Lee Jung-jae explains ‘special attachment’ to Liam Neeson’s Jedi master

Lee Jung-jae explains ‘special attachment’ to Liam Neeson’s Jedi master

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:30 AM June 10, 2024

Lee Jung-jae explains ‘special attachment’ to Liam Neeson’s Jedi master

Lee Jungjae as Jedi –Master Sol DISNEY+

Lee Jung-jae has been breaking glass ceilings throughout his celebrated career, with Emmy, Screen Actors Guild, Critics’ Choice and six Baeksang Arts awards tucked snugly under his overstuffed belt.

Refusing to rest on his laurels, the 51-year-old South Korean actor is adding another feather in his cap with his role as a Jedi master in the acclaimed eight-part series “The Acolyte” (93-percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes). The show was launched with a two-episode rollout on Disney+ last Wednesday.


With his current Hollywood project, Jung-jae becomes the first Asian to get cast as a revered member of the mystical knightly order in George Lucas’ iconic “Star Wars” franchise.


JJ, as friends and colleagues fondly call him, may have transformed into a global star by way of his career-boosting turn in “Squid Game,” but we first saw him way back in 2000 via the time-travel romance “Il Mare,” which costarred Jun Ji-hyun.

These days, the actor-director can be seen hot on the heels of a vengeful assassin in a galaxy far, far away—with a lightsaber in his hand and a chipper, pocket-sized droid named Pip by his side. Set at the end of the High Republic era approximately 100 years before “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” “The Acolyte” plays out like a murder mystery or a costumed crime procedural.

As seen in the first two episodes, the epic tale follows Sol (Jung-jae), a respected Jedi master who investigates a string of murders that sees him crossing paths again with his former Padawan protégé, Osha Aniseya (Amandla Stenberg in a dual role)—who had turned her back on the Order six years ago.

Osha inadvertently becomes the main suspect in the killing of two formidable Jedi masters after witnesses see a woman who looks exactly like her leaving the scene of the crime. On the elusive killer’s hitlist are four Jedi masters: Indara (Carrie-Anne Moss), Torbin (Dean-Charles Chapman), the Wookiee Jedi Kelnacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Sol himself!

Unknown to clueless kibitzers and Karens in their midst who are quick to judge, Osha’s twin sister, Mae, was presumed to have died 16 years ago. Will Sol help Osha get a hold of her elusive sister and clear her name?

Story unravels

“When you look at the all of the other installments in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, chronologically speaking, the story of ‘The Acolyte’ takes place in the sci-fi saga’s earliest era,” Jung-jae stated at the press con held last Wednesday. “So, I went into this with the thought that I’m like the most senior of the Jedi. And when I was thinking about how to bring my character to life, I wanted to delve more into the human side of Sol.


“So, when Sol feels fear, sadness or regret, I want to be able to express all that. I just want him to be more expressive. I thought something like that could bring something different compared to the other Jedi characters. I watched all of the Jedi who inhabited the other ‘Star Wars’ productions and thought about how to draw a connection between them and my character. That was top of mind for me.”

Asked if there was a particular character that truly resonated with him, the actor shared, “Before we began filming, I watched every single one of the films and paid particular attention to the Jedi characters. So I was just naturally drawn to Liam Neeson’s character Qui-Gon Jinn. I kind of wanted those two to have a connection.

“Chronologically speaking, Master Sol comes before Qui-Gon Jinn, so who knows, maybe Qui-Gon Jinn could have been Sol’s Padawan. That was something that I was imagining, that’s why I felt a special attachment to Qui-Gon Jinn.

“What stands out about ‘The Acolyte’ is that it’s a mystery thriller that stays very true to its genre. And how we’re going to maximize the audience’s curiosity is something that [showrunner, creator and director] Leslye Headland really thought long and hard about—and I could see that from the script going back and forth and between past and present.

“It’s a story that’s told through different timelines. That is how the story plays out. The more you watch, the more the story unravels, and the more intriguing the whole situation becomes.”

Excerpts from the Q&A at the press con:

What were some things that you found notable as you were working in a Hollywood production?

It always take a long time to shoot overseas productions. It would sometimes take me three to four months to work outside of Korea, but never as long as this: 10 months! In many ways, there were certain challenges and difficulties, but one of the things that was a priority was performing in a language I am not a native in.

You see, even when I am acting in Korean, the pronunciation, enunciation where you pause your speech, the slightest change can sometimes convey a different mood or nuance. But this time around, since it was 100 percent in English, it was something that I paid particular attention to.

English is not my first language, but they were very patient with me and made me feel at ease.

Thankfully, I had two wonderful dialect coaches and two English tutors. So, about four months prior to filming, I began training with them. And when I went to London, I also had in-person sessions and Zoom calls. I was given enough time to really get myself into that rhythm. And so, it didn’t turn out to be that huge of a challenge, although sometimes, if Leslie thought that my delivery needed to imbue a different nuance, we would just do multiple takes.

You’re a top actor in Korea, but you agreed to audition for this role. What was that process like for you?

First, I had two rounds of Zoom meetings with Leslye. She chose two scenes for me to do from the script, but I didn’t really know what role I was going to play. So I practiced the dialogue, then with Amandla Stenberg, who plays Osha, and went through a camera test. I thought it felt like a chemistry rehearsal to check if I had good chemistry with the other members of the cast.

There was this other crew member just passing by, and he mentioned that there were two or three more people waiting—I eavesdropped on that (laughs). There were also very famous people there for the camera test. I thought, “Okay, so this is actually an audition.”

After that, I came back to Korea and, after about 10 days, I heard the good news that I got in. Then, I got the scripts for the first four episodes. But when Leslye told me that I was going to play Jedi Master Sol, I was very pleasantly surprised. And when I flew to London, I got the rest of the scripts for the show.

Did you discuss with Leslye the repercussions of playing the first Asian Jedi?

Leslye was very firm about this, saying that if you’re a “Star Wars” fan who doesn’t want an Asian Jedi, then you can’t say you’re a true “Star Wars” fan. She was adamant about making that point.

When I went to the boot camp, actors with different backgrounds from different countries were there, from the US, UK, Spain and many other nations—it was like this big global party! So I knew that I had to do well. It was my personal feeling. I wanted to immerse myself into the character and try my best to bring him to life. That was what I focused on.

What has changed for you as an actor before and after “Squid Game”?

Well, there are big changes, which include becoming part of the “Star Wars” universe. There are many offers globally, but aside from that, I don’t really feel like so much has changed. But of course there have been …

[Doing] “Squid Game” has definitely transformed the environment in which I work in, and I don’t know if it’s fair to say that that’s all that has changed, because I can’t deny how important and significant it is for my career.

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Any advice to viewers who have never seen a “Star Wars” production?

[As mentioned earlier,] “The Acolyte” takes place in the earliest days of the saga. So, you can start with this one. The series can introduce you to the “Star Wars” IP. I feel like you can come into this show without feeling any kind of burden [of not having seen the titles that came before it]. It has its own strengths, and you can follow the story easily. INQ

TAGS: Entertainment, Lee Jung-jae

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