Probably the most iconic actor in the cast of Rogue One is Forest Whitaker playing Saw Gerrera. What do we know of Saw from the on-screen universe? And what might that tell us about what he has become?
Rebellion on Onderon
The first time we meet Saw on screen is in Season 5 of The Clone Wars in the Onderon Arc. He, his sister Steela Gererra and Lux Bonteri, a love-interest of Ahsoka, run a small Rebel force that fights against the Separatists. Dooku’s henchmen have taken over by replacing the legitimate King Dendub of Onderon by a ‘puppet on string’, King Rash. The Arc starts of with Saw’s sister saying about him that ‘he sees himself as our leader, although no one elected him‘. Saw Gerrera is always the impatient one, the bold one and sometimes the reckless one. He has a low regard of politicians and he believes in action rather than diplomacy.
During the initial two episodes of the Arc a constantly returning question is whether these Rebels are ‘freedom fighters’or ‘terrorists’. It are not just the crowd surrounding the King that qualify the Rebels as terrorists, even the Jedi Council itself has doubt about their nature. This dichotomy is also reflected somewhat in the characters with Steela Gerrera clearly being of the ‘freedom fighter’ type while Saw Gerrera has the making of a ‘terrorist’. It is one of those ironic, or is it macabre, coincidences of ‘living’ mythological story-telling that such stories are full of intended and unintended resonances with the real world. The Capital City of Onderon goes under the name of ‘Iziz’.
Steela always seeks to balance the damage a rebel-strike can do with the fear that might incite among the population of Onderon. Saw rather focusses on doing as much damage as possible against the Separatist forces, recklessly overlooking how that overkill of violence not only triggers repercussions against the locals, but also instils a worry in them as to the Rebels’ true intentions. It might be less than a coincidence that now we are about to see a live-action Saw Gererra, he appears on screen in a movie where the main protagonist is a strong woman, Jyn Erso. Not unlike his sister Steela, how became the leader of the Onderon rebellion despite Saw’s claims to that title.
Saw in Star Wars Rebels
Saw Gererra has so far ot shown up in Star Wars: Rebels. However his name did get mentioned in Season 2. As Agent Kallus and Zeb were exchanging their life-stories on a chilly moon of Geonosis, Kallus mentioned his first encounter with one of Zab’s kind. It was a Lasaat who routed Kallus’ company of imperial soldiers. A Lasaat rebel who was employed by the rebel group led by … Saw Gererra.
It is just a brief mention. But between the lines is becomes clear that this rebel group was no ordinary bunch of freedom fighters. They must have been ferocious enemies. A continuation of the Saw Gererra that we saw in action during the Onderon Rebellion against the separatists. The Onderon Rebels win that struggle, freeing their planet without Republic or Jedi-led armed intervention. Thus saving their planet both from Separatist oppression as well as all out war. Steela’s insightful leadership secured a fragile peace. But not for Saw.
It is Saw’s last deed of recklessness that ultimately costs the life of his sister. Her death was one of the first moments in Season 5 in which emotion oozed off the screen in the excellent animation.
Steela’s death weaves a web of complex emotions of guilt involving Ahsoka, Lux but also Saw. These complexities are not explicitly addressed in dialogue, as so often in Star Wars, but they are shown and visually illustrated. It is Saw’s recklessness that forces Steela to make her sacrifice, it is Lux’s (unintentional) incompetence that prevents him from saving her and Ahsoka’s ambiguous feelings play into the scene as well. It is the action of a droid which, though disabled still following its code for destruction, that disrupts the fragile balance.
At Steela’s funeral Saw summarizes the turmoil of his emotions into a single sentence: “It is over now, let’s just leave it at that”. It is a response that shows its meaning by what it is attempting to hide from sight. It is not over for Saw, it is only the beginning. But something has broken and here on Onderon, there is no place, no future for him. Ahsoka is filled with doubts, Lux seems to have found new inspiration and Obi Wan and Anakin ponder the influence Steela’s spirit will have on the future developments. Possibly we are soon to find out which legacy Steela left inside of Saw.
I hope that Forest Whitaker will fill Saw Gererra’s character with this backstory. He knows it as in interviews he has said that he had been binge-watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars, especially focussing on Saw. From the trailers we see a man who is once again in a deeply desperate situation, facing insurmountable odds and no Jedi to back him up. A man who is damaged and mutilated by more than two decades of struggle, rebellion and yes … probably terror.
In one of the trailers we hear him say “Save the Rebellion … Save the Dream” and this comes from the same man who twenty years prior at the grave of his sister said “It is over now, let’s just leave it at that”. I hope Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will shed a little light, not explicitly but between the lines, on what has become of Saw Gererra … who kept on fighting.