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The Acolyte’s Backlash & Review Bombing Explained: What’s Really Going On?


The Acolyte's Backlash & Review Bombing Explained: What's Really Going On?


Summary

  • The Acolyte’s diversity and representation have sparked controversy within the Star Wars fanbase, leading to review bombing on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • Despite the negative reviews, Disney reports that The Acolyte has been a success with 4.8 million views on its first day of release.
  • The real test will be how viewership goes over the course of the season, proving whether people stuck with the show.



The Acolyte‘s viewership proves the backlash and review bombing is confected, not reflecting reality at all. Star Wars has long been one of the most controversial franchises of all, with a particularly divided and divisive fanbase. George Lucas himself wasn’t immune to their ire (as the comedy documentary The People Vs. George Lucas proved), but the Disney era has gotten caught up in the culture wars. Even South Park parodied Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy, envisioning her as a power-hungry feminist who demands diversity in everything.

The Acolyte is the latest point of dispute. Created by Leslye Headland of Russian Doll fame, the new Disney+ TV show is set a century before the events of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The Acolyte has been review-bombed on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, and the effect is particularly notable when comparing the Rotten Tomatoes critic and audience scores of the various live-action Star Wars TV shows (at time of writing). There’s always a gap, but not usually anything like this.


Live-action Star Wars show

Critic score

Audience score

Percentage Difference

Ahsoka

86%

69%

19.77%

Andor season 1

96%

86%

10.42%

Obi-Wan Kenobi

82%

62%

24.39%

The Book of Boba Fett

66%

53%

19.7%

The Mandalorian season 1

93%

92%

1.08%

The Mandalorian season 2

93%

91%

2.15%

The Mandalorian season 3

85%

51%

40%

The Acolyte

93%

30%

67.74%

So what’s really going on with The Acolyte?


Why The Acolyte Has Proved So Controversial For Star Wars


Controversy is hardly unusual for Star Wars, but the last few years have seen it drawn into the culture wars. This is largely because of an intentional drive to increase diversity and representation in the franchise, accompanied by an attempt to reach international audiences rather than focusing just on the traditional demographics. Oddly enough, this is most visible not in canon, but in the innovative Star Wars: Visions animated show – which invites animation houses from across the globe to tell their own non-canon stories playing in George Lucas’ sandbox.

Most Star Wars backlashes are really about ownership at heart; they’re an attempt by a portion of the fanbase to claim ownership of the franchise, insisting it should conform to their expectations or to the pattern of their childhood. Given that’s the case, it’s no surprise the focus on diversity and representation – accompanied by a broadening of the target audience – has proved controversial. The Acolyte is a case in point.


It’s telling that The Acolyte‘s cast is much more diverse than a typical Star Wars TV show, and that hasn’t been received well by some portions of the fanbase. There are literally YouTube videos in which individuals watched every second of the trailer, counting for white characters – an approach that hardly sounds like it’s made in good faith. Matters are made worse by the culture wars, the fact showrunner Leslye Headland is a gay woman, and a comment she made about this being the gayest Star Wars show ever.

The Acolyte Is The Biggest Disney Plus Launch Of 2024


For all the controversy, Disney report that The Acolyte‘s viewership is very pleasing indeed. The Disney+ TV show accrued an impressive 4.8 million views in its first day of availability – making it the streaming service’s biggest 2024 series debut. Exact comparisons are difficult, and that’s a deliberate choice on Disney’s part; the House of Mouse tend to release different figures for each show, making it harder to compare. But X-Men ’97‘s premiere is known to have taken five days to break the 4 million barrier, in spite of the positive buzz, giving a comparison.

Note: Disney define a “view” as total stream time divided by runtime.


Disney’s definition of a “view” is particularly vulnerable to audiences switching off partway through if they weren’t engaged, suggesting most people are continuing through the full episodes – which wouldn’t be expected if one-star reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were representative. In fact, the current Rotten Tomatoes audience score hides a surprising degree of variation; two days ago, it stood as low as 26%, at 2,500+ reviews. It’s now at 30% with 5,000+ reviews, which seems quite a remarkable change given the numbers involved.

Related

Star Wars: The Acolyte Episode Guide

Here’s everything you need to follow along with Star Wars: The Acolyte, from references and trivia to main takeaways from each new episode.

How Useful Are Audience Scores In This Kind Of Situation?


In theory, audience scores on review aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes serve a valuable purpose in that they show how everyday viewers are reacting to a series rather than critics. The problem, though, is that these figures are so easily manipulated; in this case, it’s pretty clear review bombing is happening at scale, and it’s likely reports of this activity are now generating counter-reviews and perhaps even counter-campaigns. It all feels rather messy.

Disney’s viewership data doesn’t necessarily mean people are enjoying The Acolyte, but it at least offers a datapoint that suggests people are continuing to watch the story. The real measure, the proof of The Acolyte‘s performance, will be viewership at the end of the season; how many people tune in through all eight episodes, continuing the story rather than leaving it in disappointment. For now, though, it’s sadly necessary to discount the review scores completely as part of the latest fandom culture war.


The Acolyte episodes 1 and 2 are streaming now on Disney+.

The Acolyte Poster Showing Jedi Order, Mae, and a Sith Lord Holding Lightsabers

The Acolyte

The Acolyte is a television series set in the Star Wars universe at the end of the High Republic Era, where both the Jedi and the Galactic Empire were at the height of their influence. This sci-fi thriller sees a former Padawan reunite with her former Jedi Master as they investigate several crimes – all leading to darkness erupting from beneath the surface and preparing to bring about the end of the High Republic.

Cast
Dafne Keen , Lee Jung-jae , Amandla Stenberg , Jodie Turner-Smith , Joonas Suotamo , Carrie-Anne Moss , Margarita Levieva , Charlie Barnett , Dean-Charles Chapman

Streaming Service(s)
Disney+

Writers
Leslye Headland , Charmaine De Grate , Kor Adana

Directors
Leslye Headland , Alex Garcia Lopez

Showrunner
Leslye Headland

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