The following post contains spoilers for the first six episodes of The Acolyte.

Most Acolyte episodes have binary titles. The premiere was “Lost / Found.” The next was “Revenge / Justice.” The big two-parter that revealed the identity of the mysterious Stranger manipulating the story’s events from off-screen was “Day” and then “Night.”

Episode 6 was called “Teach / Corrupt,” in reference to the fact that the two lead characters on the series, twins Osha and Mae (both played by Amandla Stenberg) have swapped places and are now being counseled by each other’s teacher.  Former Jedi Osha has been taken to an unknown planet by Manny Jacinto’s Qimir, the smuggler also known as the mysterious Sith Stranger, who makes his case for the Dark Side of the Force. Meanwhile, the murderous Mae has disguised herself as her sister and joins Osha’s former master Sol (Lee Jung-jae) on his ship, where he eventually uncovers her ruse and begins to tell her the truth about the unexplained tragedy that orphaned Mae and Osha 16 years earlier.

The dual episode titles reflect the dualities inherent in a show about twins, which in turn reflect Star Wars’ symbiotic relationship between heroic and villainous Force wielders. But ... who are the heroes and who are the villains? The fact that there is any debate at all about that question is a step forward for The Acolyte and for Star Wars as a whole. For decades, this franchise has claimed the endless conflict between Jedi and Sith was a lot more complex than it appeared in the early Star Wars films. Those claims never added up to much onscreen — until now.

Lucasfilm Ltd.

READ MORE: Every Star Wars: The Acolyte Theory Explained

On “Teach / Corrupt,” for example, it’s fair to ask exactly who is teaching who, and who is corrupting who. Qimir, nominally the bad guy of this scenario, treats Osha sympathetically, even kindly. He gives her food. He allows her to take his ship and leave the planet if she so chooses. When she threatens him with his lightsaber, he remains calm. He explains the inner workings of his arsenal, and even offers to let her try on his cortosis helmet for herself. He empathizes with Osha’s tragic past and hints at one of his own. This is the monster the Jedi are so worried about?

Meanwhile, the supposedly benevolent and paternal Master Sol is the one who displays more volatile emotions, slamming his fists on consoles and weeping over the loss of his fellow Jedi. He deceives Mae and then stuns her when her back is turned after when he realizes her true identity. Then he imprisons her on his ship before he agrees to tell her the true story of what happened on her home planet. None of these feel like the actions of a “noble” warrior.

In the context of the larger story arc of The Acolyte, we know that these characters are much more complicated that “Teach / Corrupt” suggests. In the last two weeks, Qimir slaughtered at least half a dozen Jedi; he claims now that this was essentially an act of self-defense, but it didn’t necessarily look or feel that way in the moment. Qimir has done plenty of manipulating and intimidating himself — as he surely is of Osha this week, a la the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing

Lucasfilm Ltd.

This episode’s conclusion leaves the story with a lot of tantalizing potential directions. Will Osha become Qimir’s apprentice? Will Mae see the error of her ways and return to the Jedi? Will Sol turn to the Dark Side after he’s accused of the murders of his fellow Jedi? The Acolyte might not choose any of these paths; the characters could return to their more traditional “good” and “bad” binaries. Still, that much legitimate gray area in and of itself not only made this the most interesting episode of The Acolyte to date, it finally added some  moral ambiguities to the endless battle between Jedi and Sith.

Compare The Acolyte to the way these two sides are depicted in the Star Wars prequels, for example. Their Sith Lord, Emperor Palpatine (Darth Sidious, if you’re nasty) performs unambiguously evil acts while cackling like a lunatic, dressing like a Satanic druid, and shooting lightning from his fingers. The guy is straight up bad.

The Jedi aren’t the brights sabers in the drawer — it takes them years to figure out what Palpatine is up to and they become pawns in the war he gins up as a means to grab galactic power — but they generally fight for peace and democracy. They are betrayed, tricked, and slaughtered, placing them in the role of underdog heroes.

And then there’s Anakin Skywalker, fated by George Lucas’ decades-old plans to transform from brave Jedi Knight to ferocious Sith Lord. Only instead of showing an Anakin seduced by the Dark Side and seducing others in turn, as portrayed by Hayden Christensen, he’s mostly an unappealing, entitled whiner. Imagine a version of the prequels about an Anakin Skywalker who is brave, smart, powerful ... but gradually succumbs to emotional temptations. Who lures manipulates the Jedi, and perhaps even Padme, to suit his ends.

It just sounds a lot more interesting — and it also sounds a lot like what Qimir is doing on The Acolyte right now. This guy is pretty bad! But he’s also appealing at times; even seductive. You can see why Osha might find him attractive. And that’s a lot more interesting than a villain who murders Samuel L. Jackson while screaming “Unlimited power!!!”

Lucasfilm Ltd.

The prequels repeatedly reference a prophecy that some Jedi believe in about a “Chosen One” who will bring “Balance to the Force.” Qui-Gon Jinn thought Anakin was that Chosen One; he demanded he be trained as a Jedi over the Jedi Council’s wishes because of it. Then Anakin fell to the Dark Side, murdered oodles of Jedi, got Frankensteined into a black robot suit, and yelled “Noooooo!” really loud. In Return of the Jedi, after Vader rejects and kills Palpatine, Luke explains that in performing this final act Anakin was “not only redeeming himself but also finally restoring balance to the Force as the prophecy had foretold.”

But here is what I have never understood: If Vader really killed Palpatine and ended the Sith threat (and, yes, in The Rise of Skywalker we learn that somehow Palpatine returned, but let’s ignore that for the moment) how did that bring “balance” to the Force? Wouldn’t balance in the Force mean a mix of light and dark in equal proportions? If Vader restored the Light Side of the Force, didn’t he essentially unbalance the Force?

This might be semantics. Maybe George Lucas didn’t think this prophecy all the way through and simply like the way the phrase “balance of the Force” sounded. (It does sound quite classy.) But the reality is the Jedi and Sith have never seemed like they exist in anything resembling a balance. Not in the Star Wars galaxy, not in the Star Wars movies or shows, not in eyes of the viewer.

This week’s The Acolyte might have changed that. It suggests a galaxy where Jedi and Sith are not good or bad, but two sides of one coin. And in “Teach / Corrupt” that coin is balanced precariously on its edge. We sit and wait, watching to see which side it lands on.

ScreenCrush logo
Get our free mobile app

10 TV Shows That Totally Changed Their Premise Between Seasons

These shows tested the limits of television itself.

Gallery Credit: Emma Stefansky

More From ScreenCrush