Canon Revisited | The Clone Wars Onderon Arc

Season five of The Clone Wars takes place in 20 BBY, a year before the end of the Clone Wars. The Republic forces are stretched thin, and the clone army is weary. In the midst of this is a growing resistance on Onderon to return King Ramsis Dendup to the throne. Ramsis threw his support to the Republic but was overthrown and replaced with a Separatists puppet, King Sanjay Rash. When Lux Bonteri reaches out to the Republic for help, the Republic decides to train the forces to fight back instead of bringing an army unit, which would cause an all-out war with the Separatists.

And this is where we first meet Saw Gerrera. A character that has gone on to appear in other Star Wars animated shows, games, and films. Saw Gerrera will return in Andor, a prequel story for Rogue One that will follow Cassian Andor up to the events of the first anthology film.

Saw’s sister, Steela, played a key role in the Onderon arc and her death has had a devastating impact on his life | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

Saw was a surface-level character in Rogue One and borderline unrecognizable for canon fans of the character. Forest Whitaker played Saw more as a crazy, paranoid man; unfortunately, he was in one of the weakest scenes in the film. Andor looks to give more room to develop Saw and explore his extremist views and actions.

And the key to that lies in this Onderon arc and his sister Steela. Saw, Steela, and Lux initially train with Anakin, Kenobi, Rex, and Ahsoka, and the dynamics between the three take shape. Lux and Steela have a budding romance, while Steela and Saw clash on the strategy to retake the capital. When the three started the insurgent group, Saw appointed himself as the leader. 

Steela was able to balanced her brother’s penchant for fighting with Lux’s political tendencies | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

After a successful attack, Obi-Wan and Ashoka remark that the people were fearful. Obi-Wan warns them that they need to be mindful of public perception.

Saw’s response is to do more damage, while Steela says they need the people to believe we can succeed.

“They’re afraid we’re not strong enough to win.”

Steela Gerrera, The Clone Wars: Front Runners

Lux suggests hitting the power generator that charges the droids. When he recommends that they do more surveillance to learn the layout, Saw rips the head off a battle droid for quicker results. Lux is a politician, waiting things out, while Saw is a soldier, always eager for a fight. Steela adapts to become a combination of the two: She is a skilled fighter but is constantly mindful of peoples’ perceptions.

The replacement is a turning point in the arc and the siblings’ relationship. Although it is never made clear in the show, Steela is Saw’s younger sister, and having a younger sibling that is better than you at anything is tough. But Saw’s identity is tied to this resistance group and restoring King Ramsion to the throne. And the perception of his team as a reflection of his leadership abilities hurt.

Saw: We can sit here as free men or servants of the Separatists.

General Tandin: I am free, while you have chosen to become a terrorist.

Saw: I’m not a terrorist. I’m a patriot. And the resistance is not terrorism.

The Clone Wars: The Soft War

Saw proceeds to undercut the resistance plans by trying to break out Ramsis himself and gets captured, preventing the resistance from saving him before the execution. Saw manages to talk to the General of the Onderon Militia, Akenathen Tandin, and convince him that the resistance cause is noble. And it pays off. Akenathen Tandin switches allegiance to the resistance. But when Ahsoka also has to intervene and reveal herself as a Jedi to help rescue Saw and Ramsis, this forces the group to retreat to the highlands as Dooku brings in Separatist forces in response to Jedi involvement.

And when things turn in their favor during a final battle in the Highlands, Saw shoots down a gunship that barrels into a cliff where Steela is. Both Lux and Ahsoka try to save her, but Steela falls to her death. Onderon goes on to defeat the Separatists, with Lux becoming a senator in the Republic, but Saw is never the same. And a year later, Imperial forces started tightening their grip on planets in the Mid-Rim, including Onderon, Saw, and his faction flee. When we see him in The Bad Batch, which is the closest to the end of the Onderon arc we have gotten, he has put the strategies and tactics of The Clone Wars behind him. He tells the Bad Batch that the “old ways are done. You can either adapt and survive or die with the past.” 

Ahsoka and Lux comfort Saw at Steela’s funeral | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

And Saw progressively worsens physically and mentally as the Galactic War continues. He loses limbs and delves further into extremist tactics to hurt the Empire, often at the Rebellion’s expense. He adapts(and exceeds) the brutality of the Empire.

He never learns to be mindful of public perception of his actions and eventually stops caring, telling Mon Mothma in Rebels that “the Empire considers both of us like criminals. At least I act like one.”

Rebels hints that Saw still suffers from PTSD from the events of this arc and losing his sister. And that he blames himself for what happened to his sister. In a way, Saw is responsible for Steela’s death, but it was also a series of unfortunate events (including Ahsoka getting hit while trying to Force-lifting Steela to safety). 

Even though Andor will focus on the title character, the trailers indicate that Stellan Skarsgård’s Luthen Rael and Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma will have character arcs. Saw Gerrera could explore Saw’s past and his guilt that perhaps the wrong sibling died in the Battle of Onderon. 

Saw proved he could use his words wisely when he convinced General Tandin to switch sides | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

Saw regular comes into conflict with Mon Mothma, accusing her Rebellion of too much inaction. And he is not entirely off the mark. In Rogue One, while Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and a bunch of politicians are arguing over what to do about the Death Star, Saw’s adoptive daughter, Jyn Erso, takes a team of insurgents and goes to Scariff to take action.

Mon Mothma thought of Saw as a criminal, but his legacy is far more complicated. While Rogue One never attempted to show this complexity, hopefully, Andor can begin to put those pieces together and bring some dignity to his live-action portrayal.