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Interview: Amandla Stenberg and Manny Jacinto Talk ‘The Acolyte,’ Joining the ‘Star Wars’ Family, and Being a Part of the Iconic Sci-Fi Franchise’s Legacy

June 4, 2024Ben MK

Whether you're a longtime Star Wars fan or a relative newcomer, it's hard to deny how far-reaching and omnipresent the iconic sci-fi franchise has become. From the beloved original trilogy and George Lucas' prequels to J.J. Abrams' sequel trilogy and the various standalone films, Star Wars devotees have been spoiled for content, especially in recent years with the release of such live-action Disney Plus spin-off shows as The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka. Now, with the highly anticipated series The Acolyte about to make its debut, the Star Wars universe is making its return to the small screen with a brand new tale that takes place a century before the prequels. But aside from its place in the Star Wars timeline, just how does creator Leslye Headland's first foray into a galaxy far, far away set itself apart from its predecessors?

I caught up with stars Amandla Stenberg and Manny Jacinto to chat about The Acolyte, what it's like to be a part of both the Star Wars legacy and the Star Wars family, and whether they're team Jedi or team Sith.

This is your first role in the Star Wars universe, for both of you. And it's not often that you get the chance to step into a franchise with such a long history and such an established fan base. What was that like for the both of you, and what was the biggest game-changer compared to your previous roles?

Stenberg: I think you put it really well. Cuz it's not only the impact that it has on so many people, but it's the legacy of it as well. That element contributed a lot to the way that we approached it — Leslye, our show runner, and us as well, thought about the original references that George Lucas pulled from. We thought about the influences of film that shaped what Star Wars was originally and how it's continued to formulate both genre-wise and character-wise and story-wise over time. And when it came to approaching it, I tried to think of, given this expansive universe, what would be an interesting kind of person to see in here now. It was really daunting for everyone involved. But also, there's so much love and passion towards the universe that we just tried to lead from that place.

Jacinto: Yeah, it comes with a huge fan base, it comes with, what Amandla said, a huge legacy. But what Leslye distinctly wanted to do was bring something fresh, contribute something that was a new story, something that was definitely a different tone from what people have seen before. But you have to keep in mind the previous lore and keep the fans happy, and still keep it Star Wars, but, again, try and bring something fresh.

Did either of you get any advice from actors who already have that experience in the Star Wars universe, as part of the preparation for your roles?

Stenberg: I have reached out to some. I'm not gonna name who. You know who has been amazing, actually, is Rosario Dawson. Rosario and I have messaged about it a couple times, and Ahmed Best as well. I think he's one of the most supportive members of the Star Wars family.

Jacinto: I've talked to Natasha [Liu Bordizzo], who plays Sabine Wren. And her best advice was just to stay present and to take it all in. But the beautiful part about it is that when you run into other people within the Star Wars universe outside of set, they become family. And they do truly become so supportive in what you do.

Amandla, you have a great fight scene opposite Carrie Anne-Moss at the beginning of the first episode. Was that the most memorable scene for you, or was there another scene that really stood out?

Stenberg: Oh man. That was the first fight sequence that I ever did, so doing it with Carrie-Anne was one of the coolest things I could have possibly imagined. And I got a lot better at it throughout the show, as I got more and more training as the months went by. There's actually a fight scene between me and another character who shall not be named, who is a girl. And it just gets really down and dirty. That's probably my favorite fight sequence. Or really any scene that I had with Lee Jung-jae, because that's the emotional heart of the story.

Of course, diversity and inclusivity is a big topic, especially in the media. What does it mean to each of you to be helping to bring this new era of representation to the Star Wars franchise?

Stenberg: It really feels like the point for me, in any of the work that I get to do, that people have the opportunity to connect with something that makes them feel less alone in the world. And so for Star Wars to continue its expansion across the universe and the galaxy to represent our world, I think, is a beautiful thing.

Jacinto: We have such a huge opportunity here to inspire little kids of color, for them to take on the role of a Jedi or a Sith, and in all honesty to just continue the legacy of Star Wars and to bring about more interesting stories from their perspective. Leslye pulled this story from her own personal experience, and without that, we wouldn't have The Acolyte. So just looking forward to inspiring the younger kids that look like us.

Last but not least, if you had to choose a side in real life — Jedi or Sith — what would it be?

Stenberg: I really identify with the grey Jedi code, which I know is a very diplomatic response. But I like how that particular code both the balance of light and dark and emotional attachment with boundaries.

Jacinto: My answer is less sophisticated. I just would go with red cuz it's a cool color.

The Acolyte streams exclusively on Disney Plus, beginning June 4th.

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