‘The Acolyte’ Creator on How New Series is ‘Star Wars From the Bad Guys’ Perspective’

Leslye Headland was “very interested in telling a story about the Sith” when it came to The Acolyte — the new Star Wars series on Disney+.

However, in a saga known for heroes like Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo, how would the creator and executive producer of the series focus on the bad guys that make up the galaxy far, far away?

One solution: set The Acolyte a long, long time ago.

“The logical conclusion would be to set this show in a time period where the Sith are the underdogs,” Headland said.

And that’s what she did.

A Story from the High Republic Era

The Acolyte — which begins streaming Tuesday on Disney+ — takes audiences into the dark underside of the High Republic Era — a time long before the Skywalker Saga that was filled with peace and hope. During that period of prosperity, Headland crafts a Star Wars story that follows an investigation into a shocking crime spree against Jedi.

The mystery at the heart of the series pits a respected Jedi Master, played by Lee Jung-jae, against a dangerous warrior from his past, played by Amandla Stenberg.

Mae (Amandla Stenberg) and Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) in Lucasfilm’s The Acolyte.

Since this era hasn’t been seen in live action before, that gave Headland leeway for creative freedom.

“We actually can explore something new here and we don’t have to worry about stepping on anything else and preserving something else,” Headland said. That allowed her to tell “a version of Star Wars from the bad guys’ perspective.”

However, one challenge did present itself to Headland as the show came together.

“There’s a lot tonally to try to accomplish,” Headland explained. “I was hoping to have a combination of a darker tone, but still there would be a decent amount of fun and games, and then also an intriguing mystery.”

Fights as emotional scenes

Headland worked closely with action designer and second unit director Chris Cowan to make sure that each fight was — first and foremost — “an emotional scene.”

She added that the fights would be broken down into sequences, so that by the third part of a confrontation “something is revealed, and you have a shift in who’s in control, who’s in power.”

That lends narrative propulsion to each action sequence, rather than stopping the development of the characters and plot. The fight scenes are also often depicted in wide shots where the actors’ entire bodies can be seen executing the fight choreography, lending real-world weight and plausibility to those moments.

Walking the tightrope with support from Lucasfilm

Creating an eight-part installment in one of the most well-known franchises in this or any galaxy was a significant change for Headland, who had mainly worked in independent films prior to collaborating with the teams at Lucasfilm and Disney.

Headland described being “overwhelmed by the support that I got from Lucasfilm,” adding that due to her time making smaller projects, she was “always fighting uphill to get something made. I had never been in the position where there were a dozen people cheering you on.”

She added that she had “a lot of people at Lucasfilm supporting me, my designers, my writers, my cast.”

Amandla Stenberg, director Leslye Headland and director of photography Chris Teague.

“I felt like I had a vision and I had something that had a lot of merit and could work really well in this world,” Headland noted. “But I think without that level of support, it would have been difficult to walk that that tightrope.”

At the end of the first episode of The Acolyte, the first name in the credits is Headland’s. The second is that of Disney Legend and Star Wars creator George Lucas.

“Don’t think I didn’t notice that,” Headland, who is a long-time Star Wars fan, said. “When I first saw that, my heartbeat quickened. That was one of the moments where it really felt real.”