Meet the Rebel fighter who’s so extreme that the other good guys aren’t sure if he really is one.
Forest Whitaker’s character has been one of the more closely held secrets of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but Lucasfilm is ready now to make his identity official: this shadowy freedom-fighter is Saw Gerrera, a figure with a surprisingly deep background in galactic history.
The warrior — seen in the Rogue One trailer asking, “If you continue to fight, what will you become?” — was actually first seen in season 5 of The Clone Wars animated series, when he was a young man on the planet Onderon, unleashing guerilla combat on the droid army of Separatists who took over his world.
Along with his sister, Steela, he fought alongside Darth Vader — back when the Sith lord was just an impetuous young Jedi named Anakin Skywalker. In the episode A War on Two Fronts, which aired in October 2012, Saw and Steela were part of an insurgent group being unofficially trained by Anakin, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the padawan Ahsoka Tano.
While it wouldn’t be right to spoil what happens to their characters in that story arc, which can be caught up with now on Netflix, suffice to say that Saw pays a steep cost for his resistance, and remains mistrustful of any authority except his own for the rest of his days. There never will be a peacetime for him.
In the show, Saw was voiced by Andrew Kishino, and Whitaker’s appearance has some subtle homages to The Clone Wars character. The eyes are different — the animated show featured vivid aquamarine eyes, while Whitaker’s are brown — but they maintained the scar that slices up over his left eye. (In the cartoon, it bisects the eyebrow, but in the live-action film, the cut arches just above it.) In this new image of Whitaker, he also looks fairly different than what we first saw in the trailer. Here, he has a full head of hair, while in the previous footage he was shaved.
By the time Rogue One takes place, just before the events of 1977’s original Star Wars, more than two decades have passed since the events of Revenge of the Sith. As played by The Last King of Scotland Oscar-winner, Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera is bulkier, more battle-hardened with the years, and maybe a little shellshocked. He has continued to fight; and, as he suggested in the trailer, he has become something — and it’s not quite a hero. Rather, he’s a man who has tried to do the right thing by occasionally doing questionable things.
“Consider him kind of a battered veteran who leads a band of Rebel extremists,” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy tells EW. “He’s on the fringe of the Rebel Alliance. Even [they] are a little concerned about him.”
One reason we saved his reveal until now, in addition to him having a deeper backstory than the other new characters, is that Saw is an ally to the Rebel squad in Rogue One, but he’s not really one of them. “He’s off on his own,” Kennedy says.
RELATED: Rogue One details on Forest Whitaker – EW Radio
In Claudia Gray’s recent Leia-centric novel Star Wars: Bloodline, set approximately midway between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, the princess-turned-politician is confronted by a rival who challenges her on the “terrorist tactics of the Rebel Alliance,” specifically citing “the campaigns of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans.”
For Rogue One, they needed a character on the borderline, someone who would represent the extreme end of the fight against the Emperor. Producer John Knoll’s idea was to show how the Death Star is a threat that pulls the disparate Rebel factions into a place of unity. The Lucasfilm story group plucked Saw Gerrera from Clone Wars history as a good candidate for a radical.
“The Death Star is the event that sort of pulls everybody into a place of unity, and prior to that it’s a little bit more divided. Who are at the different ends of that spectrum?” says Kiri Hart, Lucasfilm’s head of story development.
It was also a way to incorporate a character created by George Lucas, who has stepped back from Star Wars storytelling after selling Lucasfilm to Disney, but was deeply involved in The Clone Wars series with executive producer Dave Filoni (now overseeing the animated Rebels show).
Hart and fellow story group member Pablo Hidalgo were among those knew some of the as-yet-unseen character storylines that Lucas had in mind, and Saw’s fit right in with what they needed for Rogue One.
In that way, Saw Gerrera’s part in this movie could be called — destiny.
For more on the character, Hidalgo appears on today’s episode of The Star Wars Show to offer some new insights into his history.
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Thursday on EW.com: New photos from Rogue One, and details on Darth Vader’s return.