“What will you do when they catch you? What will do if they break you? If you continue to fight, what will you become?”
These are the questions asked by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) in the first trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But unlike other new faces appearing in the next installment of the Star Wars universe – set before the events of A New Hope – we know Gerrera”s history. We know he”s not asking hypothetical questions to scare and prepare Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) for her dangerous mission. Saw Gerrera has already lived through one rebellion and audiences got to watch how it transformed him in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
This makes Saw the first character from the new extended universe to make the hop to the live-action films. But it also means we can look back and find clues to Rogue One in the Onderon rebellion featured in Season 5 of The Clone Wars.
Onderon – which sounds irritatingly close to ‘Alderaan” when spoken aloud – is an Inner Rim planet that attempted to be neutral in the Clone Wars. But refusing to choose a side meant one was chosen for them. The Separatists deposed the king and installed their own puppet rules, bringing Onderon forcibly into the fold. However, the coup was done in such a way that prevented direct involvement from the Jedi Council or the Republic. From the outside it appeared to be a civil war. Commander Ahsoka Tano and Generals Skywalker and Kenobi were sent to Onderon to train the insurgents in how to fight the droid army and supply them with funds and weapons. They could not get directly involved in the fighting though, as it would politically destabilize the area. Saw Gerrera and his sister Steela were two of those insurgents.
If this sounds extremely complex for a kids” cartoon, that”s because it is. Star Wars: The Clone Wars never shied away from the intricacies of war and the Onderon arc is a particularly uncomfortable look at the thin line between terrorism and rebellion. At one point Saw declares “Resistance is not terrorism,” but when the Jedi are using a third-party illegal arms dealer to send state-of-the-art weaponry with no paper trail to the insurgents, things feel murky even though you know the Onderon government is corrupt.
As one of the leaders of the Onderon rebellion, Saw Gerrera is a brash and impulsive young man. His desire to free his home world under any circumstance is tempered by his sister Steela and the son of the former (deceased) Onderon senator, a man named Lux Bonteri. Under the guidance of the Jedi and Captain Rex, the Onderonians form a successful freedom fighting cell that is able to disrupt the occupation of their planet. As with all battles though, there are sacrifices. At one point – in a moment of rash thinking – Saw splinters from the group and attempts to free the rightful king by himself. This only gets Gerrera captured…and tortured. Rewatching the sequence where Saw (voiced by Andrew Kishino) is subjected to excruciating interrogation methods after his older counterpart asks what Rogue One participants will do WHEN they are captured adds new weight to the scene.
For the record, Saw Gerrera did not break.
In the end, Onderon is freed due to the perseverance of her people and timely illegal weapons drop from friends on the Jedi Council. But Saw loses his sister in the process. Steela goes from competent leader of the Onderon rebels to a martyr and symbol for the cause. She left behind her brother and her pseudo-boyfriend Lux to grieve for her while helping refocus Onderon back into the Galactic Republic. We know that Lux became the Senator for Onderon, but Saw”s place in a post-insurgency world is less clear. What we do know is Saw did not sit by quietly when the Republic turned into the Empire and picked up where the Separatists left off.
We do not see Saw again until Rogue One, but he is mentioned by Agent Kallus (voiced by David Oyelowo) during a story in ‘The Honorable Ones” episode of Star Wars Rebels. Kallus recounts one of his first missions as an Imperial soldier was to put down a rebellion on Onderon. Instead, his unit was caught in an ambush and the everyone save Kallus was put to death by a Lasat mercenary working for Saw Gerrera. Kallus only survived as he was thrown aside by the explosion and was missed. Gerrera”s tactics are mentioned briefly as a borderline terrorist in Claudia Gray”s novel Star Wars: Bloodlines. The man from The Clone Wars is a far cry from the one in these stories. Suddenly, “If you continue to fight, what will you become?” takes on a personal ominous meaning.
Who did Saw Gerrera become during the years of Imperial occupation? But more importantly to our current interest, how does Jyn Erso know him?
Trailers can be hard to decipher. Marketing wizards place lines of dialogue over scenes they don”t go in, they obviously show events out of order, and they”re known to utilize footage that ends up on the cutting room floor. But everything shown so far by Rogue One indicates Jyn knows Saw personally. Her entreaty of “This is our chance to make a real difference” elicits a cynical smile from the veteran warrior. Saw Gerrera has been trying to make a real difference his entire life.
But between familiar tone the above scene, Gerrera”s more polished look in the first trailer that implies he is convinced to join the fight, and the way Jyn is looking at him in this shot from the Star Wars Celebration reel, it appears these two have a history.
Image Credit: Lucasfilm
What we know of Gerrera indicates he spent a great portion of his adult life fighting the good fight on Onderon. Perhaps Jyn and her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) are also native of that Inner Rim planet. Little is known about Onderon's exports or expertise, but as a bustling metropolitan Inner Rim planet, one can assume it is a wealthy and highly educated place. One more than capable of producing scientific minds like Galen”s. The kind of mind that could used in borderline terroristic attacks on the oppressive regime of the Empire in an attempt to free Onderon.
Whether Galen was once a friend of Gerrera”s or Jyn found him later in life (she”s been on her own since she was fifteen, though one wonders if Galen left his daughter by choice or was forced into service of the Empire) is something fans can hope will be explored in Rogue One.
Side note: With the return of Saw Gerrera, I kind of hope Lux Bonteri makes the jump to live-action as well. The senator from Onderon would be an ideal ally for Bail Organa and the Rebellion as he too has been through this before.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story arrives in theaters on December 16, 2016.