Leslye Headland, the showrunner behind the upcoming Disney Plus series Star Wars: The Acolyte, has cited 1999’s The Phantom Menace as a creative influence for her series, which is set several decades before the movie. Looking at the subplot with Darth Sidious, Darth Maul, and their interactions with the Trade Federation, it may not be difficult to see why.
In an interview with The Wrap, Headland explained that The Acolyte, which is effectively a prequel to the Star Wars prequel trilogy, will be influenced by a film that is not only aesthetically important to the story that she’s telling, but is a film that arrived at a significant moment in her own life:
“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. I remain a big Star Wars fan, but at that particular time, right after the re-releases and the fact that I was in high school, it just kind of all coincided at a time where I was discovering who I was sexually, I was discovering who I was artistically, I was kind of realizing what I wanted to do with my life, and then this big, huge movie event, cultural event happened that was The Phantom Menace. And I know there were varying reactions to it. And certainly there were a lot of people that had grown up with the original trilogy who were disappointed by it. But I actually was very intrigued by why George Lucas had started us at that particular point. 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.”
From a narrative perspective, taking influence from The Phantom Menace only makes sense – the Jedi Order has become complacent and is beginning to show signs of losing sight of what they are truly supposed to be, in favor of acting as dogmatic law enforcement blissfully unaware of the growing evil just out of sight. Because of this, threats from the dark side of the Force were able to flourish with their enemies none-the-wiser. The Acolyte is described as a mystery-thriller set in the final days of the High Republic era, implicitly leading into the Fall of the Republic marked by the fragmenting of the chief governing body of the galaxy far, far away, and Darth Sidious’s ascendancy to power.
Headland has previously stated that LGBTQ representation is important to her and that she wants to include it in her series, which she touches upon in the full interview. Star Wars has included LGBTQ characters in literature from recent years, but the only significant, explicitly-confirmed onscreen representation was a brief kiss between two minor characters at the end of The Rise of Skywalker.
The Acolyte is in active development at Lucasfilm for the Disney Plus streaming service for an unspecified release date, with current word being that the series will start filming in the United Kingdom starting in February 2022. Lucasfilm’s slate of other Star Wars shows includes the likes of Visions, The Book of Boba Fett, Andor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ahsoka, Lando, A Droid Story, and The Mandalorian, which is preparing a third season, along with The Bad Batch, which is currently airing. One previously-announced project, Rangers of the New Republic, is currently not in active development.