In fall 2012, the award-winning animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars began a four-episode story arc about an insurgency trained by the Republic and the Jedi to covertly displace Separatist leaders, hinting at the very earliest roots of the Rebel Alliance. This landmark story in Star Wars canon was overshadowed days after its completion when it was revealed that Disney had shockingly purchased Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise. While the world moved onto speculating what the newly-announced sequel trilogy would involve and The Clone Wars went on to tell other stories, never revisiting the brave freedom fighters of Onderon, one character would not be forgotten at all: Saw Gerrera.
In The Clone Wars, Saw was introduced as a rash, impulsive leader of an insurrection on Onderon. “He fashions himself as our leader,” his sister and fellow rebel Steela observes, “though no one elected him.” By the end of that story, Saw has accepted Steela’s rightful command and has been transformed by both personal loss and victory for his rebellion. Due to The Clone Wars‘ penchant (or notoriety) for one-off characters, it seemed unlikely we’d ever hear from Saw again, but as we know, that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
In late 2014, as Rebels began its first season, rumors of Saw were already beginning to circulate. MakingStarWars.net reported that Saw’s voice actor from Clone Wars, Andrew Kishino, would be returning for Star Wars Rebels, as would Sam Witwer, who portrayed Maul. Witwer, of course, would return to Rebels in its second season as both Emperor Palpatine and Maul, but Kishino (and Saw, at that point, at least) never appeared, though he was mentioned. In last February’s The Honorable Ones, in which Rebel warrior Zeb Orrelios and his Imperial Security Bureau officer arch-nemesis Agent Kallus are stranded on a frozen moon alone together, Zeb learns that his enemy was radicalized in support of the Empire and hatred of Zeb’s people after one of their number, working as a mercenary, mercilessly butchered Kallus’s wounded, defenseless troops. The man’s commanding officer, Kallus tells us, was none other than Saw Gerrera, hinting at the radical tactics Saw developed after the fall of the Jedi.
The next hint of Saw’s escapades after the Clone Wars in the age of the Empire came in Claudia Gray’s novel Bloodline, released last May. This book was an adaptation of a scrapped animated short, Scandal of Blood, which was to be released before The Force Awakens to depict Leia’s falling-out with the Republic and the public revelation of her parentage, leading her to start the Resistance. One of the accusations leveled at Leia by pro-Empire Ransolm Casterfo is that she and the Rebellion condoned “the campaigns of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans.” A more complete picture of Saw was painted here, as Leia would not say any more than that the Rebels did what they had to do.
Obviously, the biggest shockwave regarding Saw’s importance was the announcement late in June last year that he was indeed the character Forest Whitaker would be portraying in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Many of the cast’s roles had been rumored for the start, but virtually no one had predicted a character who essentially originated in the cartoons would make the leap to a relatively large role in a feature film. It was clear that Saw would be key to the Rebellion’s story in the movie, but many were surprised at how closely he was connected to the film’s protagonist, Jyn Erso, who turned out to be his adopted daughter following her mother’s death and father’s abduction at the hands of the Empire. Saw’s extremism and eventual abandonment of the girl for the greater good defined Jyn’s character as a jaded loner. Catalyst, a novel serving as a prequel to Rogue One, largely focused on the Erso family, but gave a glimpse at the earliest days of Saw’s rebellion and his descent into mad paranoia.
One of the most overlooked and interesting tidbits to come out of the Saw mania that followed this announcement was revealed by Lucasfilm creative executive Pablo Hidalgo on the official weekly YouTube news series The Star Wars Show, where he said, “Saw’s been kicking around for a while. A lot of people know him from Clone Wars, but he actually started off before that. 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 into his story in Clone Wars.” This cancelled live-action show, set in roughly the same time period as Star Wars Rebels, was easily one of the most legendary and rumored Star Wars projects ever, first revealed by George Lucas at the Celebration III convention in Indianapolis in 2005, and this reveal was a rare scrap of information about its premise and characters.
Saw’s story isn’t over anytime soon, either. It was revealed late last month that Forest Whitaker would be reprising the role for Saw’s long-rumored and much-anticipated debut on Star Wars Rebels in a story set two years before Rogue One in which he is still affiliated with the Rebellion, but his paranoia, extremism, and questionable methods are causing severe tensions, in particular his ominous obsession with uncovering an Imperial plot to construct a certain super weapon, in this weekend’s hour-long mid-season special, Ghosts of Geonosis.
Saw has come full circle, and his story reveals a few auspicious signs regarding the future of Star Wars. First and foremost, of course, is the Lucasfilm Story Group’s willingness to draw characters and other elements from animated Star Wars stories. While often regarded as apocryphal at best by average moviegoers, several other key components of these shows worked their way, albeit less prominently than Gerrera, into Rogue One, with cameos by the droid Chopper and the starship Ghost, and the name of Rebel leader Hera Syndulla called over the PA system in the Rebel base. Saw’s inclusion as a key story element from the very beginning shows us that there are people paying attention to all aspects of the Star Wars universe and nothing is off limits in the name of story synergy.
In addition, it shows us that overall, nothing is ever forgotten in Star Wars. Saw was developed years prior to his Clone Wars debut for the cancelled live-action show, in which he was going to feature as an extreme Rebel leader on the fringes of the Alliance. We’re finally seeing these elements of his character. Han Solo was also rumored for this television series. Will we see even more of Lucas’s concepts in 2018’s as-yet-untitled Han Solo standalone film? Early rumors about Woody Harrelson’s role indicate that he may be playing some variation on Ovan Marekal, a trader and a mentor to Solo who was first explored in early drafts of The Empire Strikes Back. Pablo Hidalgo has also revealed on Twitter that Empire Day, the Imperial anniversary celebration featured in Rebels, comes from Lucas’s show, and all but the very first season of The Clone Wars contained content from the series.
Regardless of whether or not more unused elements of discarded or reworked Star Wars stories make their way into future content, Saw Gerrera is clearly a trailblazer for more obscure characters to make their way into the mainstream feature films and a harbinger for a new era of synergy in Star Wars.