowy planet. But perhaps relevant to that fiery scene we were just talking about, we see what looks like the younger Sol guiding Mae through a burning street. Is this how he loses his former apprentice, or did something happen when the Jedi came to the witches to take her in for training?

Mae vs. Jecki

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Another interesting shot in this brief montage sees Mae holding one of her daggers up to the neck of Jedi Padawan Jecki Lon (Dafne Keen). Not only is this interesting of course due to the fact that Jecki is Sol’s current Padawan learner, so it’s one student of his against the other, but the jungle environment they’re in certainly looks like the same one we saw a whole bunch of Jedi in in the last trailer… that we’re about to revisit.

The Mask of the Dark Side

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Because out of that jungle, a figure cloaked in shadow, metaphorically and literally, wearing a mask with some very familiar design motifs, emerges… and ignites a red lightsaber. We saw this red blade flying towards a group of Jedi in the first trailer, and while their cloaked dress can’t show us if this is Mae or not, it certainly gives us a mysterious first look at what could be a Sith Lord about to make themselves known to the Jedi.

What Are You?

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

As Sol faces down the masked figure, we get a better look at their mask, and to no one’s surprise—this franchise is extremely good at sick bad guy masks—it looks extremely cool. The metallic piping looking rows of teeth in a skull, the cracks over the visor, the Vader/Kylo flared neckguard, it’s just fantastic. We know very much what it looks like, but our heroes don’t: this might be the first time most living Jedi have encountered a Sith at this moment in time.

Could almost definitely be their, last, too. There was much hubbub made when the first trailer released that The Acolyte was somehow contradicting Star Wars canon, based on a line from Ki-Adi-Mundi in The Phantom Menace where he confidently states that the Sith have been unseen for a millennia prior to Qui-Gon’s encounter with Maul on Tatooine. Here’s the thing about that line: we already knew it was untrue, because Maul and Sidious had clearly been operating in shadow under the council’s noses for a while before Phantom Menace anyway. It’s a reflection of the Jedi’s attitude at this point in Star Wars, that they have grown so recalcitrant and so mired in the political animus of the Republic that they can’t see, or refuse to see, the return of their mortal foe.

But still, how can this masked figure being a red-saber-wielding Sith grok with that line? There’s multiple potential answers: the first is that they simply kill all the Jedi who see them in that jungle, and then word never gets out. The second, and equally likely, is that those Jedi either defeat them or they escape somehow, and then promptly decide that the potential return of the Sith is so dangerous that word of this encounter must never go beyond either the people that were there, or beyond informing the Jedi Council, who then keep up the pretense that Everything’s Fine Down Here for the next century.

Given that The Acolyte is all about exploring the institutional failings of the Jedi Order, a cover up that comes back to bite them in the ass in another 120-odd years would be very interesting. For now though, no one knows what’ll go down—but there’s plenty of ways to have this moment and Ki-Adi’s dialogue mesh, instead of necessarily contradict each other. After all, as a certain Jedi told us, your eyes can deceive you… we must not trust them.

We’ll find out just how much our eyes can be trusted when The Acolyte begins streaming on Disney+ June 4.

Image: Disney

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