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Imperial Japan & The Empire

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Often I see comparisons between the Nazis and the Empire, but I was wondering if any of the sage contributors here has any insight into how the Empire may have any similarities to the Japanese war machine and government of the WWII era, if any? Sometimes Star Wars takes on a bit of a goofy feel, and Imperials are sometimes portrayed as buffoons much like the Nazis in Hogan's Heroes or something, but the Japanese Military committed atrocities as well and I don't remember seeing them lampooned as much (beyond awful racial stereotyping). 

Any thoughts on this would be great. 

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My research is mostly focused on classical Japan, but I can tell you right off the bat that American historical memory of WWII has mostly focused on Japan as the perpetrators of Pearl Harbor.  Japan's wartime atrocities in China and Korea are emphasized much less, though there is a robust amount of historical scholarship addressing these issues.

Certainly the expectation of self-sacrifice in the performance of war, even to the point of suicide, might have some parallel in how the Empire just throws troops at everything, but I really am not sure.

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There really isn’t much of a comparison. Geoge Lucas specifically used the Nazis as the basis for the Empire, even having Palpatine mirroring Hitler in how he rose to power, and using WWI German uniforms as the basis for the Imperial uniforms and using the term “Stormtroopers”. Imperial Japanese culture isn’t even remotely reflected in the Galactic Empire. Where there is Japanese Influence is in the Jedi Order. 

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While the Empire (it's soldiers, it's leaders, it's uniforms, it's style of ruling, etc, etc, etc) are based almost entirely on the Nazis of WW2 Germany, there is some influences from Japanese history.  Not in the leadership, but in the visuals.

Vader's armor is very similar to the design of Samurai armor.  Sword fighting of the jedi/sith is heavily influenced by sword combat from Japan and from Japanese movies.  Basically everything about the Jedi is based on Samurai actually.  On top of that, many of the plots, tropes, and even many of the scenes can be pulled almost directly from many older Japanese Samurai movies.  Lucas was well known for simply copying existing content with a new cover or theme placed on top of it.  Most of the battle scenes in the original trilogy for example are simply direct copy reshoots of world war 2 battle footage.

Hidden Fortress for instance is often seen as a heavily influential film for Star Wars.  Lucas was a huge fan of the film, and there are many similarities in characters, plot, scenes, etc.  There are even two characters that are suspected to be the inspiration for R2 and 3P0.  There is even a scene where the two of them argue and split up when they disagree on which way to go.  Hidden Fortress also has a scene very reminiscent of the speeder bike fight in Return.  If you watch Hidden Fortress, you'll also notice something about the pacing in fights.  Do the saber fights of the OT seem slow paced?  Watch them next to the fight scenes of Hidden Fortress or other old Japanese Samurai movies and you'll notice a striking similarity.  The strikes were slower, more deliberate, and match very closely to what you see in the OT.  I forget the movie, but there is also a Samurai movie where a guy gets his arm cut off in a battle and the scene lines up very well to the cantina scene.

Basically, throw together some WW2 Nazis, some Japanese Samurai, some WW2 battle footage, some old Japanese movies, and give it a strong Buck Rogers paint job (with some flash gordon highlights) and you basically have Star Wars.

While the Empire itself is not really based in any part on Japanese culture, it's not hard to get strong Japanese vibes from the movies due to other elements.

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If I were to change things to put an Imperial Japanese analog into SW, I would probably go with the Chiss Ascendency and have it allied with the Empire and go with some of the historical themes of IJ in WWII for why the Chiss joined in with the Empire.

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Hey thanks these are great insights. It was a thought I had that maybe there was something to be plumbed there besides the situations, but I think you guys are right and the Nazis seem to be the model for the Empire. 

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On 4/6/2019 at 6:40 PM, Tramp Graphics said:

There really isn’t much of a comparison. Geoge Lucas specifically used the Nazis as the basis for the Empire, even having Palpatine mirroring Hitler in how he rose to power, and using WWI German uniforms as the basis for the Imperial uniforms and using the term “Stormtroopers”. Imperial Japanese culture isn’t even remotely reflected in the Galactic Empire. Where there is Japanese Influence is in the Jedi Order. 

How does Hitler's rise to power compare to Hitler's? Abraham Lincoln I can see. Both are leaders that rose to power during a crisis with member areas threatening secession followed by a civil war pitting the central government and loyalist regions against the secessionist elements. Plus Lincoln and Palpatine both used their civil wars, well Palpatine's first civil war, as an excuse to seize powers they weren't supposed to have in the name of security. The big difference is Palpatine tricked the government into granting him those powers, which is really the only way I see his rise to power being like Hitler's, while Lincoln just did what he wanted and ignored the courts when they ruled he didn't have the authority to do so.

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Perhaps but after the PT it looks closer to Lincoln then Hitler to me for the reasons I stated in my first post. The biggest change comes at the end of the US Civil War for Lincoln and the Clone Wars for Palpatine with Lincoln dying and Palpatine living to become Emperor.

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12 hours ago, RogueCorona said:

Perhaps but after the PT it looks closer to Lincoln then Hitler to me for the reasons I stated in my first post. The biggest change comes at the end of the US Civil War for Lincoln and the Clone Wars for Palpatine with Lincoln dying and Palpatine living to become Emperor.

How do you figure? Lincoln never used his authority to do anything outside of the purview of his office. He didn't try to usurp the power of the legislature, or try turn himself into a dictator. Not only that, but Lincoln didn't engineer the American Civil War. He didn't create a corps of Storm troopers, or death squads. Both Hitler and Palpatine did. Both Hitler and Palpatine used the respective crises of their governments to seize absolute power, and plunge their subjects into reigns of terror. They both enslaved and slaughtered those they felt were "undesirables". Lincoln made slavery illegal in the US, and worked to provide equal rights to those who had previously been subjugated. There is no comparison between Palpatine and Lincoln. Palpatine was deliberately based upon Adolf Hitler. The Empire was based upon the Nazis right down to their uniforms, Storm troopers, and  Supremist ideology

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2 hours ago, Tramp Graphics said:

How do you figure? Lincoln never used his authority to do anything outside of the purview of his office. He didn't try to usurp the power of the legislature, or try turn himself into a dictator. Not only that, but Lincoln didn't engineer the American Civil War. He didn't create a corps of Storm troopers, or death squads. Both Hitler and Palpatine did. Both Hitler and Palpatine used the respective crises of their governments to seize absolute power, and plunge their subjects into reigns of terror. They both enslaved and slaughtered those they felt were "undesirables". Lincoln made slavery illegal in the US, and worked to provide equal rights to those who had previously been subjugated. There is no comparison between Palpatine and Lincoln. Palpatine was deliberately based upon Adolf Hitler. The Empire was based upon the Nazis right down to their uniforms, Storm troopers, and  Supremist ideology

Well... Mirror Universe Lincoln... Maybe.

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Engineer the war perhaps not but Lincoln certainly didn't try very hard to prevent it. He outright refused to meet with southern representatives that came attempting to negotiate with his government in hopes of preventing bloodshed. Not to mention the fact that he used a minor skirmish where no one died (The only fatalities sustained at Fort Sumter were caused by an accident with their own artillery while firing a salute after the battle was over) as an excuse for an invasion and a war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and who knows how people to be maimed.

And Lincoln had no love of freedom, or at least no love of freedom for those who disagreed with him. He had no problems with arresting people and denying them their right to only be held if charged with a crime. Plus there were his governments violations of freedom of the press such as using force to shut down newspapers that condemned his domestic policies, and in at least two cases arresting publishers because they were planning to publish a book written by an imprisoned newspaper editor about his experiences. If the government did that today the public would be calling for the president to be impeached and rightly so.

And even in some of the few cases where Union forces were violating the rights of northern citizens where Lincoln did intervene he sometimes wouldn't. Such as when he countermanded an order to arrest anyone who spoke out against the war and try them by military tribunal rather then jury, violating both freedom of speech and right to a jury trial. Sure he did away with the order but only after exiling a politician arrested for speaking out against the war.

While Lincoln certainly opposed slavery, I think setting in motion its end was the one good thing he did while in power, he was not a believer in racial equality. Read his pre-war speeches and they'll show that he was racist as **** and would have most likely supported some of the abominations known as Jim Crow laws.

 

And no one has ever shown Hitler reigning during a full scale civil war. Palpatine was elected then used a civil war to turn himself into a dictator. If Palpatine's rise to power was so close to Hitler's where was Hitler's civil war? **** even the biggest internal assassination plot against him that I know of, which was nothing close to a full civil war, didn't come until long after Hitler was dictator.

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9 hours ago, RogueCorona said:

Engineer the war perhaps not but Lincoln certainly didn't try very hard to prevent it. He outright refused to meet with southern representatives that came attempting to negotiate with his government in hopes of preventing bloodshed. Not to mention the fact that he used a minor skirmish where no one died (The only fatalities sustained at Fort Sumter were caused by an accident with their own artillery while firing a salute after the battle was over) as an excuse for an invasion and a war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and who knows how people to be maimed.

And Lincoln had no love of freedom, or at least no love of freedom for those who disagreed with him. He had no problems with arresting people and denying them their right to only be held if charged with a crime. Plus there were his governments violations of freedom of the press such as using force to shut down newspapers that condemned his domestic policies, and in at least two cases arresting publishers because they were planning to publish a book written by an imprisoned newspaper editor about his experiences. If the government did that today the public would be calling for the president to be impeached and rightly so.

And even in some of the few cases where Union forces were violating the rights of northern citizens where Lincoln did intervene he sometimes wouldn't. Such as when he countermanded an order to arrest anyone who spoke out against the war and try them by military tribunal rather then jury, violating both freedom of speech and right to a jury trial. Sure he did away with the order but only after exiling a politician arrested for speaking out against the war.

While Lincoln certainly opposed slavery, I think setting in motion its end was the one good thing he did while in power, he was not a believer in racial equality. Read his pre-war speeches and they'll show that he was racist as **** and would have most likely supported some of the abominations known as Jim Crow laws.

 

And no one has ever shown Hitler reigning during a full scale civil war. Palpatine was elected then used a civil war to turn himself into a dictator. If Palpatine's rise to power was so close to Hitler's where was Hitler's civil war? **** even the biggest internal assassination plot against him that I know of, which was nothing close to a full civil war, didn't come until long after Hitler was dictator.

Sources?

Hitler instigated WWII which plunged all of Europe into chaos. He rose to power through manipulating the German people's situation following WWI, which left the country in a state of extreme economic depression and militarily crippled. He called for the enslavement and eventual extermination of Jews, Pols, Cheks, and anyone else he deemed "undesirable", or "impure". Lincoln never tried to declare himself absolute ruler of the US. Both Hitler and Palpatine did declare themselves absolute ruler of their governments. They completely dismantled their legislatures, usurped absolute power, and created a massive war machine all for the purpose of conquest and domination. Lincoln simply wanted to keep the Union whole. 

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1 hour ago, Tramp Graphics said:

Sources?

Hitler instigated WWII which plunged all of Europe into chaos. He rose to power through manipulating the German people's situation following WWI, which left the country in a state of extreme economic depression and militarily crippled. He called for the enslavement and eventual extermination of Jews, Pols, Cheks, and anyone else he deemed "undesirable", or "impure". Lincoln never tried to declare himself absolute ruler of the US. Both Hitler and Palpatine did declare themselves absolute ruler of their governments. They completely dismantled their legislatures, usurped absolute power, and created a massive war machine all for the purpose of conquest and domination. Lincoln simply wanted to keep the Union whole. 

Lincoln's feelings on race can be found in his debates with Stephen Douglas.

Any half decent book, article, or paper discussing the constitution, and constitutional rights in the era should cover rights that were suspended during the civil war. I'm away from home ATM, and even once I get home my civil war library is mostly cut off behind tons of boxes from spring cleaning so getting to them to provide specific examples will take awhile. The third paragraph specifically referred to Burnside's General Order 38. Clement Vallandigham, a politician from Ohio, was tried for treason by a military tribunal because he spoke out against both Lincoln and the  civil war. (If memory serves there were Union personnel at the speech specifically watching him to see if he would disobey the order to cease speaking out against the war though I'm not sure if they were assigned to do so or decided to on their own.) He was sentenced to prison for the war's duration but Lincoln changed the sentence to exile before declaring that Burnside didn't have the authority to impose Order 38.

As for the comparison between Lincoln and Palpatine, as I've already mentioned, both were elected as leaders of a Republic. Both ended up facing Separatist movements in a civil war and both claimed emergency powers during the conflict. Lincoln was assassinated after the war was won but while the fighting was still winding down. Palpatine got the Senate to declare him dictator at war's end.

And how does any of the sections you bolded in your reply apply to Palpatine other then the last, and with much stretching the second? Germany's military was hobbled by treaty restrictions while the Republic hadn't had a military in a thousand years.

Hitler was elected in the aftermath of a war that Germany lost with the terms imposed by the victors wrecking it both military and economically, the latter made all the worse by the Great Depression.

Palpatine was elected after a thousand years of peace, and the economy seemed to be doing fine. Plus the Republic had won its last major war decisively and the Naboo won the minor war they were involved in when Palpatine was elected.

 

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Tramp, let it go, trust me.

Lincoln is one of those figures that you just can't have a rational discussion about.

Every single political, economical, religious, and racial group has done a number of revisionist historical takes on the man.

One source will tell you he wanted war and did everything in his power to instigate it, another will tell you he didn't want war but thought it was an inevitability so he didn't try to stop it, another will tell you he didn't want war and did everything in his power to stop it.  They can all give you an extensive list of actions that he took, or things he wrote, said, or did that back up their interpretation.

When confronted by someone that has totally bought into one of those beliefs, you are incapable of have an open discussion on the subject.

Lincoln did suspend some constitutional rights.  Lincoln did rise to power from relative obscurity.  Lincoln however came to power before the civil war.  Palpatine created the civil unrest, came to power before the civil war, started the civil war, then used the civil war to come to power only to further use the war to cement that power permanently.

All of that doesn't really matter though.  As stated many times.  Lucas based Palpatine's rise to power on Hitler's rise to power (just as he modeled many aspects of the Empire on the Nazi Reich of WW2).  Any other comparisons are moot and pointless as the person that wrote the script has been quite open about his inspiration.  But it's just that, inspiration.  Obviously Hitler didn't orchestrate a civil war, or get into lightsaber fights with the Jedi Council.  I'd bet you anything that Lucas doesn't have any strong opinions on Lincoln or is even aware of anything besides the fact that he was president.

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21 hours ago, RogueCorona said:

Lincoln's feelings on race can be found in his debates with Stephen Douglas.

Any half decent book, article, or paper discussing the constitution, and constitutional rights in the era should cover rights that were suspended during the civil war. I'm away from home ATM, and even once I get home my civil war library is mostly cut off behind tons of boxes from spring cleaning so getting to them to provide specific examples will take awhile. The third paragraph specifically referred to Burnside's General Order 38. Clement Vallandigham, a politician from Ohio, was tried for treason by a military tribunal because he spoke out against both Lincoln and the  civil war. (If memory serves there were Union personnel at the speech specifically watching him to see if he would disobey the order to cease speaking out against the war though I'm not sure if they were assigned to do so or decided to on their own.) He was sentenced to prison for the war's duration but Lincoln changed the sentence to exile before declaring that Burnside didn't have the authority to impose Order 38.

As for the comparison between Lincoln and Palpatine, as I've already mentioned, both were elected as leaders of a Republic. Both ended up facing Separatist movements in a civil war and both claimed emergency powers during the conflict. Lincoln was assassinated after the war was won but while the fighting was still winding down. Palpatine got the Senate to declare him dictator at war's end.

And how does any of the sections you bolded in your reply apply to Palpatine other then the last, and with much stretching the second? Germany's military was hobbled by treaty restrictions while the Republic hadn't had a military in a thousand years.

Hitler was elected in the aftermath of a war that Germany lost with the terms imposed by the victors wrecking it both military and economically, the latter made all the worse by the Great Depression.

Palpatine was elected after a thousand years of peace, and the economy seemed to be doing fine. Plus the Republic had won its last major war decisively and the Naboo won the minor war they were involved in when Palpatine was elected.

 

As @kmanweiss so succinctly put it, Lincoln was elected well before the US Civil War, and didn't engineer anything in order to seize absolute power. He didn't even try to gain absolute power. Palpatine and Hitler both engineered horrific wars of conquest for the sole purpose of absolute rule. 

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Honestly we don't know what Lincoln would have done after the civil war had he lived. He might have set his emergency powers aside and retired in a few years. Or he might have kept the emergency powers in place either out of lust for power or an honest belief that he needed them to fufill his duty. Do you really think many people in the Galactic Republic thought Palpatine was out for absolute power before his We are now  the Empire speech?

And to be blunt I find the idea that many of the things that were considered to be acts of rebellion, providing aid and comfort to the enemy, treason, or some combination of the above during the civil war and were treated as crimes disturbing. Especially since many people view Lincoln as a champion of freedom. True champions of freedom don't allow those kinds of things on their watch.

 

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Back to the topic at hand, I actually do see some similarities between Imperial Japan (circa ww2) and the Galactic Empire..  not the least of which is the fact that they are both Imperial powers.  Now please understand that I'm not an expert in Japanese history and there are certainly people here who know much more about star wars than I do, but beyond simply being Imperials, some similarities come to mind right away.

  First, both groups specifically tried to starve and terrorize their enemies into submission.  Look at how the Japanese treated the Chinese, and I think it's pretty close to how the GE treats their subjects.  While the germans sent French citizens off to concentration camps if they were rebellious, or if they were the wrong sort of person,  Imperial Japan pretty much turned all of occupied China into one giant concentration camp.  The **** of Nanking seems very much like a policy that would come out of the Galactic Empire.  (I don't mean to say that paris wasn't living under an oppressive regime, but the **** of nanking was the Imperial Japanese government oficially supporting the **** and murder of virtually everyone in the city, for no reason other than making people suffer. To me at least, it's a whole different level of evil.)

  Another obvious tie is in military doctrine.  For example, Tie fighters being relatively cheap,  fragile, and short range, but highly maneuverable, pretty much directly corresponds to our view of Japanese planes.  The giant star-destroyers are also much closer to the IJN use of battle ships than it is to the Kriegsmarine's heavy reliance on submarines.

Now this is something that I'm not entirely sure on the star wars side of things, but my impression is that the Emperor himself was rarely involved in making decisions.. surely he had his own goals, but generally all decisions could be made by the Imperial High Command and their Supreme Commander, who were often at odds with one another.  This situation actually mirrors Imperial Japan's situation pretty closely.  Technically the Emperor of Japan had full authority and whatever he said was the word of god, it would have to be followed by everyone, no matter how intelligent, dedicated, or well regarded they were. So in the cases of both IJ and the GE, there would be the perception that there is one person in absolute control..  the reality was somewhat different however.  In Imperial Japan, it seems the Emperor never actually said anything to anyone, which left the high ranking officers in control of military matters.. except the high ranking officers would often disagree and even once a compromise had been reached, it was often sabotaged by those who thought they knew better. (P.S.:  In doing some research, it seems like there's evidence that emperor Hirohito actually greatly supported the aggressive actions of his army, but this wasn't substantiated until about 2000, well after star wars was written.)

  I would also say the creation of the death star.. or anyone one super-weapon that's going to end the war, was also a gambit that seems Imperial Japanese.  Imperial Japan knew they weren't likely to win the war, so they kept looking for the magic bullet that was going to swing everything in their favor, this is Imperial Japan, who was already lacking resources, spent everything they could on things like building the Yamato and Musashi "Super Battleships" and perfecting the death ray.  Surely all countries in WW2 were working on super-weapons, but no one was really dumping all of their resources into the idea like Japan was.

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On 4/25/2019 at 8:29 AM, RogueCorona said:

Do you really think many people in the Galactic Republic thought Palpatine was out for absolute power before his We are now  the Empire speech?

Honestly, a lot probably didn't even afterwards. There were always the odd places (generally the prosperous bits who didn't register that said prosperity mostly came from the Empire and it's corporate subordinates like the Mining Guild exploiting the heck out of the rim) who continued to think the Empire was the best thing since sliced bread until much later on. 

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37 minutes ago, Magnus Grendel said:

Honestly, a lot probably didn't even afterwards. There were always the odd places (generally the prosperous bits who didn't register that said prosperity mostly came from the Empire and it's corporate subordinates like the Mining Guild exploiting the heck out of the rim) who continued to think the Empire was the best thing since sliced bread until much later on. 

True I was meaning that we can't say definitively that Lincoln wasn't trying to set himself up as a dictator because there is no solid proof either way. And there are enough things the Union did during the civil war without him intervening, or intervening but only after taking advantage of the situation like in the case of Vallandigham and General Order 38. that I feel assuming that he intended to set aside his powers after the war is naive. Yes he might have restored constitutional rights after the war but he also might have not chosen to do so.

 

As for comparing Japan and the Empire versus Germany and the Empire Germany was newly transformed into an Empire much as Palpatine's Empire was while Japan had long been an Empire. I don't know enough about Japan's super weapon projects to comment on those. However Germany had its own plans for super battleships some of which were significantly heavier then both the Yamato class and its planned Japanese successor class.

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On 4/22/2019 at 2:33 AM, RogueCorona said:

Perhaps but after the PT it looks closer to Lincoln then Hitler to me for the reasons I stated in my first post. The biggest change comes at the end of the US Civil War for Lincoln and the Clone Wars for Palpatine with Lincoln dying and Palpatine living to become Emperor.

I don’t think it’s ever been said that Star Wars was a historical re-enactment of WW2 but Lucas said multiple times that he based Palp on Hitler for the reasons stated above. I might be misreading the tone of your replies but it’s like you’re trying to win an argument or push a point about something that’s already been settled?

Maybe he is more like Lincoln but that isn’t what Lucas intended.

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5 hours ago, DangerShine Designs said:

I don’t think it’s ever been said that Star Wars was a historical re-enactment of WW2 but Lucas said multiple times that he based Palp on Hitler for the reasons stated above. I might be misreading the tone of your replies but it’s like you’re trying to win an argument or push a point about something that’s already been settled?

Maybe he is more like Lincoln but that isn’t what Lucas intended.

Also, @RogueCorona, it seems to me like you simply want to vilify Abraham Lincoln. Palpatine is nothing like Lincoln. Lincoln was a good man in a bad position, who led our country during a war over ideals, determined to keep our country united. Palpatine was a tyrant who deliberately manipulated the government to grant him absolute power and engineered a war for that very purpose, plunging the galaxy into an age of darkness, very similar to what Hitler did to Europe during, and just preceding WWII. 

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7 hours ago, DangerShine Designs said:

Maybe he is more like Lincoln but that isn’t what Lucas intended.

Intentions mean little; Lucas also intended for Jar Jar Binks to be a much beloved character.

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