Leslye Headland, the writer of the upcoming Disney Plus Star Wars TV show The Acolyte, has explained how contentious prequel The Phantom Menace has influenced the series.
Headland says she was 18 when Episode I hit theaters in 1999, and it left a huge cultural impact on her – and it prompted her to ask questions about why the Jedi behaved the way they did in that movie. The Acolyte is the first live-action Star Wars project set in the last days of what's known as the High Republic era, which takes place 200 years before The Phantom Menace.
"What I can say is the reason it did appeal to me personally is that I was 18 when Phantom Menace came out and I was a very, very big Star Wars fan," Headland told The Wrap in discussing what drew her to the time period.
She noted the mixed reception to the movie, but said she was intrigued by the seeds George Lucas began with that entry. "I kind of wondered, but what happened to lead up to this? That’s kind of where my Star Wars fan brain went was like, ‘How did we get here?’ And why are the Jedi like this? When they are in power, why are they acting this way and how is it that they’re not having the reaction that you would think they would to Anakin’s presence and what Qui-Gon Jinn is saying about how passionately he feels about training him and bringing him into the fold.
"It’s like, even the discovery of Darth Maul is kind of met with this like, ‘Hm, interesting’ kind of feeling. So I just think for me, my brain has always buzzed around that area and wondered what’s going on here – or what has been going on here."
Headland didn't give much more away about how this has inspired her show, but she did discuss how she built a diverse writers' room for the series. That doesn't just apply to the backgrounds of The Acolyte's writers, but also their degrees of knowledge of Star Wars – Headland notes that she looked for people who had an interesting answer as to why they liked Star Wars, rather than those who know as much about the lore as she does.
She name-checked The Clone Wars and the games Jedi Fallen Order and Knights of the Old Republic in discussing her own granular level of fandom for the series.
Headland previously co-created Netflix's excellent time-loop comedy-drama Russian Doll. According to a recent report (opens in new tab), The Acolyte is aiming to begin filming in London in February 2022, so we'd expect to see it some time in 2023.
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Asking the big questions
Headland's appreciation for The Phantom Menace makes total sense. The consensus that Episode I was bad felt like something that built up over time – the movie wasn't universally slated in reviews, it just got a mixed reception. Indeed, if you were there when the movie released, it was an enormous pop culture event. Over time, as the ensuing movies fail to reach the heights of the original trilogy, that solidified into a consensus that the prequel movies were disappointing.
For Headland, too, Episode I offers a lot of clues about what the Jedi were doing in the lead-up to the Skywalker Saga – essentially, they functioned as keepers of the peace, with a clear set of rules. Ultimately, as they're tangled up in the affairs of the Republic and deployed as soldiers in the Clone Wars, they miss the threat of the Sith that's right under their noses. This leads to their near-extinction.
How the Jedi got to that point, then, could be an interesting area to explore in a TV show. But really, Headland has given little away about what she's got planned so far – whatever it is, we can't wait to see it.