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THE ACOLYTE’s Leslye Headland on Episode 7, Witches, Vergences, Qui-Gon, and Anakin

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THE ACOLYTE’s Leslye Headland on Episode 7, Witches, Vergences, Qui-Gon, and Anakin

From a powerful Force vergence and a coven of witches experimenting with immense power, to a possessed wookiee and deadly Jedi mistakes, The Acolyte‘s seventh episode had a lot to dig into. And that’s exactly what we did with showrunner Leslye Headland. Nerdist went deep on everything that happened during “Choice” and what it all meant. That included how Mae and Osha’s very existence is both similar and different from Anakin’s, how Sol’s story reflects Qui-Gon’s, and we also got some big clues about what might await in the season finale.

Indara and Torbin sit by a fire on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm
Spoiler Alert

Nerdist: At what point in the creative process for The Acolyte did a “ vergence” become such an important part of the story?

Leslye Headland: When we crafted the storyline of this sort of David O. Russell’s Three Kings version of the Jedi being stuck on this planet. Once we cracked that as a plot point, where a lot of other things were going to come from, it felt like the North Star for them had to be something incredibly important. It couldn’t just be that they were on a planet and on a routine mission. It had to be something that was arduous, a little boring, but ultimately had an endpoint that would establish stakes for any Jedi that came in contact with a vergence.

Once we broke episode three and seven we decided that Brendok had to be a location of a vergence for a couple different reasons. One for the motivation of the Jedi, in terms of their mission and why they’re on Brendok in the first place. We also felt it was very important the witches had found that planet, because their power alone would not match an outside threat. They would need to have the augmentation or the amplification of a vergence. We did not want the witches to just automatically be as powerful as Jedi.

A Jedi Master in his hood looks around a tree on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

The witches needed to feel like a nomadic community that had finally found a place that would not only give them shelter and protection, but would also grant them more and more power and control over their ability.

My backstory to the witches of Brendok and where they are is that Torbin mentions it’s an old mining company. So I sort of imagine that it’s a little bit like John Carpenter’s The Thing, right? There are all these miners there, they were drilling, they found something, and then everybody was gone. And the next thing you know, 50, 60, a hundred years later, this coven moves in. A couple years after that, the Jedi start to move there. It’s almost like a magnet that’s pulling these characters toward it.

A lot of different narrative reasons to put it there, as opposed to after the fact of, “Oh, also let’s explore this cool aspect of the Star Wars vocabulary.”

A vergence can hide Force-sensitive people. Is that the reason that the coven chose that planet? I ask because I want to know what came first: they found the planet, they moved there, and then decided to create the girls, or they moved to Brendok specifically to create the girls?

Headland: It’s a really good question. It’s also a backwards question because we haven’t confirmed that the witches created them. [laughs]

Mae and Osha in the woods during the day on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

Fair enough.

Headland: But yes. Yes, yes, yes. Obviously, yes, it’s intimated very strongly that’s what happened. I believe that the former is true for the coven, and the latter is true for Aniseya. I think Aniseya, not unlike Vernestra, they are these very compelling leaders that have very intense senses of foresight. And Aniseya was always thought of as this religious figure that gained followers more and more as she moved out into the world.

So for her, I think she always sort of knew that she needed to settle somewhere in order to bring to fruition. Not a grand scheme, but what the next step of her journey would have been. The height of her powers. And I think she also knew that at some point in utilizing the extent of her powers, that her destruction would come pretty soon after that.

Mother Aniseya stands in her robes in a doorway on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

Vernestra’s having a similar experience, of something will tip the scale. She’s understanding they have this destiny. They believe that they have the destination spiritually. Vernestra is putting the pieces together for herself that this is it, this is what’s coming. Not unlike Aniseya, what’s coming is going to be the fulfillment of that particular destiny.

Vergences have played an important part in Star Wars since the original trilogy, even if not everyone is familiar with the term. But there are different types. What can you tell us specifically about the nature of the vergence on Brendok?

Headland: This was very important to me, Dave Filoni, and to Pablo Hidalgo, that the girls are not a vergence. The girls themselves are not a vergence in the Force. They needed…again, however they got here…the act of creating them was going to need amplification. Therefore, we came around to the decision that the vergence was on Brendok, and that it would remain mysterious. So that way, if we went back there in future tellings of the story, we could uncover a little bit more about what is actually there.

It was important that this type of vergence was a natural one as opposed to within a human being or an alien.

Twin girls in gold ponchos at night on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

Okay, this is not even my question. It is Sol’s: “The twins, where did they come from? How were they created?”

Headland: [she laughs] Well…uh…tune in next week. Also subscribe to Disney+.

Tune in next week. Tune in next week. We definitely aren’t going to leave you hanging. You do a show like this, you take a lot of risks, you don’t really save a lot of those types of questions for season two. There are a lot of things you do save for a season two, but that kind of question is not one of them.

Do you know if you’re definitely getting a season two?

Headland: No! [big laugh]

I had to ask.

Headland: I have no idea. Well, not that I have no idea. I would say there are conversations. And I don’t know when that will happen. I don’t know when that decision will be made.

Indara and Sol speak on a spaceship on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

Aniseya’s ability to be in Torbin’s mind while physically existing in the real world was very reminiscent of Mother Talzin’s powers. As was Aniseya’s ability to change her corporal form into shadows. You’ve talked about your love and appreciation of the Nightsisters before. Were those powers directly inspired by Talzin?

Headland: Absolutely. Talzin is a figure that looms really large in Star Wars for me. On The Clone Wars, obviously, I responded to them immediately because it was more Star Wars content. It was George (Lucas) Star Wars content. But I was blown away by the Nightsisters arc. Asajj’s storyline? I was just like, “Hold on. This can happen? This is in Star Wars?” I loved the character design. I loved the differentiation between their powers and the Jedi’s powers. It was all just really great.

So in making this show I knew one of the first things I wanted to take a look at was creating my own version of witches, because I think that the Nightsisters are a bit more mercenary. (The Acolyte‘s) witches, I think, basically want to stay out of everyone’s way and aren’t grasping for any sort of power. They’re not getting involved in any kind of political or any political skirmish or any war movement. That would be the last thing they would want to do. So very different, but still echoing and calling back to the influences that those characters had on me.

Mother Talzin wielding the Blade of Talzin in The Clone Wars, green flame surrounding it
Lucasfilm

In terms of their specific powers, how are The Acolyte‘s witches different from the Nightsisters?

Headland: The Nightsisters utilize magic exclusively. With my witches, it’s a bit of a hybrid. They’re definitely dabbling in the Force and calling the Force by a different name. They’re trying to cultivate their sensitivity to it without having to be trained by the Jedi. Is that even possible?

But I also think that in the Ascension ceremony you see how they’re utilizing not just wherever the vergence may be physically on the planet, but the eclipse. These powerful movements of heavenly bodies and whatever’s under the earth, that type of thing, what is meant to be expressed there is that they are drawing their power from nature, magic, and the Force. So we never sort of go, “They’re using magic the way that the Nightsisters are. They’re using the Force even though they’re not Jedi.”

Two celestial bodies converge in the sky on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

To me it felt more interesting to show a group of people, a group of witches, having abilities that the Jedi could not pinpoint. That they Jedi weren’t going, “Oh, well, that’s magic. Oh, well, that’s the Force.” That’s one of the reasons they get so thrown off by what they’re seeing. It’s so unpredictable, and it’s difficult for them to categorize and then report back to the Council.

The Jedi are trying to get as much information as they can, but each time they interact with the witches they’re getting different impressions of what the coven is doing.

Indara looks worried on a ship on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

Going into this episode, the show definitely suggested that the Jedi might’ve done something truly terrible on Brendok. But I think this episode showed that all of their actions were either genuinely noble, totally defensible, or at least understandable mistakes. What was the thematic purpose of raising the possibility of hidden Jedi crimes if you were then going to reveal that they were flawed rather than evil?

Headland: I’m so glad it read that way for you.

It’s a show about the bad guys in every sense of that word. And because my previous work before coming into the Star Wars world was almost always concerned with some sort of morality, immorality, or amorality, it was always about characters running through a spectrum of those things as opposed to having a good character and a bad character. A good girl and a bad girl. A nice guy and a womanizer. That these characters could be all of these things at once was so it was important to me. I’m glad that you got that impression from watching the episode, that the Jedi are not performing evil acts.

Four Jedi stand on a platform with the Wookiee in the foreground on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

They’re not being willfully oppressive. They’re not manipulating or tricking anyone. So if the show, with all the other characters, is exploring the spectrum of morality, the Stranger being a great example, Mae being a great example, it felt to me that the Jedi also had to have that particular treatment. The Jedi could not be part of that thematic element of the show.

Why does Sol feel a connection to Osha so immediately? And specifically, why does he feel like she’s meant to be as Padawan?

Headland: I wanted to keep some mystery around that. I wanted to definitely call back to Qui-Gon and Anakin. Qui-Gon almost immediately zeroes in on the potential that Anakin has, the specialness of Anakin, the exceptionalism of Anakin. I think Sol feels the same way about Osha. There’s just something that he feels within his connection with the Force, her strength in the Force, and how he recognizes that.

Sol speaks to Indara with Torbin in the background behind a glass monitor on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

And I always wondered, having seen The Phantom Menace, and seeing Qui-Gon behave the way he did, I did wonder,”Is this how it happened? Or do you just get matched up with somebody?” And a much more compelling, interesting storyline is as a Jedi Knight moving into Master, you identify your apprentice in a deep spiritual connection, whether it’s out in the world or at the temple, as opposed to being paired up with someone.

I’m glad you brought up Qui-Gon, because I want to ask about Anakin. I think the connections between the twins and Anakin were obvious even before this episode, but I want to focus on their differences. Specifically, this idea that their one consciousness split into two bodies. Why would that make them stronger, a.k.a, “the power of two,” and not weaker if they’re two halves of one whole?

Headland: I think it’s both. The girls are guinea pigs. They’re patient zero for this sort of power. It didn’t work perfectly. Therefore the girls on their own can never be as powerful as Anakin. Their full potential together has yet to be explored. They’ve been separated too long.

Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace
Lucasfilm

It’s like when you’re doing an experiment and it’s the first round of it. They are maybe not the first, but one of the first experiments of this particular use of power.

So the twins are weaker than Anakin, for sure. They are going to fall short of what will eventually become the Chosen One. They will never achieve what that is, because in my mind, Aniseya could only do so much. She’s not powerful enough to create one person. The twins split, Aniseya’s power split, and therefore a lot of her philosophy is about the power of two. About the fact that they must stay together. They must stay together. The twins are stronger together if she keeps them together. And obviously there’s an analogy to this of the isolationist feeling, not just of the coven, but also of family. “If I can keep you safe, if I can keep you safe then you won’t get hurt. You won’t get hurt.

This is why the Jedi blowing up this dynamic, both in episode three and seven, is so important to see. Because Aniseya starts to essentially go into this crisis as a parent. “Of course, I know they need to stay together, but they also need to be their own person. So perhaps I need to let go of my own design and trust that this is what’s meant to be. Because what’s the other option? That I force my children to be people they’re not.”

Why are the twins the coven’s future and why would letting Osha go with the Jedi sacrifice their future? Why does a powerful coven of witches need new leaders anyway?

Headland: Not unlike what I was just saying, that Aniseya and the coven do believe, to the extent that the witches understand them, that “the power of two” will breed “the power of many.” Meaning that these young girls will start a legacy that could actually grow and grow and grow. That is unlike the Sith, who are going to operate with only two always, one to have the power and one to crave it. That dynamic and that balance is how the Sith stay around.

Part of what the coven wants, even if it’s not what Aniseya wants, is this legacy. This feeling of the two girls ascending into becoming the leaders of the coven. Of being little Dalai Lamas they can worship. That they would proliferate being able to create more children or being able to create more. The witches are powerful, very powerful, but they’re only powerful together. As you can see with what happened with Kelnacca. They would not be able to, one-by-one, do what they did with them.

A Jedi draws his yellow lightsaber to fight a witch with a staff as anaother Jedi and witch stand between them on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

Why did they all die when Indara freed Kelnacca?

Headland: This was a big question when we were working on the episode. To me, it was very important because it told two stories. One, that Indara, despite her being completely and utterly the consummate Jedi in this episode, I did feel it was important that she also misjudged something. If we were going to explore those themes, she couldn’t just be this infallible Jedi, she also had to have something else going on with her. And I think what she did is, in the moment, in trying to sever the connection between Kelnacca and the witches, she dealt with a power that she did not understand and was unfamiliar with.

Did she kill them?

Headland: Yeah. She didn’t know what was going to happen to them.

So it wasn’t intentional?

Headland: No, she did not know. All she was thinking was, “I have to save him.” Again, it starts to become a selfish want. “I must save this colleague of mine. I have to do this. If I don’t do this, then something terrible could happen to him. We’ve seen what they’re capable of. I’ve seen them do this to my Padawan. They’re now doing it to an incredibly powerful Jedi master. What do I do? Okay, I’m going to make this decision.”

Jedi Wookiee Kelnacca with his eyes open on the ground on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

But she doesn’t know what the consequences of that decision will be. The same way that Sol doesn’t know what his actions will mean for Osha’s future. Torbin doesn’t really put together, because he’s so young that, the consequences of his actions are going to lead to all of this falling apart. Indara had to also make that mistake in order to continue exploring that idea.

Koril says she would die before she let the Jedi take her children. Then the Jedi take Osha. So is it okay to assume she’s dead? Because the episode definitely suggests she survived.

Headland: [laughs] Yeah. No body, no death. That’s what I’ll say about that one.

Mother Koril and Mother Aniseya look at one another on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

Considering this angry, powerful Force-sensitive witch might be out there, and we also have this unexplained, powerful Dark side user out there as well, is it possible that Koril and Qimir know each other?

Headland: Oh, I can answer that. They do not know each other. But what I will say, as a tease, if we are able to explore this story more, her species will tell you a little bit about where she ends up.

We know Aniseya is right when she says, “Someday those noble intentions you all have will destroy every Jedi in the galaxy.” But how exactly does she know that? Is it just a prediction from a very smart person? Or is that comment related to the twins’ destiny?

Headland: I think she’s seeing the way (the Jedi) are reacting to her children. And she may not know this exactly, but she knows they will make the same mistake with Anakin.

Young Anakin Skywalker talks to his mother Shmi in The Phantom Menace
Lucasfilm

When Mae asks for help Aniseya not only starts dematerializing her own body, she makes Mae turn into a a shadow as well. What can you tell us about what exactly is happening there and why?

Headland: Aniseya’s main concern is that violence will be used in this confrontation. Jodie (Turner-Smith) and I talked about that meaning two things. One, that Aniseya must have come from someplace that utilized violence. It’s something she would have seen when she was a child, something that she would’ve endured in her coming of age. So the main concern is obviously the safety of her children, the physical safety of them. The secondary concern is, “I do not want my children or my legacy to be affected by something violent. I want to remove them from whatever that is.”

The “why” (about the dematerializing) is the first thing that Jodie and I talked about in seeding the character. What she is doing is what Jecki says in episode four, that it’s an honor to see anyone transform into the Force. I believe that Aniseya is transforming herself and Mae into the Force in a way that doesn’t kill them.

Lucasfilm

Sol confuses Mae for Osha during the standoff right before he kills Aniseya. What does that mix-up reveal about Sol, both in that moment and for his presumed connection with Osha?

Headland: That he doesn’t know her as well as he thinks he does. Qimir has a similar reaction to Osha that Sol has. Sol has that Qui-Gon/Anakin connection with her. “This is a powerful Force-sensitive child. This child is meant to be my Padawan. I’m drawn to this particular power, which means I need to help this young woman reach her full potential as a Jedi.”

Qimir has the exact same experience with her in episode two. The second Osha walks into the apothecary, he knows that it’s not ae. He can feel that this is something different. He can feel that he wants to teach her. Qimir wants to be a part of her journey in reaching her full potential.

What I think is interesting is that Qimir, and later the Stranger, never mistakes Osha for Mae. And Sol mistakes Osha for Mae at least twice. That’s also meant to foreshadow who Osha’s real Master will be.

Osha holds a red lightsaber to Qimir's neck on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

Indara thinks Sol is letting his emotion and feelings get in the way. But he insists that’s not what is happening. Who’s right?

Headland: I think she’s right as a Jedi. She’s right in terms of the institution they’re a part of. He’s right because if you’re not going with your instinct and your emotions, when you are looking for a Padawan, or feel children are in danger, or sense the misuse of power, what else would you be relying on?

When the Council says no in The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon’s like, “Fuck it. I’ll do it myself.” He respectfully says no. What I wanted to explore here was, “We asked the Council, they said no,” and everybody kind of going, “We can’t stand up. We can’t say those things.” What’s great about Qui-Gon is that he is able to maintain his emotional sobriety while also advocating for his new relationship with his Padawan.

Sol was unable to do that, but I don’t think that’s a flaw as a human. I think as a human or a father Sol is right, but I think as a Jedi Indara is right. Those are the two sides of Sol that are in conflict here.

Sol and Torbin look up as a fire rages on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

With Mae talking about walking through fear and everyone being sacrificed to fulfill their destiny, was Sol correct that the girls were in danger?

Headland: No. Mae misremembered what her mother said. Sol misinterpreted it, but it’s because the child did. He was believing what the child said and genuinely thought, “Well, she says sacrifice, so this is bad.” But she’s misremembering what her mother said, which is that you have to sacrifice a “part” of yourself.

What were the natural desires Torbin was suppressing? Was he really homesick or was he missing someone or something instead?

Headland: No, he wanted to go home. I like the idea. It just seemed so human to me. “I just want to go home. I don’t want to be here anymore.”

Where older, more experienced Jedi would understand how to stay within meditative states, how to put one foot in front of the other, how to stay in the moment, a young, undisciplined, unbalanced Padawan is still thinking, “If I don’t know when I’m leaving, how am I expected to stay here?” He’s missing a big lesson here, which is something that Indara is trying to impart for him.

Mother Aniseya whispers to Torbin on The Acolyte
Lucasfilm

She’s very right that she can’t just tell him that. I can see a viewer saying, “Well, just tell him that.” But she explicitly says, “I have to teach him. He has to learn this. If I just tell it to him, it’s not going to sink in at all. It will be my idea. It will be my thing that I’m telling him.” So he has to be taught the challenging circumstances of being a Jedi.

Episode seven gives us a totally different perspective of what happened on Brendok compared to what we saw in episode three when Mae tells Osha, “I’ll kill you.” Did that actually happen, or is that Osha misremembering that night?

Headland: We talked about this a lot in the writer’s room. There was a healthy discussion about, “Do you utilize this kind of language as a child?” And I said, I think so, yeah. I remember when I was little, I have two sisters, I have a younger brother, we said insane things to each other. Just absolutely wild, crazy things. I don’t think it got to that level of violence, of course, but I don’t think Mae means that at all. She doesn’t mean she’s actually going to kill he sister.

But we did talk about the fact that possibly Osha is misremembering it because she felt so threatened in that moment. So I’d leave it up to the viewer. We did discuss both of them.

Will we learn whether Qimir is truly a Sith or not in the season finale?

Headland: What I will say is you don’t hear it from his mouth, but there are a couple small things that happen that intimate the answer to that question.

the acolyte sith lord villain master qimir
Lucasfilm

Will we learn if Qimir has any connection to the Knights of Ren? That’s a theory I’ve been working on all season.

Headland: [takes long pause] It’s a really good theory. What an interesting theory. What an amazing…that’s…wow. Wow wow.

The Knights of Ren standing in the desert together like the cover of a boy band album
Lucasfilm

What aspect of the series that will prove important in the finale do you think people haven’t focused on enough up to this point?

Headland: That’s a good question. I haven’t been following the coverage of the show enough to really answer that. I did hear that there was a bit of a dust up in terms of the girls stepping on Anakin’s creation storyline line, which I had mixed feelings about.

It’s probably for another deep dive to kind of talk about that. I would say that you might be missing the forest for the trees in starting an argument about that, instead of seeing that this is a power that could have existed in the world way before Anakin. And that power was being pursued by someone. So it’s not an issue of “paying attention to,” but I did hear about that, and I just think people aren’t taking into account the era that we’re in.

Anakin Skywalker as the evil Vader with a brown Jedi robe still on in Revenge of the Sith
Lucasfilm

If there’s anything we know about the fifth in Sith in sequels or prequels, one of the things we do know about them is their quest for these abilities like we’re seeing Aniseya being able to execute with the twins.

It just seemed to me any power like that that does not belong to one faction. It is not something that Aniseya was born with either. It’s a power that belongs to the Force. And that it’s up to the practitioner to be able to understand and figure out and pull apart how do you harness that particular power.

I understand what people were complaining about, or were maybe confused by, but I think they’re sort of paying attention to the wrong aspect of it. They’re not seeing the long game of the lineage of the Sith pursuing any sort of evidence of this type of power in the galaxy and then tunnel visioning toward it. And improving upon it. Again, if the girls are a test run, being able to improve on what that power is and being able to perfect it, that would be something if I were a Sith I would be interested in.

Palpatine looks at Anakin at the opera in Revenge of the Sith
Lucasfilm

This one’s for me. I’ve been waiting many years for Darth Plagueis to show up. Do you know how the whole story of the galaxy far, far away, from The Acolyte to him training Palpatine, connects?

Headland: Yes, I do. If I continue to get to tell this story, I know how I would like that to play out. And I would say I think it’s pretty complicated and messy.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist who always thinks Darth Plagueis is showing up any second. You can follow him on Twitter and  Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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