The Cast of New Star Wars Series The Acolyte Talk About Their Show in these The Acolyte cast interviews at Star Wars Celebration.
The Skywalker saga may have come to a close (for better or arguably worse) with 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. But as even the most casual or lapsed fan of the sprawling space opera franchise knows, there are all sorts of time periods and narrative pockets to explore in the expansive world first established by George Lucas’ era-defining 1977 science fiction smash hit.
Recently, some of the most interesting Star Wars stories have been found on the small screen — in works like The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and especially last fall’s Andor.
The next series to further explore the Star Wars world will be The Acolyte. Created by Russian Doll co-creator Leslye Headland, the show is set at the tail end of the High Republic era, a time period yet to be explored within the franchise’s live-action universe on the big screen. Taking place roughly a century before the events of The Phantom Menace, against a backdrop of rising darkness and authoritarianism, the show focuses on an erstwhile Padawan (Amandla Stenberg) who reunites with her Jedi master (Lee Jung-jae) to investigate a series of mysterious crimes.
Fans got their first look at the eight-episode series, set to bow in 2024 on Disney+, at the Star Wars Celebration Europe event at the ExCeL Exhibition Centre in London this past weekend, where a small batch of exciting footage was released. Cast members were also on hand to help whip up advance anticipation for The Acolyte.
At a series of moderated Q&As on Friday, April 7, hosts Anthony Carboni and Krystina Ariel spoke with actors including the aforementioned Stenberg and Lee, plus Dafne Keen, Charlie Barnett, Jodie Turner-Smith, Rebecca Henderson, Joonas Suotamo, and Dean-Charles Chapman. Combined excerpts from the Star Wars Celebration chats are presented below, edited for both length and clarity:
Question: Star Wars is of course very secretive. What’s it like to finally be able to share some details with fans?
Amandla Stenberg: I think we’re so confused about what we can share, which is I think the nature of just probably being a part of Star Wars. But hopefully what (people) see is the tone of the show, which is very much inspired by martial arts films. It’s very inspired by Kill Bill. Leslye likes to say that the show is a combination of Frozen and Kill Bill, which is a nuts combo. (laughs) But I think tonally it’s really exciting. It’s really dark. It has a sense of magical realism, and we’re just so exhilarated to finally give (fans) a sneak peek.
Lee Jung-jae: (translated from Korean by translator) Today, a lot of surprising things are happening. I’ve been amazed to find out that this celebration with so many of you has been going on for 15 years. And it’s really surprising, in a nice way, that we are all together in this.
Question: What was it like when you found out about joining the show and becoming part of Star Wars?
Amandla Stenberg: Oh my God, I nearly fainted. What was so wild about this show and my experience coming onto it was Leslye and Lucasfilm had already developed the show around me before I even had my first meeting. Basically (it was), “Here’s your own Star Wars show on a silver platter. What are you going to do, babe?” I think I’m going to do it! (laughs) I think I’m going to put my entire heart and soul into it and do the best I possibly can.
But yeah, that first meeting was wild. I was presented with the concept art that had already been drawn up with my image, which was a fall-on-the-floor moment. And then the panic hit. And then after the panic hit, then I started training in Wing Chun at a local school, which was really cool because going into training, I had already had that basis when I did my initial training period with my master.
Question: Jung-jae, this is your first American series, and this is your first series in a foreign language. How was the experience?
Lee Jung-jae: (translated from Korean by translator) It’s definitely a special experience for me, especially because English isn’t my first language. So if it wasn’t Star Wars, I may have declined some other show. But who would say no to Star Wars? Come on! And they said, “You can use a lightsaber.”
Question: Charlie and Rebecca, you previously worked with Leslye on Russian Doll. So what was it like working on a Star Wars series with her?
Charlie Barnett: Very different world, I’m not going to lie. Leslye’s incredible. She’s one of the most malleable directors that I feel like I’ve worked with, and one of the most collaborative. As much as she is so ingrained into this world, she’s a super fan. I’m a fan, but Leslye is a next-level super fan. She was correcting me on things, I couldn’t believe it. But she is always available to hear our voices, to incorporate our thoughts, our artistic choices into the world — into the galaxy, I should be saying — which makes it so much more enjoyable to work on something like this, but also, I think, more creative. It’s really incredible. She’s a brilliant woman, truly. I’m so grateful to be working with her again.
Rebecca Henderson: I mean, honestly, it has been so emotional. I’m shaking because watching Leslye from the very beginning, from her coming up with this idea, pitching this idea, having the show begin and now we’re still shooting and being here? I mean, it’s been incredibly emotional and I have cried many times today.
Question: Dafne, you play a Jedi in this series, and I have to ask you the most important question: what’s it like living out the dream of so many?
Dafne Keen: It’s a lifestyle. I love it. The first time I got my saber, I had to go into a corner and just scream on my own. I was like, “It’s fine guys. I’ve done this a billion times.” It was so exciting. We had these wooden sticks (at first), genuinely, that were taped to be the border where you put your hand. And then suddenly we were on set and they were like, “Here’s the saber.” They just handed it really casually because they’d been handling them for however many projects they’ve done. We were like, “This is so much pressure!” But it was so fun. I get to be an alien, which is sick. We have a good time. And then we get to do a bunch of stunts, which I love. And we get to do force stuff. We had a whole force training — two weeks of just us in rooms being like [makes intense hand motion], which was really fun.
Question: Jodi, what can you tell us about your character?
Jodi Turner-Smith: Okay. Well, let me try to talk about this without getting fired or murdered. So, my character is a powerful leader — in a very woman-centered world, which I was very excited to kind of be in, because I feel like Star Wars is very patriarchal, so it was kind of cool to have this woman-centered figure. And she’s really sort of going through a struggle because, I mean — that’s Star Wars, right? We’re going through a struggle. She’s really kind of in this quandary, and her journey is (one of) going through this struggle between two ideas.
Question: Joonas, you previously played Chewbacca in the sequel trilogy films and Solo. I’m excited to see you as a Wookiee Jedi!
Joonas Suotamo: A Wookiee Jedi? Did you just say a Wookiee Jedi? (laughs) It’s unbelievable. The concept of this character coming in, it fascinated me, (because) I knew that people were going to be excited when they heard about this whole show. And then when they hear about this character, I just knew that there was something special brewing here. Kelnacca is a Wookiee Jedi. And I wanted him to be different from Chewbacca. So coming up with ways to differentiate between those two characters was an interesting challenge, but that’s what I tried to do. And I hope that I did an okay job.
Question: What has your connection to Star Wars been growing up, and what’s it like to be a part of it now?
Dean-Charles Chapman: I actually played the video games before I watched the movies. I was about seven and I was playing the Star Wars Lego game. I was obsessed with the video games. And then I remember I was at home one day and I was like, “What should I watch? Lord of the Rings? Star Wars? Star Wars!” I loved it. And just to be a part of Star Wars — we’ve talked about the lightsabers and stuff, but it really is a dream come true. Working with people like Joonas as well, it couldn’t be better.
Joonas Suotamo: For me, I remember on VHS when I was young, I was watching the Mos Eisley streets, and there was Chewbacca and there was Luke Skywalker drinking blue milk. I thought it was blue oatmeal because I ate a lot of oatmeal as a kid. So I thought the Luke was similar. But it permeated my life because my dad was a huge Star Wars and Indiana Jones fan, and it was just always there.
It was so real and close to our world, but still there were spaceships and lightsabers and all these creatures that you didn’t know — so that was the magical touch that really drew me in. And I remember when I was in college, my freshman year, I got my first computer, my own computer and I Googled, “Who is inside the Chewbacca suit?” And it was Peter Mayhew. So that was sort of a premonition of what was to come.
Ten years later, I was myself putting on the suit with Peter Mayhew. And it’s just been a fantastic journey. I’m really glad that with this new show, The Acolyte, we can show something (new too), an original story with this amazing cast and with Neal Scanlan’s creature workshop putting together yet another palette of awesome creatures. We’re just so lucky to be here right now.
Question: We’ve talked some about (physical) training, lightsaber training, but what kind of other preparation did you put into it (maybe for the story)?
Charlie Barnett: Oh, take a breath, take a breath. We are in an era a little bit after the highest of the High Republic, about 100 years out from the books, so luckily I think it makes it a little bit more free to be like, “We’re coming into it from a place that isn’t established.” (pauses) Man, I want to say so much. We go to some cool places. (laughs) There’s some cool looks, I can say that. This one (pointing to Keen) has some cool horns.
Dafne Keen: I do slay in my alien outfit. It’s really funny, I walked on set one day without it and the director asked me for a coffee. He was like, “Oh yeah, new PA — can you get me a coffee?” I was like yeah, and then came back with a coffee and they went, “Oh my God! Daphne?” I was like, “Yes.” (laughs) I got the coffee. I was like, “Here’s your latte.”
Charlie Barnett: I would say (the show is about) a battle for power. I mean, the best parts about Star Wars are there is no good or evil, depending on what side you’re standing on, truly. You know what I mean? That you can look at any angle and see yourself relayed through all the characters, Darth to Luke, you know what I’m saying? But this show — I shouldn’t use Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. I’m sorry, I’m too casual with that. This show is truly about that balance of power and balance of good verse evil, and realizing that so much of it starts at the root, truly.
Dafne Keen: I also would say it’s a very emotional show in a way. It’s kind of got a very human quality, which is I think what drew in all of us as creatives, apart from the huge Star Wars element of it, which I think we’re all fans of. But it was really human show, and it’s really fun as an actor to get to step into that.
Question: Fans have seen some amazing stuff in the studio presentation. From shows other than The Acolyte, what one trailer or surprise had you both the most excited?
Amandla Stenberg: I’m just so excited to see Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka. I think it’s going to be out of this world because that character is already so special, and she’s so phenomenal. So I’m just very excited for that.
Question: Is there anything you want to say to fans before we wrap up?
Amandla Stenberg: I guess I just want to say it’s such an exciting time for Star Wars. There are so many corners of the universe that are being explored and being shared right now, and it’s a huge privilege to be a part of that. And we also take the privilege of being able to focus on the High Republic era really seriously. It’s such an interesting time in the galaxy, and hopefully (fans) will love everything that we’re trying to showcase in it.
The Acolyte Cast Interviews write-up by Brent Simon