The Clone Wars made the leap to live-action Star Wars in a big way. Forest Whitaker’s character in Rogue One is Saw Gerrera, the freedom fighter who both clashed with and helped Anakin and Ahsoka in season five of The Clone Wars — and who was originally developed by George Lucas.
So who is Saw Gerrera? At the very least, for fans who are unfamiliar with The Clone Wars or have criticized it (I certainly have), this is a well-regarded actor bringing a different kind of rebellion to Jyn Erso’s team. EW’s reveal of the character’s name described Saw Gerrera as “so extreme that the other good guys aren’t sure if he really is one.” In The Clone Wars, he appeared in four episodes in the fifth season, starting with “A War on Two Fronts,” usually referred to as the Onderon arc.
Saw’s inclusion in the early rebellion isn’t outlandish, although it did come as a surprise to a lot of fans. Although the Onderon arc leaned sometimes too heavily on characters’ petty rivalries and kept to the unfortunate trope of killing off one of its main female characters, it’s also one of the more politically complex arcs in The Clone Wars.
Saw, along with his sister Steela, met Anakin and Ahsoka on the contested planet Onderon. The planet was technically in Separatist space, but Saw and Steela were part of a rebel group trying to overthrow the Separatist-sponsored king. The Jedi reluctantly helped train the Onderon rebels for armed conflict against the Separatists.
Saw and Steela sported a bird-like insignia not very different from the future Rebel Alliance symbol, and a striped logo on Saw’s armor can also be seen on his costume in Rogue One. To further bind his story into the larger scope of Star Wars, Saw was mentioned in the Sequel Trilogy novel Bloodline by Claudia Gray: one of Leia’s political rivals uses “the campaigns of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans” to try to argue that some of Leia’s methods connote terrorism. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy described Gerrera’s forces in Rogue One as “extremists,” and “on the fringe of the Rebel Alliance.”
The same argument — freedom fighters or terrorists? — was happening during Saw’s rebellion in the Clone Wars. Obi-Wan Kenobi also called Saw’s group terrorists, while Anakin argued that they represented a noble insurgency.
During the Separatist occupation on Onderon, Saw was angry and critical, resisting help from newcomer Lux Bonteri as well as from the Jedi. Saw felt like his people had been forced into fighting by the war between the Republic and the Separatists, and that debating in the senate — as Lux had done — would lead nowhere.
He’s a good fighter, but not professionally trained, as his rivalry with Lux shows. Saw becomes frustrated when he doesn’t perform better in training than Lux, and when his sister shows romantic interest in Lux. Saw attacks even when his team planned to stay in cover, and gains confidence in his own abilities quickly. He isn’t a bad team player if the conflict doesn’t become personal — he’s quick to tell his team “good job” — but argues with everyone, including his sister.
On the political front, Onderon’s puppet king is holding the rightful King Dendup captive. When the puppet king arranges a public execution for the rightful king, Saw sneaks away on his own to try to save him, but is captured and tortured. Saw eventually returns to the rebellion and helps the Onderon rebels win the war, but Saw’s sister Steela is killed in the battle. In his grief, he sees the victory ceremony as a grim occasion.
Saw’s experience in these grueling patterns of war makes sense with his dialogue in Rogue One. “If you continue to fight,” he asks, “What will you become?” He’s also the pessimistic (or realistic) voice that asks what will happen when, not if, the Rebels are caught. Even without living through two major wars, residents of Onderon are already inclined to fighting, with giant creatures lurking in the partially-tamed jungles of their homeworld. For Saw, the Galactic Civil War might be just one more war — except that this time it’s against what the Republic has become, not with the Republic at his back. Saw has lived in war after war, quite possibly grown up in one — and, in The Clone Wars, he doesn’t always understand or care about the effects those wars might have on civilians. His name even sounds like guerra, the word for “war” in Spanish and other Romance languages.
Anakin Skywalker has, of course, also been through conflict after conflict and switched sides between The Clone Wars and Rogue One. Ahsoka, meanwhile, might still be on Gerrera’s side. With Star Wars Rebels confirming that Ahsoka is alive and still using her Jedi abilities shortly before A New Hope, it’s possible that the two of them met in the intervening years (Rebels takes place 39 years before The Force Awakens and five years before A New Hope, while Rogue One takes place 34 years before The Force Awakens and right before A New Hope). At some point during that time period, Saw also ran into the Star Wars Rebels villain Agent Kallus. The Imperial agent mentions him briefly in the season two episode “The Honorable Ones,” in which Kallus’ character and history are explored.
Saw’s inclusion in different eras of Star Wars shows exactly what work the Lucasfilm Story Group is doing to tie the Star Wars universe together. Story Group member Leland Chee tweeted that the announcement was based on ideas first proposed four years ago. Pablo Hidalgo, another Story Group member, further detailed who Saw Gerrera is and how he went from The Clone Wars to Rogue One on Lucasfilm’s weekly news roundup, The Star Wars Show. Saw was actually created by George Lucas as a concept for an extremist freedom fighter, intended for a Star Wars live action television show. The TV show never panned out, but the idea of the character ended up in The Clone Wars.
When the writers working on Rogue One found that they needed a Rebel extremist character, Saw Gerrera was already there in the Star Wars universe as an appropriate fit for the role.
“[Saw is] definitely against the Empire, but he does things that morally push against the kind of things that Bail Organa and Mon Mothma stand for,” Hidalgo said on The Star Wars Show.
Hidalgo also said that during production on season five of The Clone Wars, Saw was discussed as a character who could go on to become a leader of the Rebellion, although not on the level of Mon Mothma. George Lucas’ “interest in history and current events” informed the character, creating someone once aided by the Republic who then turned against the Empire it had become, although by the time of Rogue One, Saw is distanced from the Rebel leaders.
As revealed in Rogue One tie-in novel Catalyst, Saw Gerrera seems to have been part of Jyn’s life much earlier than the Rogue One trailers may have led us to expect. Saw is the person who takes the Ersos off Coruscant and away from the Empire after Galen refuses to work further on the Death Star project. On a planet called Lah’mu, a very young Jyn asks whether Saw could stay with the Ersos. Saw says that he can’t, but he gives Lyra a card that will let her call him if she needs help. We also know that Saw will eventually form the Partisans, a group that will fight against the Empire on Onderon.
With a history of war and a strong moral code, the Saw Gerrera we see in The Clone Wars is a sensible inclusion for Rogue One. His headstrong ways fit right in with Jyn’s philosophy. After all, they both choose to rebel.