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Matthew d’Ancona’s Culture: The Acolyte is no routine space opera

Our editor-at-large’s rundown of the pick of the week’s television and books

Amandla Stenberg in The Acolyte. Photo: Disney+



As Chris Taylor writes in his definitive How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, “true fans hate everything about Star Wars”. Especially since George Lucas sold his cash-machine franchise to Disney for $4bn in 2012, the real aficionados have worn widows’ weeds, declaring every new movie or streaming spin-off a further scar upon their souls and yet another surrender to the Dark Side of the Force.

There have now been 11 movies in all, and a steady run of miniseries, of which The Acolyte is the sixth and the first to be completely unconnected to the saga of the Skywalker family. This time, the action is set a century before Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, in the era of the High Republic (I hope you’re paying attention, as there’ll be a test at the end).

From the opening scene, in which an assassin kills the Jedi Master Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss), we sense that we are in for something closer to a wuxia martial arts movie than a routine space opera; more Matrix than Empire Strikes Back. Kunai throwing knives are pitted against lightsabres as the wrath of ninja vengeance clashes with the warrior monasticism of the Jedi Order.

The killer is Mae, assumed to be dead by her twin sister Osha (Amandla Stenberg). The latter’s former master Sol (Lee Jung-jae, excellent) is dispatched to track down Mae, unravel the mystery of her murderous plan, and discover the identity of her masked overlord who speaks in riddles (“An acolyte kills without a weapon. An acolyte kills the dream”).

Along for the ride are Osha’s handheld repair droid Pip, her priggish former classmate Yord (Charlie Barnett), and the dodgy “apothecary” Qimir (Manny Jacinto). And who can resist the idea of a cantankerous Jedi Wookiee?


by Mishal Husain
4th Estate

As one of the nation’s scrutineers-in-chief on the BBC’s Today programme, Mishal Husain is familiar to millions for her rigour and intellect. It should be no surprise, then, that this brilliant family memoir blends a profound sense of empathy with meticulous historical research and insight.

Broken Threads traces the entanglement of the personal and the historical in the lives of the author’s grandparents as the British empire recedes and, in 1947, India gains its independence and the nation-state of Pakistan is born. The geopolitical complexities, tensions and displacements of this period are entwined with the nuance of individual experience.

Her father’s father, Mumtaz, was a doctor from a Muslim family who, in Lahore, fell in love with Mary, a trainee nurse and the Catholic daughter of an Irish physician and Hindu mother, born in south-east India. Married in 1942 at both a mosque and a church, they incarnated both the possibilities of interfaith life and the tensions arising from it – Mumtaz having to reject a cousin already selected to be his bride.

Husain’s mother’s father, Syed Shahid Hamid – who became a two-star general in Pakistan’s army – had been the private secretary of the Indian army chief Sir Claude Auchinleck and lived with his wife, Tahirah, next door to his boss in Delhi. Coincidentally, he was also Salman Rushdie’s uncle.

Shahid was not impressed by the last Viceroy of India, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, and neither is his granddaughter: George VI’s second cousin rushed independence, partition and the largest population movement in history, with terrible and bloody consequences.

The juxtaposition of the thunderous forces of history with the remarkable story of two couples makes for compelling reading: one hopes that Husain, a natural writer and memoirist, continues the story in subsequent volumes.


Video on demand

Released in 1981, and now available to stream once more, Michael Mann’s debut feature has a stronger claim than ever to be one of the great crime movies of the past half-century.

Frank (James Caan) is a Chicago thief who, in the grand tradition of film noir, wants out of the game that has already cost him too many years in the joint. He just needs one last big score to grease the wheels so his mentor Okla (Willie Nelson), ailing and incarcerated, can get out of prison, and he can retire to a life of comfortable domesticity with Jessie (Tuesday Weld). Essential viewing.


by Chris Stein

No band more successfully made the leap from New Wave success to 1980s pop stardom than Blondie, and Chris Stein’s creative and personal partnership with Debbie Harry was at the heart of that phenomenon. What is most striking in this very readable memoir (for which Harry supplies a fond foreword) is how much Stein had already done and experienced before they formed their own group in 1974 (initially called Angel and the Snake).

The cast of characters that stalks these pages – William Burroughs, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Andy Warhol, Orson Welles, Jean-Michel Basquiat – is a who’s who of a bohemian era, nicely offset by Stein’s general reluctance to be impressed very much by anything. Of Blondie’s launch into the stratosphere and a career in which they sold 40 million records, he simply writes: “In February [1978], Denis was released, and that, as they say, was that.”

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