When the Rogue One trailer first dropped in April, there was quite a lot to take in. Besides the deluge of first look photos and interviews by Entertainment Weekly about the newest and first standalone Star Wars movie that were released this week, it’s still the only footage we’ve seen of director Gareth Edwards’s outlier in the saga. It’ll be the first time we venture away from the episodic storyline of the Skywalker family and focus on something more specific, namely the Rebel mission to steal the Death Star plans immediately prior to A New Hope. Leaked information gave us the rundown of all the main characters like Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso, but curiously absent were specifics on Forest Whitaker’s delightfully gruff character seen in the trailer. Who could this dude be? It turns out, he’s from the Star Wars cartoons, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
In the Star Wars universe, Whitaker’s character Saw Gerrera is a throwback insurgent from the Clone Wars. More specifically, he’s literally first introduced in the celebrated Star Wars animated series The Clone Wars in a 2012 episode called “A War on Two Fronts.” If you’re a Star Wars completist you probably know him kinda, maybe well. Gerrera fought alongside the young Jedi Anakin Skywalker in the pre-Darth Vader days, and was trained by Obi-Wan Kenobi to fight the Separatist movement that was using his home planet of Onderon to battle the Republic. In an epic battle, his sister Steela was killed fighting for the freedom of his planet and it allegedly threw him into and even more radicalized state.
We’ll have to wait and see just how much of his backstory really comes into play in Rogue One when the movie is released, but the problem with the character lies in the mere inclusion of Gerrera into the movie saga itself. It sets a not-so-much dangerous precedent, but a slippery one. Until Gerrera, characters from the films had made lead appearances in the cartoons like Darth Vader and Obi-Wan showing up in various episodes here and there. It was great because it made the already lauded Clone Wars and Rebels TV shows even better. But an original character from the cartoons had never made the jump to the big-screen.
Granted, Rebels and Clone Wars are well established canon in the new official Star wars universe set up by Disney. Gerrera’s inclusion is also an obvious move by Lucasfilm to test the waters of total multimedia synergy like fellow Disney offshoot Marvel has done in its hugely lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kids who like the cartoons will go see Rogue One, and people who like Rogue One will most likely check out the TV series because they’re curious. It’s more money in the bank for those involved.
It may make sense in terms of dollars and cents, but bumping a cartoon character into the cinematic universe of Star Wars just kind of reeks of opportunism and is the entirely wrong way to do things from a storytelling perspective. Transplanting Gerrera’s cartoon character into the Rogue One is a way to get people excited about the standalone movies, but done in a really forced way. It’s bringing secondary knowledge of something or someone into the primary level of the films instead of the primary films highlighting their secondary offshoots.
Take, for example, C-3PO’s infamous red arm from The Force Awakens. It was a minor detail in the grand scheme of director J.J. Abrams’s movie, and it was rounded out in a nice little C-3PO comic books story. But what if it were the other way around? It’d be strangely inappropriate if some very important occurrence in the comics that gave Threepio his red arm specifically impacted the narrative of the main movie series.
That’s essentially what’s happening now that Saw Gerrera is in Rogue One. The character just seems planted there for a particular slice of Star Wars fans to get overly excited because they already know this guy. They aren’t super excited by the character from the movie.
This isn’t to say that characters from the TV show or the new Expanded Universe books shouldn’t make it into the movies eventually. If the standalone experiment works, it’d be great to see Lucasfilm get weird and make a huge $100 million movie around fan favorite Ahsoka Tano. Marvel was patient with expanding their lineup, and now we have an Ant-Man movie for god sakes.
The surprise Saw Gerrera reveal just seems a bit exploitative at this point. Whitaker’s freshly shorn head in the trailer is at odds with the character’s unkempt hairdo in the EW photos, and the differing opposite facial scars between the TV show character and Whitaker in Rogue One make it seem possible that labelling him Gerrera might have even been a PR hail mary during the movie’s much publicized reshoots. Either way, it’ll be up to Rogue One to make Gerrara matter as a character and not just a character from the cartoon.