One of the new characters in the first standalone Star Wars movie, Rogue One, isn’t really new at all. Rebel freedom fighter Saw Gerrera first made his debut in the galaxy far, far away in the animated series The Clone Wars before making the jump to the big-screen, courtesy of actor Forest Whitaker. Saw’s battle-hardened character is something unique to the broader saga, and perfectly encapsulates the distinctly gritty war film aesthetic of Rogue One. He also has a particular real-world precedent. It’s convenient that their names rhyme, because Saw Gerrera is like the Che Guevara of the Star Wars universe.
Original Star Wars mastermind George Lucas used many historical and mythological inspirations to create the foundation of his space opera. That the Empire recalled the Nazis and the Jedi are like samurai is obvious to anybody with a passing familiarity with history, so it might be no surprise that Lucas was the person who created such a historically anchored character like Saw. “This is really a story that we were excited about because it was coming straight from George,” Clone Wars creator Dave Filoni told IGN in 2013. “The idea that there would be pocket groups of rebels around the galaxy that would later kind of form a rebel alliance galvanized under Mon Mothma and Bail Organa.”
Saw’s origins lie in the Onderon arc, a Clone Wars Season 5 mini-story that saw the Separatist army battling the Republic on Gerrera’s home world of Onderon. It’s there he learned how to fight alongside Jedi representatives like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, and formed a kind of guerrilla mentality to compensate for the Republic’s dwindling forces as they battled the endless droid army of the Separatists. It’s also where he also got his motivation. His sister Steela was killed by a Separatist gunship that Gerrera himself shot down.
When we find him on Jedha in Rogue One, he’s become a much deadlier foreign-born revolutionary, like the Argentina-born Guevara was during the Cuban Revolution. Both are polarizing figures who were entrenched in battle between their own personal interpretations of a larger conflict. Both eventually broke with the formal cause but still fought for the same ends. Che believed that his armed revolutionary ideals could push beyond Fidel Castro’s small Caribbean island home. Saw abandoned the bureaucratic bickering of the Rebellion and took it upon himself to cause a ruckus for the Empire and the Rebel Alliance in equal measures, free from Mon Mothma’s oversight.
Each also had severe cults of personality around them. Guevara preferred to gain the trust of the Cuban people over supporting Castro’s specific political activity, and judging by Saw’s even ragtag group of fighters, he did the same thing. You could almost imagine Alberto Korda’s iconic propaganda photo of Che — now monetized everywhere from T-shirts, to posters, to fashion accessories — be swapped out for someone like Saw. When Imperial defector Bodhi Rook is sent by Galen Erso to meet up with Saw’s Rebel group on Jedha, the timid pilot is almost too worked up to meet the controversial political guerilla fighter.
As Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said of Saw: “Consider him kind of a battered veteran who leads a band of Rebel extremists,” she told EW. “He’s on the fringe of the Rebel Alliance. Even [they] are a little concerned about him.” Saw’s codename on the Rogue One set, fittingly enough, was “Castro.”
Saw is willing to find whatever means he can to defeat the Empire because he sees his fight as a noble one, regardless of who could be categorized as a victim.
Their similar extreme ideologies ultimately cost them their lives. Che was killed by Bolivian forces when he was attempting to create a revolutionary independence movie in the beleaguered South American country in 1967. Saw met his end doing the same thing when the Empire tested the firepower of the Death Star on Jedha City.
These are two individuals who mean equal and opposite things to many different people, but they share a common adherence to revolution. Each could be categorized by a line of dialogue Saw says that doesn’t make the final film. “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?” For a fictional character like Saw Gerrera and a real-life person like Che Guevara, there is no other question but that last one.