Features and Columns · TV

Amandla Stenberg Could Join the Dark Side in ‘Star Wars: The Acolyte’

The new Disney+ series might be the first ‘Star Wars’ narrative to crack into the Dark Side with ‘The Hate U Give’ actor stepping onto the same path walked by Anakin Skywalker.
Star Wars The Acolyte Amanda Stenberg
20th Century Studios
By  · Published on December 10th, 2021

Star Wars Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Star Wars shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry examines the casting of Amandla Stenberg in the Star Wars spin-off series The Acolyte.

The most interesting question within the Star Wars franchise gets a little bit closer to an answer. According to Deadline, Amandla Stenberg is negotiating to star in the Disney+ show The Acolyte. The mysterious series from Russian Doll co-creator Leslye Headland has many fans scratching their heads, but the possible casting news offers a new nugget to contemplate. And at this stage, nuggets might as well be full-course banquets.

Stenberg first came to attention as Rue in The Hunger Games but quickly moved into significant roles in The Hate U Give, The Darkest Minds, and Dear Evan Hansen. A trip into Star Wars would present them with their biggest spotlight yet, especially considering how The Acolyte could drastically expand the franchise’s landscape. Star Wars is about to go star trekking, going where no series in its canon has gone before.

What and When is The High Republic?

The Acolyte is set during the final days of The High Republic, a previously unexplored Star Wars era — unless you count its most recent heavy push in the comics and novels. This would place the new series somewhere around the timeframe of 82 years before A New Hope. It’s when Jedi Knights were in their prime and the Sith were beginning their reclamation of the Force. If you lived within the Galactic Republic, you experienced tremendous peace. If you lived along the Outer Rim — the final frontier — you knew nothing but poverty and terror.

In the current Star Wars canon, The High Republic was first mentioned in the 2019 audio production Dooku: Jedi Lost. It is the story of Count Dooku’s tumble into the Dark Side, where he and Sifo-Dyas broke into “The Bogan Collection,” a treasury of Dark Side artifacts. He discovered its location by studying a High Republic Padawan’s journal.

The long-ago era wasn’t officially named until the 2020 Marvel comic book The Rise of Kylo Ren, another story of a Jedi breaking bad. Since then, Lucasfilm has frantically enforced The High Republic as a noteworthy battlezone. It’s a place where writers and artists have a little more freedom to explore and create, safely distanced from the live-action history. In The High Republic, creators are untethered from George Lucas. And maybe even more importantly, from fandom’s stringent grip on what is and is not Star Wars.

Amandla Stenberg Could Expose the Dark Side

When The Rise of Skywalker dropped its first tease suggesting that Rey may succumb to the Dark Side, an intense longing rippled throughout Star Wars devotees. Dark Side obsession is a real attraction within the community. Since Darth Vader first strolled into the frame, fans have clamored to see the bad guys claim center stage. Take a stroll through any con USA; you can bet Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers adorn more geek clothing than Luke Skywalker and the Ewoks.

Assuming Amandla Stenberg secures the titular lead in The Acolyte, we can also infer that they will be the first actor to invest their energy into deconstructing the Dark Side allure fully. In Star Wars, an Acolyte has a wicked connotation. Before Darth Bane enacted the Rule of Two, where Sith such as Sidious and Maul from The Phantom Menace operate as Master and Apprentice, Dark Side wielders amassed in Temples like the Jedi.

First explored in the Knights of the Old Republic roleplaying game, Acolytes were soldiers of the Sith Order. They’re basically Padawan opposites, younglings who’ve only just begun their path toward the Dark Side. We’ve seen this growth the most clearly in Anakin Skywalker after Tusken Raiders struck down his mother in Attack of the Clones. Now imagine a whole platoon of these teenage ragers. It’s gonna get ugly.

Fandom’s Dark Side Attraction

Lucasfilm has described the Leslye Headland show as “a mystery-thriller that will take viewers into a galaxy of shadowy secrets and emerging Dark Side powers in the final days of the High Republic era.” We can expect Amandla Stenberg’s character to struggle with fear, hate, and the resulting Dark Side suffering. Yoda’s Empire Strikes Back warning to Luke should hover over everything in The Acolyte. Evil is always one choice away.

The challenge for Headland and The Acolyte could be in depicting the Dark Side allure without glamorizing it. We don’t need a Goodfellas kind of Star Wars. Or maybe we do? At a time when humanity feels utterly divided, Star Wars offers the most popular cultural platform to investigate Dark Side attraction. Approaching our enemies with empathy sparks understanding, and understanding is the first tool in defeating the enemy.

This was one goal George Lucas had for the Star Wars prequels, exposing the galaxy’s most notorious killer as a child stolen from his mother, who then had his mother stolen from him. Say what you will about the quality of those movies, but Lucas was reaching for something more grand and philosophical than what the original trilogy provided.

Unfortunately, the Last Jedi reaction taught us that a large portion of the fan community is not interested in such nuance.  If The Acolyte plunges into a Dark Side celebration, there is a worry that it could inspire a troubling, boneheaded response. We definitely don’t need more Darth Vader t-shirts and Stormtrooper cosplay.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)