Monday, June 24, 2024

The Acolyte episode 4: Day

Jedi with their lightsabers face a threat in The Acolyte
The Acolyte is a new series streaming on Disney+. It is set in the Star Wars universe and occurs 100 years before the fall of the Jedi and subsequent rise of the Empire.

What happened: Flashback episode over, we find Osha on Coruscant pondering the fact that her long-lost sister is still alive and apparently a deadly assassin killing off Jedi. She wants nothing to do with confronting Mae and bringing her in--she hesitated in firing on her twin in episode 2, allowing her escape, and has guilt for that but isn't sure she wouldn't hesitate again if the situation arose. Padawan Jecki, for her part, is sympathetic and supportive and the two have a nice bonding moment. As for the Jedi, Vernestra, the green-skinned authority figure, is less interested in Mae than discovering who trained her. She wants to keep the situation secret from the Jedi Council, as the council would report it to the Senate which would subsequently cause political problems. Vernestra puts together a Jedi task force to intercept Mae on the planet Khofar before she can kill the Wookie Jedi, Kelnacca. Jedi Sol believes Mae still has good in her, but would never surrender to random Jedi (and that random Jedi may be all to willing to kill the assassin and be done with her). He convinces Vernestra to allow him, along with Jedi Yord, Jecki and Osha to accompany the task force. Then he has to convince Osha to go along (which he eventually does). All told, seven lightsaber-wielders, plus Osha and Bazil, a short, humanoid badger-looking "tracker" arrive on Khofar in hopes of capturing Mae. As Kelnacca disappeared into the dense forest a year prior, the group is dependent on Bazil to locate the missing wookie. Elsewhere in the forest, Mae and her handler, Qimir, close in on their wookie target. Qimir is an annoying chatterbox, asking how she plans to kill the wookie without using a weapon to prevent her master from being displeased. Mae comes to believe the instruction is to be interpreted as killing an unarmed Jedi, at which point she insists she needs to rest before facing Kelnacca. Qimir wanders off. Meanwhile, the Jedi party has lost track of Bazil and are picking up "wrong" feelings from the forest. Osha touches a large blister on a tree, which turns out to be a giant winged isopod-looking thing that attacks. Sol kills it with his lightsaber, and Osha is grief-stricken. She touched it because she sensed it through the Force which led to its death. Jecki tries to comfort her. At that point, the party hears Mae screaming. Qimir hears her to, and rushes to her aid only to be caught up in a snare trap she'd set. She tells Qimir she's been thinking, and the only thing that matters to her is that her sister Osha is alive. She's not going to kill Kelnacca, intends to turn herself in to the Jedi and tell them everything she knows about her master. Qimir warns her that the master will kill her, but she believes she'll be safe with the Jedi, even if they imprison her. As Mae makes her way to Kelnacca's residence, Bazil finds her and begins screaming to alert the others. Mae enters Kelnacca's home only to find him already dead, killed by what appear to be lightsaber slashes. This frightens Mae. The Jedi surround the house and demand Mae give herself up. Osha hangs back, and a dark, menacing shape descends behind her. Osha turns around to face a presumed Sith Lord in a serial killer mask. After studying her briefly, the Sith ignites his red lightsaber and flicks her aside with the Force. The other Jedi, alarmed, charge him, but the Sith easily blows them back with a Force blast.

Disturbances in the Force: This, friends and neighbors, is the type of episode I've always described as "arranging the pieces on the chess board." It exists solely to set up the next part of the story arc, bringing in scattered characters so they may interact in interesting ways. When they're done, these types of episodes can be great for character development and often inject much-needed humor. Conversely, they can be boring slogs. This one falls in the middle of the spectrum. It offers nice moments with Osha and Jecki, and a bit of a moment with Osha and Yord as well. Sol continues to be hanuted by the past, but the best moments are reserved for Mae, who decides she really doesn't want to be a Dark Side assassin after all. For a series that's all about reversals and keeping the audience guessing, this one was a surprise. Mae has been shown as mostly a hardass throughout, and where Star Wars is concerned, if a Dark Sider is to have a change of heart, it's going to come in the last act of the last film (see Darth Vader, Kylo Ren). That Mae makes her decision through thoughtful, private deliberation without facing a live-or-death situation in the finale (which still may come, mind you) is refreshing. Unfortunately, when Mae discovers Kelnacca's corpse, she's placed in the exact same situation as Osha was with Torbin's death in episode 2--although there's no Yord lurking in the shadows this time to exonerate her. The awkward confrontation between Mae and the Jedi is delayed by the timely arrival of the Sith. Speaking of which... I went back and checked my review of episode 2, but alas, I did not voice my suspicion at the time that Qimir is actually the guy in the creepy ax murderer mask. I mean, that's a "no duh" prediction at this point as the Sith doesn't show up until Mae conveniently confesses to Qimir that she's done with the whole Dark Side thing. From square one, Qimir has known a little bit too much about everything and everyone, not to mention constantly goading Mae along the dark path that she's on. With all the red herrings this show has tossed out Qimir could totally turn out to be the bootlicking lackey he's been portrayed as thus far, but my gut's telling me that ain't so. My gut's also telling me that the four new Jedi that accompanied Sol, Yord and Jecki to Khofar ain't gonna survive the coming duel. They may as well be wearing red Starfleet uniforms. I expect episode 5 to be action-packed after the slow burn we've been given much of this series, but I also say the chance of our getting another Rashomon-style flashback episode instead is no less than 40%, because if nothing else is clear by now, the showrunners are messing with the audience's expectations.

I want to take a moment and give a shout-out to the designers who came up with the forest setting of Khofar. It does indeed feel alien, something unlike anything we've seen in Star Wars previously. This is neither Endor forest or Dagobah swamp, and I sincerely appreciate that. In fact, with the exception of Coruscant, none of these worlds and settings are retreads of places we've previously seen. Thank the maker we're not returing to Tattooine for the umpteenth time!

From what I gather, a number of people on the interwebz are upset by the fact that the episode ended in a cliffhanger, considering this to be a somehow unfair method of storytelling that cheats the audience. Friends and neighbors, let me set the Wayback machine to 1980 and refer you to a little cinematic feature film called The Empire Strikes Back, That film ended with a hell of a more dramatic cliffhanger, and we had to wait three years for a resolution. With The Acolyte episode 4, you've only got to wait a week before you can jump back on the old interwebz to complain about how episode 5 ruined Star Wars in new and altogether different ways than it did seven days prior.

What I do find fault with, however, is Kelnacca's off-camera death. While guilt may have prompted Kelnacca to let Mae kill him as a form of atonement (which I doubt, but let's roll with it) there is zero reason why he'd let a Sith do the same. Yet Kelnacca is killed, apparently without a fight, slumped over in his chair. What gives? This is another nasty bit of bait-and-switch from the showrunners, promising us a wookie Jedi much like Revenge of the Sith and Solo promised a lot of wookie combat action then relegated said action to a brief aside. Even given the Sith ability to muddy the Force and confuse Jedi, I see no way a Sith, or Sith wannabe, or Dathomar Witch, or whatever could completely sneak up on Kelnacca and take him unawares. Could they kill him? Even easily? Sure, I can see that as the Jedi of the High Republic aren't really trained for dueling. But to die slumped in a chair? Come on! The audience (and wookies!) deserves better than that. Though I will say that the depictions of the coven's symbols from episode 1 adorning the walls of Kelnacca's living space raises intriguing questions.

At barely 30 minutes long, this is the shortest episode of the series to date. Not only that, it feels short. Although I failed to voice my prediction that Qimir is the Sith figure behind the scenes, I'll make no mistake with my one thought from this episode: Osha and Mae triumph at a crucial moment (whether for dark or light purposes) by joining together to manipulate the Force, as their coven had instructed them years before.

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