Meet Amandla Stenberg, Star Wars’ New Hope

As she enters the galaxy far, far away, the actor-musician talks about her rise from child star to a voice of Generation Z

Photography by GUY AROCH



Amandla Stenberg is nervous. Being launched into the Star Wars galaxy is not an easy undertaking. First, there’s the seemingly never-ending backstory to absorb. And then there are the fans. “I definitely have been feeling a little more trepidation than I thought,” says the lead of the upcoming Disney+ series The Acolyte. But Stenberg couldn’t possibly say no to working with Russian Doll co-creator Leslye Headland, who created the role with Stenberg in mind.

Here’s how it went. The pair met in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, around the corner from Stenberg’s house, and Headland pitched the concept. “All the artwork was conceptualized with my face, and Leslye was like, ‘So I’ve been working on this for about three or four years for you. I don’t know what I’m going to do if you don’t do it. No pressure.’ So I was sent to the moon, of course.”

I meet Stenberg at Café Paulette in Fort Greene. It’s unexpectedly busy for a Friday afternoon, so we snag a spot outside in one of the covered booths. Stenberg — in jeans, a shirt underneath a winter coat, and a baseball cap with “New York” on it — grabs an oat milk latte and the omelet of the day with a side of fries. Maybe it’s because she’s Gen Z, but for an actor who has garnered critical success for Bodies Bodies Bodies and The Hate U Give, has been honored by Time magazine and other organizations for her political and LGBTQ activism, has worked with Beyoncé, and has started out in one of the biggest movie franchises of the past decade, she has zero airs.


Amandla Stenberg Star Wars

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Amandla Stenberg Star Wars



Stenberg, 25, had her breakthrough in the sci-fi dystopian adventure The Hunger Games playing Rue, a 12-year-old “tribute” selected to compete in the latest death match who forms an alliance with Katniss, the central character portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence. Not only did the film give Stenberg an introduction to a worldwide audience, but it also introduced her to some of the baggage that comes with it — in this case, a first encounter with online trolls. When it was announced that Rue and Tresh, two prominent characters in Suzanne Collins’ young adult series, would be portrayed on screen by two Black actors (Stenberg and Dayo Okeniyi), some fans spouted their racist opinions online. It continued throughout the film’s press tour and release. “I think already, at age 12, I was like, Yeah, people are racist. Why are y’all surprised?” Stenberg says, taking a sip of her latte with a laugh. “When I reflect on it, I don’t remember being very upset about it. I remember feeling that I don’t give a flying f**k what these racist people think of me. I think bigots don’t really bother me.”

In fact, the entire Hunger Games experience, spending three months on set in the forests of North Carolina, was more like a summer camp to the young actor. “I got to play with the other castmates,” she says. “It was a kid’s dream come true. [But] I was very much a supporting character. I don’t know what Jennifer Lawrence was going through. In retrospect, I feel for the girl!”


“Social media shaped my generation, but I have a lot of disillusionment around it”



LAQUAN SMITH blazer, $2,200, shorts, $1,300, and belt, $475. DIOR boots, $2,650.


LAQUAN SMITH blazer, $2,200, shorts, $1,300, and belt, $475. DIOR boots, $2,650.


LAQUAN SMITH blazer, $2,200, shorts, $1,300, and belt, $475. DIOR boots, $2,650.


Now she probably does, as she takes on the titular Jedi trainee role in The Acolyte, her introduction to George Lucas’ Star Wars universe, which he sold to Disney in 2012 for $4 billion. “I have a really, really heavy load in this show, an abnormal load,” she says. Shot largely at Shinfield Studios in Berkshire, England, a new facility comprising 18 soundstages, it follows The Mandalorian, Andor, and Ashoka in the line of spin-offs commissioned for Disney+ in the age of streaming, which has seen huge budgets aimed at episodic shows over two-hour cinematic releases. “The crews are so hard core, they’re so hardworking, and it’s very kind of hierarchical and competitive, and people work their asses off,” she says. “It’s very different, I think, than what I’ve experienced on most American sets.”

Stenberg can’t share too much — or anything, really — about the plot of The Acolyte because Lucasfilm’s NDAs are notoriously restrictive. (“They’re already hacking into my phone right now. They’re listening,” she jokes.) What she can say is that it takes place in the High Republic era before Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, which was released in 1999 and grossed just shy of $1 billion worldwide. It’s a prequel to the prequels, if you like — Lucas famously started his epic tale in 1977 on Episode IV: A New Hope.

“In the context of the Star Wars universe, it’s a time of great peace, theoretically,” Stenberg says. “It’s also a time of an institution, and it’s a time in which conceptions around the Force are very strict. And I think what we’re trying to explore within our show is when an institution has a singular conception of how power can be used…we try to provide a lot of different perspectives and answers to that question. The idea is to kind of honor the ethos of Star Wars and ideas around the Force and also challenge them, hopefully harmoniously.”

All the time away shooting the eight-part series opposite Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae (who plays her Jedi master) has left Stenberg’s Brooklyn home in need of some attention. Recently, right before a Zoom audition with Scarlett Johansson, a chunk of ceiling came down. “There was dust flying around everywhere, and I was coughing, hacking, and I was like, ‘Hey, I might be a little out of it right now. My ceiling just fell down.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, you live in New York.’”


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Still, Stenberg is happy in Brooklyn, regardless of the pitfalls of living in the city: “When I’m not traveling, I really try to stay my ass at home. I’ve had moments when I was younger where I traveled more for fun. I went to Japan for a month once. But when I’m not working, I’m just holding on to my regular life for dear life, just trying to carve out the infrastructure of it and hold it down because I need that for when I go away.”

Her mother, Karen, a music journalist turned counselor, hails from the South Bronx. Stenberg still has family in the neighborhood and spent a large part of her formative years there. “A lot of my adolescence was defined by being here. I feel like the first time I really experienced freedom and autonomy was here, so I think I probably fell in love with New York and knew it was the place I wanted to live when I was 15 or 16. Then I had a series of unsuccessful attempts to move here that were thwarted by different things,” she says.

Stenberg was born in Los Angeles. Her mother and her Danish father, Tom, a music promoter, divorced when she was very young. (She has two older half-sisters on her father’s side and spent three months in Denmark during the pandemic.) Life as a child actor meant growing up fast and moving out at 16. She describes her relationship with California now as “borderline contentious,” but she still holds a sweet spot for the state. “It wasn’t until I started living in other places that I realized that growing up with the backdrop of a mountainscape is not everyone’s experience. And so, since moving here and spending time in other metropolitan cities, I always respect and deeply appreciate the nature. I’m like, Wow, growing up next to a huge body of water I think shaped me in a way. Big Sur, the cliffs, the ocean, the mountains — that holds one of the most special places in my heart.”

A longing for nature is what you might expect from someone who has been vocal about her love-hate relationship with technology. In 2017, Stenberg told W Magazine she gave up her iPhone because it was taking over her life and switched to a flip phone. I notice the iPhone she has with her today. Recalling the interview, she laughs and says, “I got one of those Light phones stripped of all the other capabilities. I’ve been switching my SIM card back and forth depending on how accessible I believe I need to be to other human beings.”


“I have a really, really heavy load in this show, an abnormal load”



Amandla Stenberg Star Wars

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Although a double-edged sword, social media and that level of accessibility helped Stenberg become a poster girl for Generation Z. But it’s not just about images: Over the past decade, Stenberg has shared her thoughts on a broad range of topics, including cultural appropriation, identity, feminism, and sexuality. When she came out as gay in 2019, she shared snapshots of her relationship with musician King Princess. Together with fellow generational voices and friends Yara Shahidi, Rowan Blanchard, and Hunter Schafer, they’ve helped a generation express itself and rebel against social norms. There’s a reason Chanel and Calvin Klein have made Stenberg a face of their brands as they court the next generation of consumers.

“Social media really shaped me and my generation and our ability to organize or express our thoughts,” Stenberg says. But it enrages her as much as it once empowered her, and she is currently on a social media break. “I have always had and continue to have a lot of disillusionment around social media, particularly now,” she says. “I think I’ve always been wary of it.” She brings up Meta’s recent rollout of its Threads platform and the suggested posts the algorithm feeds her, which she calls “rage baits.”

“I feel really disheartened by the fact that there’s no infrastructure legislation to control and mitigate the amount of manipulation that is occurring toward the public by these private organizations and corporations who just want to make money off us and control our thoughts. You would think that after the 2016 election, Meta would’ve learned something, but this is a confirmation of what their agenda is. And that infuriates me. It makes me really upset.”

She goes on. “Twitter, X, whatever that hell it’s called now — X, Y, Z. I see how Elon Musk is trying to apply more sort of radical tactics to free speech, but every algorithm, I just feel like, further divides people ideologically. And I am really scared of the echo chambers of information that people spend time in, including myself.”


Amandla Stenberg Star Wars



But she won’t give up on her 2.2 million Instagram and 830,000 TikTok followers just yet. “I don’t think there’s ever been a moment where I’ve thought social media is not for me, because I’m obsessed with social media. I have three meme accounts!”

This much-needed social media break has allowed her more time to focus on her first love: music. Stenberg has played the violin since first grade, and she went on to learn the guitar and keyboard. “Music was always a thing I was most passionate about when I was a little kid,” she says. “My dad is a musician. My mom’s a huge music lover.” She’s recorded songs for two recent film projects, Bodies Bodies Bodies and the film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen. She has also worked with producer Dev Hynes of Blood Orange and released a handful of singles, most recently the trip-hop-sounding “Wicked Animal.”

She’s currently working on her first album, which she describes as “painfully earnest, stripped back a bit, mostly layer vocals and maybe guitar and some drums, some bass. Very simple.”

For someone who enjoys being at home so much, I ask if she has any desire beyond making music to perform it on stage. “I’m going to have to figure out how to fit that in, but that’s a dream of mine,” she says. “It’s a big dream of mine.”

We know she’s not afraid to reach for the stars.


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Amandla Stenberg

VERSACE dress, price upon request.


Hair by CASSANDRA NORMIL at The Visionaries Agency using CAROL’S DAUGHTER.
Makeup by LOFTJET at Forward Artists using DR. BARBARA STURM and PAT McGRATH LABS.
Manicure by KAREN JIMENEZ at Opus Beauty using CHANEL.
Prop styling by DANIELLE VON BRAUN.
Shot on location at BLUE CLOUD MOVIE RANCH.



Feature image: LAQUAN SMITH blazer, $2,200, shorts, $1,300, and belt, $475. DIOR boots, $2,650.


This story originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of C Magazine.

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