Manny Jacinto as Qimir in the Disney+ Star Wars show, 'The Acolyte.' It's a close-up of Qimir turned to the side in a black helmet that covers his whole face. It has silver detailing around the mouth area that make it look like the helmet has a big creepy smile. He's dressed all in black.

‘The Acolyte’s Big Bad Was Supposed to Be a Surprise—Sort of

Fans are savvy. When it came to the “reveal” of Mae’s master on Star Wars: The Acolyte, many fans were like … well, yeah. In an interview with The Mary Sue, showrunner Leslye Headland said she knew fans would figure it out, but that this “reveal” was a sort of “red herring” for bigger reveals to come.

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**Spoilers for the first five episodes of Star Wars: The Acolyte**

Manny Jacinto as Qimir in a scene from the Disney+ Star Wars show, 'The Acolyte.' He is a Filipino-Chinese man with chin-length dark hair hanging in his face as he stands in the rain dressed all in black and looking smug.

Being a fan herself, Headland was well aware that fans would likely see the reveal of Qimir (Manny Jacinto) as Mae’s (Amandla Stenberg) master coming.

“It was interesting working on the show,” Headland explained to TMS’s Rachel Leishman. “There were several writers, cast, crew [who said] ‘We’ve gotta preserve the surprise. This is a big reveal here!’ And I just think that, as a fan, if you announce that cast, which we did back in like … two years ago or whenever it was, if I see Manny Jacinto as third on the call sheet basically? I’m like, ‘secret bad guy.’ I don’t even need to know what the logline for the show is. I’m like ‘oh right, he’ll be secret bad guy and something else will happen. We’ll see what else goes down.'”

Headland wanted to get fans in a mystery headspace starting with the question of “Who is Mae’s master?” as a warm-up. She knew that fans would likely think that the big reveal would be something they were supposed to care about throughout the season. But then she decided, “No. We’re gonna do this now.”

She was less concerned with Qimir being revealed as the mysterious master than she was about revealing the “new character” himself, as well as his character design.

“He’s inspired by this character called Drunken Cat in [the Kung-Fu film] Come Drink With Me,” Headland told us. “And in that movie, you know something’s up with this guy. There’s another story going on with Golden Swallow, and other stuff…but when [Drunken Cat] reveals himself, you’re like, that’s a different fu*king person. His role is not a huge surprise, but that’s a different guy.”

To Headland, the big reveal wasn’t the master’s identity, but in who Qimir actually is as a person. The switch from unserious sidekick assisting Mae to a much more together, sinister, countercultural force.

She gives a huge amount of credit to Jacinto for making this reveal work with his preparation for and performance of the role. “I didn’t realize that Manny was going to be as…groundbreaking?,” Headland enthuses. “I knew he was a great actor, I just didn’t realize when I watched him and watched him play the character the way he did … and he really built that character from the ground up.”

She talked about Qimir being a mysterious character on paper, and while Stenberg had all the season’s scripts to work from in order to chart character arcs for both Osha and Mae, “Manny was sort of dropped into the middle of this story and [told] ‘Okay, now you have to take over the story. Good luck!'”

What Headland seems the most fascinated by with regard to Qimir (whose name is obviously not really Qimir), is that he’s someone who, despite his horrific actions, is deeply relatable. She talks about the fact that, in the High Republic era of the Star Wars universe, the Jedi are very different Jedi than they are in the first three films, or even the prequels, where they are the scrappy rebels.

In the time during which The Acolyte takes place, the Jedi are The Establishment, able to act with little oversight and lots of hubris. Qimir then serves as a countercultural voice in this world, which Headland hopes resonates with audiences.

“[Qimir] always had to feel like he was operating from […] a human place. Meaning that, as a human audience member, you would be able to follow and relate with … maybe not the murder … but when he says ‘I want freedom,’ you’re like ‘well, yeah. How could you not want that?’ When he says, ‘The reason I do this is because you say I can’t exist.’ It’s a very almost countercultural idea.”

For Headland, the key to the character was in the moment after Qimir kills Master Sol’s padawan, Jecki (Dafne Keen), and Sol berates him for killing a child. Qimir’s response is simple: “You brought her here.” And it was in writing that line that Headland arrived at the key to Qimir “as a character, not a bad guy. ‘Yes, I’m brutal […], but you recruit children…and now you’re mad at me?'”

For more from Headland about the first five episodes of The Acolyte and what to expect from the rest of the season, check out the full interview above, or at TMS‘ YouTube Channel!

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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.