“What will you do when they catch you? What will you do if they break you? If you continue to fight, what will you become?” These are questions Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) asks Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) in the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. They are also questions he likely asked himself.
The war-weary character from the Star Wars anthology film has a name, and it’s one fans of The Clone Wars series already know: Saw first made his appearance in the fifth season of the animated TV series.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance in George Lucas’ original trilogy acquired the plans for the Death Star. Ahead of Saw making his live-action film debut, here’s what you need to know about the character with a rich Star Wars history. (Warning: Clone Wars spoilers ahead.)
1. The war for Onderon
Onderon was once a savage planet filled with jungles and ferocious creatures, forcing the inhabitants to construct settlements that later evolved into grand, walled cities. One of these is the capital city of Iziz, the center of the civil war that plagued the planet in The Clone Wars.
King Ramsis Dendup always took a neutral stance on the Separatist movement versus the Galactic Empire. He is eventually ousted and held prisoner by Sanjay Rash, who aligns Onderon with Count Dooku and the Confederacy. This spawns a rebellion among the people, one of the many pockets of rebels popping up around the galaxy at this time.
Saw, his sister Steela, and the son of a Separatist senator, Lux Bonteri, were among this pocket group fighting to regain their independence from Sanjay.
2. Jedi training
We first meet these early rebels in season 5, episode 2, “A War on Two Fronts,” the first in a four-episode arc.
According to story group member Pablo Hidalgo, who appeared on a recent episode of The Star Wars Show, “George Lucas had him in mind for his live-action TV series that he was in development, which ultimately never happened. But he found a place to put Saw in the story in Clone Wars.”
Aware of the people’s plight on Onderon, the Jedi Council sends Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ahsoka Tano to find and train the rebels to fight Separatist forces. Saw, voiced by Andrew Kishino, is one of the more brash and arrogant members of the group. Trying to make his mark by flaunting his physical prowess and lack of patience, he initially spars with Lux, choosing to see only his ties to the enemy.
Steela remarks of her brother, “He fashions himself as our leader, though no one elected him.” When the Jedi eventually bestow the title to Steela for her skills and natural authority, Saw doesn’t take the news well.
3. This is a rebellion. Saw rebels
Saw’s aggressive and impetuous actions are on full display as the rebels infiltrate Iziz. He’s shown tossing bombs into tanks, ripping the head off a droid, and defies Steela’s orders in executing a solo rescue mission.
Believing Ramsis is somehow leading the rebels against him, Sanjay condemns him to public execution as a means of displaying his power and drawing out his enemies. Saw takes it upon himself to execute a solo extraction in the middle of the night, leading to his own capture.
Both are rescued when the royal guards turn against their corrupt king, but Saw’s “shoot first, ask questions later” outlook causes the biggest turning point in his life.
4. Losing Steela
A full revolt sparks in the Onderon Highlands, where the rebels are based. The Jedi are instructed to not interfere and let the rebels fight their own war, win or lose. This proves difficult for Ahsoka, who sees her allies losing the battle. When all seems lost, Anakin secretly sends rocket launchers to assist.
Saw uses one of these weapons to shoot down an enemy ship that crashes into the side of the mountain where Steela is stationed. Ahsoka uses her Jedi abilities to lift her up as she clings to the side of the rock, but a blast from a stray enemy tank breaks her concentration and Steela falls to her death.
At the time, the true impact of this loss is unclear, but one would presume it played a part Saw’s evolution into a borderline “terrorist” — a term is used to describe Saw’s actions in Claudia Gray’s novel Bloodline.
5. Star Wars Rebels
Agent Kallus makes a similar case for Saw’s extremist actions in the Star Wars Rebels animated series. In season 2, episode 15, he recalls when he was tasked with defending the Separatists from the Rebel forces on Onderon. His unit was caught off guard by an explosion from one of Saw’s mercenaries, who proceeded to execute those injured in the blast.
6. Saw’s Rogue One story
Hildago further explained on The Star Wars Show that Saw’s inclusion in Rogue One arose from the need for some sort of extremist.
“The way that came about is as the Rogue One story started to gel, the filmmakers realized that they needed a rebel extremist-type character, and we already have one in Saw,” he said. “They took that character, ran with it, and as they started developing the script they realized there was only one person that they wanted to play this character.”
Elaborating on the character, he explained, “Saw, if you think about him, is an extreme rebel. He’s definitely against the Empire, but he does things that morally push against the kind of things that Bail Organa and Mon Mothma stand for. So, he’s definitely the more extreme side of the Rebel Alliance.”
This is very much the case in the film. “Consider him kind of a battered veteran who leads a band of Rebel extremists,” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy told EW. “He’s on the fringe of the Rebel Alliance. Even [they] are a little concerned about him.” She further explains that while he’s an ally to the covert Rebel Alliance team, “he’s off on his own.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will hit theaters on Dec. 16. Read more about the film in EW’s latest issue.