Why Is Leslye Headland, Star Wars’ Next Showrunner, So Controversial?


Social media is abuzz with arguments about Star Wars’ next showrunner, creator of The Acolyte – but why is she so controversial? Star Wars’ latest Disney+ TV show has proved extremely controversial, with The Acolyte review-bombed on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. Not all criticisms have been in good faith, and there’s been some thinly-veiled racism and misogyny mixed in with legitimate criticisms. Some has been directed at showrunner Leslye Headland in particular.

Born in 1980, Headland is well known for the play and 2012 movie Bachelorette, and the 2015 movie Sleeping With Other People. Her big break really came with Russian Doll, though, and she wasted no time approaching Lucasfilm after that success. “As soon as Russian Doll came out, I was like, ‘I’m calling Lucasfilm. That’s where I want to work. That’s what I want to do,'” she told THR. But Headland has proved to be something of a controversial choice, with significant backlash on social media in particular. What are these criticisms, and what basis do they have in fact?

How Well Does Leslye Headland Know Star Wars?

There have been some claims Headland is unfamiliar with Star Wars in general, and that she isn’t a “true fan” at all. In reality, though, she’s been part of the fandom for decades. “My relationship with Star Wars probably runs the span of most of my life,” she told The AV Club in an interview back in 2021. She recalled “devouring” the original trilogy on home video, and elsewhere has mentioned watching the Star Wars Special Editions in 1997.

Headland became deeply invested in the old Star Wars Expanded Universe, and consistently describes Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire as one of the most impactful books she’s ever read. To again quote from her interview with The AV Club:

“I loved every aspect of [Star Wars], from the world-building and Ralph McQuarrie’s production design to the hero’s journey of it all—Luke’s arc and what that meant. The image that always hits me is from Return Of The Jed i, when Luke is calling out to his father and Vader is looking back and forth between the Emperor and his son, and you can’t see his face. Even to this day, I get chills thinking about it. It had this huge effect on me.”

Headland has continued to love Star Wars over the years, and she’s credited both the prequel trilogy and Star Wars: The Clone Wars for influencing her show. She was particularly interested in episodes involving the Nightsisters of Dathomir, which gave a different view of the Force. The influence is easy to see in the new Force cult she has created for The Acolyte.
Is Leslye Headland Trying To Make Star Wars Woke?

An old quote from Star Wars Celebration 2023 was recirculated by right-wing Twitter accounts after The Acolyte trailer was released. This attempted to portray the Disney+ TV show as “woke,” focused purely on trying to force diversity in the Star Wars franchise. The video even prompted a response from Elon Musk, who compared it to an episode of South Park that mocked diversity in Lucasfilm.

It’s important to note, though, that Headland claims her story was inspired by the sisterly relationship between Anna and Elsa in Frozen – an influence that’s pretty explicit, although more antagonistic. In The Acolyte, the twins Osha and Mae were separated years ago; one has been raised by the Jedi, the other apparently by the Sith. While there is a lesbian relationship between two secondary characters, the two women involved died 16 years ago, and their relationship is an important plot point. All this means accusations of trying to push some kind of LGBTQ+ agenda in The Acolyte are logically overstated, if not nonsensical.


What Is Leslye Headland’s Connection To Harvey Weinstein?

Some of the most concerning attacks on Leslye Headland have come from her past connection to Harvey Weinstein. Headland began her career by working for six years at Miramax, serving as Weinstein’s personal assistant for a year. According to ABC News, Headland has insisted she was never physically assaulted by Weinstein, nor did she ever witness any incidents; she didn’t exactly have a pleasant time at Miramax, however. Speaking to American Theater, she recalled being screamed at in front of “a whole bunch of grown men,” and she came to believe a man in that kind of position of power was untouchable.

That particular interview is an important one, because it addresses the elephant in the room – Headland’s play Assistance, which is a thinly-veiled critique of her six years at Miramax, featuring a boss who’s clearly inspired by Weinstein. Headland is very careful and precise in her comments, noting she couldn’t even discuss specifics with her team at Playwrights Horizon “given that I was an ex-employee of the company and having signed everything that I signed.” This last remark seems to hint at a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Weinstein and Miramax bosses are known to have used NDAs liberally to enforce silence.

The end of Assistance is especially relevant to this discussion, because Headland admits everybody wanted her to find a way to “beat” the abusive boss, Daniel, the Weinstein stand-in. “In my head I was like, ‘You don’t,'” Headland recalled. “That guy always wins… I just thought men like that never go down. I was so shocked and so emboldened by the chorus of voices that brought him down. It makes me so happy – even saying that has been hard for me, because I’m still scared of him, to be honest.”

Two years later, evidence surfaced that gave a disturbing context to Headland’s fears. Unsealed court documents revealed Weinstein had put together a “Red Flag List” of roughly 70 people who he feared could be speaking to journalists under cover of anonymity back in 2017. Headland’s name was on Weinstein’s Red Flag List, and Weinstein attempted to hire private investigators to pressure these people. There is, thankfully, no evidence he succeeded, but this alone suggests Headland’s fears were justified.

The Star Wars fanbase remains divided over The Acolyte. To be fair, there are good reasons; it’s a bold step forward for the franchise, entirely separate from the Skywalker saga, and Headland has hinted at changes to Jedi and Sith lore. But not all of these criticisms are good faith, and legitimate criticism is blending with attempts to attack Headland on a personal level – attacks that are either ill-founded, or don’t make much sense. These three attack lines – that Headland doesn’t know Star Wars, is “woke,” and is linked to Weinstein – seem rather flawed.