The Acolyte’s Mae has to kill a Jedi without using a weapon — but how?

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The Acolyte, Disney Plus’ latest contribution to the Star Wars universe, is a murder mystery. At least, that’s what we’ve been given to understand by its marketing. But now that we’re two episodes into the season, an entirely different puzzle has become the brightest spot in the show to me.

It’s an irresistibly Star Wars-y question, but more importantly, it’s a perfect frame for exactly the kind of action cred that was briefly, thrillingly, core to the Star Wars franchise.

[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for the first two episodes of The Acolyte.]

(L-R): Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Mae (Amandla Stenberg) square off in The Acolyte. Indara is holding Mae’s outstretched dagger using the Force.

Image: Lucasfilm

How do you kill a Jedi without using a weapon?

This is the challenge posed to Mae, our erstwhile apprentice, by her master, who looks like a Sith and quacks like a Sith, but as yet has not had much time to espouse his alliances or philosophy. As the final lesson in her training, Mae has to kill at least one Jedi without using a weapon, in order to kill “the dream.” What dream? The dream that all Jedi live in, apparently, “a dream they believe everyone shares.”

According to Mae’s master, “An acolyte kills without a weapon; an acolyte kills the dream.”

What does that mean?

It means everybody’s kung fu fighting, baby.

The Acolyte’s unarmed, hand-to-hand combat stuck out from the moment its trailers dropped. There’s very little anywhere in live-action Star Wars like it — the gravitational coolness of lightsabers is too much to escape. Jedi and Sith fight with swords; everybody knows this. Smugglers and soldiers use blasters. Wookiees have crossbows that shoot lasers. Even Donnie Yen’s enigmatic Force adherent-but-definitely-not-Jedi Chirrut fights with a stick. Blame the market for action figures with accessories, I suppose.

For all that Star Wars is rooted in samurai film, it has precious few callbacks to the immortal trope of a fighter who refuses to draw his blade. But in The Acolyte, that’s how every Mae-versus-Jedi fight begins, because a Jedi won’t draw on an unarmed foe. In these first two episodes, Mae’s clashes with Carrie-Anne Moss’ Master Indara and Lee Jung-jae’s Master Sol are hyper-quick, riveting battles for dominance, where we get to see Mae’s desperation contrasted with an unbreakable Jedi cool. We get those wild superhero moments when Mae reaches to steal a lightsaber mid-combat and is met with an impossibly quick twist of a supernaturally endowed body. It’s the blow-for-blow, arm’s length, move-and-counter suspense of a great hand-to-hand martial arts sequence.

Mae’s quest to kill a Jedi without a weapon returns Star Wars to the realm of Fight Scene Cinema that the franchise developed during production on the prequel films, but that has rarely, if ever, been equaled in live action since. But it also gives The Acolyte its best mystery. Not a whodunit, but a How Do You Do It?

Sol and his allies are solving a murder mystery, sure — we’ve seen that a million times — but Mae is out here beating her head against a koan handed to her by a Murder Buddhist, and I’m just waiting for the moment when she realizes that maybe the answer isn’t literal.

 

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