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Rogue One: Forest Whitaker says Saw Gerrera shares 'similarities' with Darth Vader

Part four of EW’s run-up to the new ‘Star Wars’ trailer

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Giles Keyte/2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.; Lucasfilm

As we await the new Rogue One trailer coming Thursday night, Entertainment Weekly is posting a week of new stories about the upcoming stand-alone Star Wars film. Here’s part four.

A man with a raspy voice. His body locked in life-giving armor. His face, as well as his soul, scarred by the violent actions of his past.

We’ll see two such figures in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, both of them friends who once fought alongside each other before the rise of the Empire.

One is Darth Vader. The other is Forest Whitaker’s extremist freedom-fighter Saw Gerrera.

“There are some similarities,” Whitaker says in an interview with EW. “I don’t know if I should tell you that.”

It’s more about tactics than philosophy. They fought against the Separatists together in season 5 of the animated series The Clone Wars, but when Rogue One picks up just before the events of the original Star Wars, they are very far from being on the same side.

Gerrera, a militia warrior from the occupied planet Onderon, parted ways with the Sith lord when he was still a bellicose young Jedi named Anakin Skywalker. Now they are sworn enemies across the galactic divide, although both are hardliners who aren’t timid about using brutal tactics in the fight to control the galaxy.

They share other traits as well, such as a reliance on technology to stay alive.

“This is his armored suit for flight, but also for maintenance,” Whitaker says of Gerrera’s bulbous chest plate. “He’s been through many conflicts and many wars, so it’s also about [repairing] some of the many injuries he’s had. He wears it all the time.”

As fans already saw in the trailer, Gerrera lectures Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso on the cost of zealotry, even though it’s a life he wouldn’t trade.

“I don’t think he’s regretful. I think he really believes that what he has done is right,” Whitaker says. “He understands that the universe could be destroyed and worlds could be destroyed if he doesn’t succeed. And he’s one of the only people who will do everything to make sure the Imperial forces don’t.”

He sees Erso as someone who could follow in his path. “He’s really close to her, and they have a very powerful relationship,” Whitaker says. “He’s talking about how you maybe make compromises that may harm people, or may harm the situation, or people may question it, but if you’re doing it for the good, there’s a positive thing about that. But what does it make you become? And how do you change as a person?”

Gerrera has also changed — literally — since we first saw him in the teaser trailer. In a photo released as part of an EW cover story in June, his shaved head and close-cropped beard has been replaced with a wildfire of hair.

Some theorized that this was a alteration brought about during reshoots for the movie, but Whitaker says it’s a switch that happens within the story. Given the extra gray in his beard, maybe we’re seeing Saw at two different stages of his life.

“We made some decisions about how the character was progressing. They had a lot of opportunity to make tweaks and different things,” he says. “You’ll see both.”

For more Star Wars news, follow @Breznican.

Coming Friday: An interview with Felicity Jones about the reluctant hero Jyn Erso — and a second feature on the villain, Director Krennic, with Ben Mendelsohn.