Despite the advanced weaponry and military might of the Galactic Empire, one of its greatest assets was Darth Vader. He inspired terror across the galaxy, and his appearance in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story reminds us just how imposing he can be. Even without his formidable Force powers, Vader is still a force to be reckoned with and his black-clad form helps to strike dread into allies and enemies alike. It’s almost a pity that the Rebellion doesn’t have a similar figure to help demoralize the Empire… or do they?
Saw Gerrera could arguably be the Rebellion’s “Darth Vader” figure, carrying with him his own air of dread that, as we learn in Rogue One, is well-earned. His tactics are extreme, and he is certainly one of the rebels that the Empire fears the most. Even actor Forest Whitaker has commented that there are “similarities” between Saw and Vader, though he was unsure how much he should reveal about the character before the film’s release. Does Saw Gerrera live up to the role of being the Rebellion’s Darth Vader, however?
Saw Gerrera and his Partisan rebels fight hard against the Empire, and they make sure that every strike takes a toll not only on the Empire’s troops, but also on morale. They strike hard, often in unexpected locations as Saw and some of his rebels began as guerrilla fighters against the Separatists during the Clone Wars. Saw always focused more on hitting hard and fast instead of developing a strategy and trying to minimize losses; in fact, it was his tendency to rush into battle that resulted in the death of his sister, Steela, during the Battle of Onderon. While Steela’s death helped transform Saw into a stronger leader, it did nothing to teach him compassion for his enemies.
When Saw and the Partisans attack a target of importance to the Empire, he makes no effort to try and minimize civilian and noncombatant casualties. The strikes are often brutal and focused on dealing as much damage as possible to any Imperial in the target zone. This is why Saw Gerrera is viewed as a terrorist by the Empire, and by some within the Rebellion as well.
Distance from the Rebellion
Despite the Partisans being one of the first rebel groups to stand up against the Empire, much of the organized Rebellion has distanced itself from Saw Gerrera. Rebel leaders like Mon Mothma and Bail Organa have concerns about or have flat out denounced him due to his extreme tactics against the Empire. They want the Rebellion to be seen as the “good guys”, and Saw doesn’t fit into that narrative. He’s a warrior on the fringe of the Rebellion, and many of those in the core rebel groups wish that he would just fade away into legend.
This is similar to Vader’s role within the Empire. Throughout the original trilogy, it was clear that Vader didn’t really fit in with the standard rank-and-file military of the Empire. He was feared, and rightly so, because he wasn’t held to the same standards as the common Imperial soldier. There are a few such as Grand Moff Tarkin who were not intimidated by Vader, but that was likely because they knew that Vader could not strike out at them with the impunity that he could lesser soldiers. Those who did not fear him seemed to hold him in contempt, and it’s safe to say that Vader had no friends on either side of the conflict.
More Machine than Man
There are some physical similarities between Saw Gerrera and Darth Vader as well. Vader, of course, has a life-support system that’s built into his armor, and the injuries he sustained on Mustafar were too serious to be healed without machines (and the occasional bacta tank session) to help keep him alive. Likewise, Saw has sustained a number of injuries over the years as a result of his tactics and willingness to throw himself into battle against superior forces. Now his armor contains its own life support systems to help keep him alive in spite of a number of serious injuries that he’s sustained. This is the reason that his breastplate is so large; it contains the machinery that’s keeping Saw in the fight.
There’s something of a robotic nature to both Saw and Vader’s personalities as well. They both have an end goal in mind, and are very single-minded in pursuit of that goal. Both could be considered somewhat cold and detached, and it’s not just a result of being hooked up to machinery that helps keep them alive. They’ve both experienced significant losses as a result of their own actions (Vader lost Padme, and Saw lost Steela), and the weight of that helps to drive their determination to destroy their enemies once and for all.
A Rebel Terrorist
Saw’s tactics are extreme enough that he is branded a terrorist by the Empire, and even used as propaganda to help convince citizens of the Empire that all rebels are terrorists. Decades after his death, he’s still remembered for his terroristic actions; New Republic senator Ransolm Casterfo specifically called out Saw Gerrera as an example of the rebels resorting to terrorism against the Empire in a conversation with Leia Organa 20 years after the Empire fell. He said that the Rebellion was right to oppose the Empire, but that terrorism wasn’t the way to do it. Saw, of course, would have held that extreme tactics were the only way to overcome such a powerful enemy.
Though the Empire latched on to Saw’s tactics for propaganda, they likely viewed Saw as a genuine threat. After all, he was trained in part by Anakin Skywalker himself… this means that Darth Vader, who stood at the Emperor’s side, knew exactly how dangerous Saw Gerrera could be. While Vader himself obviously had nothing to fear from Saw, it’s unlikely that the time that he and Obi-Wan Kenobi spent training the Onderian rebels would go unnoticed by strategists trying to come up with tactics to defeat the Partisans.
The Rebellion’s Darth Vader?
Looking at Saw Gerrera’s actions and legacy, if anyone was going to be the Rebellion’s Darth Vader then it would likely be him. His tactics are significantly different than Vader’s and he lacks Vader’s Force abilities, but his reputation is strong enough to make both allies and enemies ill at ease. Given his reputation as a terrorist and history as a guerrilla fighter, it’s a reasonable assumption that Empire personnel would become very nervous indeed if they knew that Saw was operating in their area. The Empire’s own propaganda likely increased this effect, helping to build up Saw’s legend as a terrorist and cold-blooded murderer better than even he could. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone else in the Rebellion who could potentially strike that kind of fear into an enemy just by the mention of his name.
That’s not to say that Saw’s reputation is equal with Vader’s, of course. Despite the terror he might manifest, he was still just an ordinary man with no ability to use the Force to make himself a greater threat. Still, there’s a lot to be said for having someone as dangerous as Saw Gerrera on the side of the Rebellion, especially when it comes to demoralizing the enemy and bringing the fight to something as large as the Empire.