Many reviews and scholars have suggested that George Lucas seems to have based certain species in Star Wars human ethnicities, and particularly on stereotypes thereof. For instance, the Toydarians (who have large noses and are unmotivated by the Force, "only money") are supposedly meant to represent Jews.

He's called Watto the Toydarian. He's a slave owner and slave driver to our young blond hero, Anakin Skywalker. "Even in a galaxy far away, the Jews are apparently behind the slave trade," observes Bruce Gottlieb in a 5-26-99 piece on Slate, the only article we've seen on the subject and one we didn't see until this column was nearly finished. Gottlieb also pointed out the racial stereotyping in the character Jar-Jar Binks, as have many African-Americans.

But there are other examples: I've heard that the Neimodians might have been based on people from Japan, among others.

Crafty Japanese trade villains aren't the only heavy-handed ethnic stereotype in The Phantom Menace.

Is there any truth to these claims? Did Lucas base these or other Star Wars aliens on national or ethnic stereotypes?

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    <comments deleted> You're welcome to criticise a question, but you must be nice and assume good intent. Also, don't worry too much about this question providing a platform for people to express bigotry or prejudice - any such posts will be flagged and removed. – Rand al'Thor Aug 13 at 11:42
  • The Neimodians (imperfectly) remind me of Renaissance Venetians, Genoans, etc. – RonJohn Aug 14 at 2:06
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    The Star Wars franchise always borrowed heavily from other genres, Samurai films, Westerns, Medieval films... In that sense they were playing on stereotypes from the very beginning. – AJFaraday Aug 14 at 9:47

Watto the Toydarian is indeed a racial stereotype (but not the one you're thinking of...)

According to Andy Secombe (the actor who portrays Watto), his character is openly intended to be based on a stereotypical shady Italian salesman.

Q Did you ‘invent’ Watto’s voice all by yourself?

AS: I did! When I got a call there was an audition for loads and loads of voices. I auditioned and asked what they were looking for! I was told that George had an idea of the second hand car salesman. So, I came up with (talks like Watto) “Hey, how yer doing”; that kind of voice. I don’t know why I came up with that, it was the first thing that came out.

Q. It sounds a bit like the Godfather to me!

AS: Yeah…I guess it does. Well it was actually based a bit on (laughs)…there’s an English actor called Michael Ripper. You know the Hammer Horror movies? He was always like “O you don’t wanna go up there!”. It was sort of half based on that character.

Q. There’s a story on the internet that it [Watto] was based on Alec Guinness’ role as Fagin in Oliver Twist.

AS: No, he isn’t Jewish! Watto is an Italian... Toydarian! No way he was based on that character.

Andy Secombe interview | www.StarWarsInterviews.com


Gunray's accent was unashamedly Thai.

Lucas apparently had Silan Carson pre-record the lines in his own voice, then brought in a considerable number of voice actors to overdub the lines. When he found an accent he liked, he then had Carson learn that accent and re-dub the lines over again.

What was it like recording Nute Gunray's voice for Episode I? It's quite a specific dialect that the character uses--was your direction just as specific?

George and Rick listened to all kinds of different actors from different countries voicing the words that I had spoken on the set, and eventually they decided on a Thai accent. It was very strange, because I could see all the scenes that I was in, but with this Thai actor speaking the lines I had spoken, trying to do my intonations with a heavy Thai accent--and then I had to learn his accent and re-record it. It was the most bizarre process.

I was recording for a couple of days, and it was so much fun, because in the room were just myself, George and Robin Gurland, and we just went through all these lines. Doing voice recordings is great fun--you've got this great big screen and you see the whole thing, and you're trying to lip-synch it. But you've got to hang around while people are chopping and cutting the tapes, so there's a lot of messing about to be had--and we had it.

Silas Carson: Hero with a Thousand Faces - Starwars.com


Jar Jar speaks like a baby because his script was partially written by a toddler.

Jar Jar's language and speech patterns are a mixture of "pidgin English from the Samoan islands and Pacific islands and the Caribbean" mixed in with some baby talk words and sounds that Lucas's infant son Jett would use (notably the word Gungan is his son's word for "car" and the name "Jar-Jar" was what the boy named the character when he saw an initial sketch)

Especially jarring to Best were the charges that his character was a racist stereotype. To this day, these charges confuse Best rather than anger him. According to Lucas, Jar Jar’s speech patterns (“Meesa called Jar Jar Binks. Meesa your humble servant”) were to some degree based on “pidgin English from the Samoan islands and Pacific islands and the Caribbean,” but “it was a completely made-up language.” In fact, Lucas says, some of his son Jett’s baby talk even ended up as words. (The term “Gungan” is what Jett used to call cars.)

Entertainment Weekly - In defense of Jar Jar Binks

and

The name Jar Jar was assigned, as was Gungan, which came from Lucas’ young son Jett’s name for tractors and trucks. “I just liked the sound of it,” says Lucas. “I’m always on the lookout for interesting-sounding words. I have to come up with hundreds of them, and I don’t like names with x’s and z’s in them that people like to use in space films.”

Jar Jar Binks: A Digital Star Is Born - RollingStone.com

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    Heh! I would note, though, that this is how the actor played the character, not how Lucas wrote it. In particular, it's how they decided on the accent, which is only part of the characterization (e.g. they didn't decide on personality, appearance, occupation, lines). Also, you know, they might not be totally honest. – Adamant Aug 13 at 12:53
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    The question is far from just about Watto, either. Could you address the bigger picture? – Adamant Aug 13 at 12:54
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    @Valorum - I don't really want this to turn into a list question, where everyone lists one example of a stereotypical Lucas character. So while this was a good find, could you expand on it to address the general question? – Adamant Aug 13 at 13:01
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    Lucas outsourcing aspects of his writing to a young child... now I've heard everything. – David Roberts Aug 13 at 23:43
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    @DavidRoberts It's actually the best explanation for Jar Jar – Azor Ahai Aug 14 at 17:03

Lucas gave the aliens various accents and mannerisms that people could relate to stereotypes they were familiar with.

And no, the Toydarians were actually based on Romanians and the Roma Gypsy culture associated with the region in recent history. Not the Jews. The Toydarian accent is Romanian as well.

The Nemodians may very well be Japanese, and the Nautolan species, which Kit Fisto the Jedi Master is a member of, are based on Jamaican accents, although I don't know how much of the culture was adapted.

In any case, this is nothing new, look at any Medieval Fantasy or Sci-Fi where even in non-Earth settings, the Space baddies are British, the Medieval baddies are 'Viking' or other 'savages', the trope is throughout fiction.

The point is not to get too hung up on literal archetypes based on real-world stereotypes. That's what creates relatable characters.

There is a fine line between basing a character on an offensive stereotype and using the same brush strokes seen in various cultures to create new characters that we can relate to in a universe otherwise unlike our own.

You see Earth-Human Chauvinism in other non-Earth settings where English, humanoid and other culturally or biologically adapted features are transposed.

It's not limited to Lucas Films, it's throughout our history of fictional works.

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    Can you elaborate on your first point? Watto's characterization fits fairly poorly with stereotypes of Romani as generally held in the US. – Adamant Aug 13 at 12:43
  • @all looking for a basis for my claim: See the bottom of this page for a full list starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Galactic_Basic_Standard. Actually just having checked - Toydarian was removed. It was there a long while ago when I saw this. I'm Romanian and that's the only reason it stood out to me and why I remember. – TakeWithFood Aug 13 at 12:45
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    Interesting. A lot of people think it sounds more like Yiddish. Too many elements of Watto's characterization are stereotypically Jewish, I think, but it's not impossible that there are some Romani stereotypes mixed up there. But the only stereotype that seems to fit is the stereotype of Romani stealing children, which fits poorly with Watto owning Anakin but Shmi still caring for him, and which I believe is much less familiar in the US than in Europe. – Adamant Aug 13 at 12:50
  • Well, it seems not it's Italian officially, which is cool! I am open to being corrected, but I certainly hadn't heard the "shady jew slaver" angle before. – TakeWithFood Aug 13 at 12:52
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    I guess the voice actor did a truly atrocious job of making him sound Italian, if people can think he sounds like three other groups. – Adamant Aug 13 at 14:52

There is one national stereotype which is often overlooked in Star Wars: The Mandalorians. Mandalore was the planet of origin for Jango and Boba Fett's armor, which was the inspiration for the original design of Republic Clone Trooper armor.

The only times Mandalore has been seen in Star Wars media were its appearances in several episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The planet itself is desolate, resembling the salt plains in Oklahoma. The cities on its surface are domed, carefully managed environments, the architecture consisting of almost crystalline shapes. The planet was made this way as a result of Mandalore losing the Mandalore wars, during which much of the galaxy was conquered by their armies, and the Jedi Temple was looted. The Jedi were eventually forced to render the planet the wasteland that is seen in the Clone Wars to bring an end to the conflict.

When it is shown, centuries after the Mandalore Wars, the society is one filled with regret and self-loathing for its warlike past, maintaining a strict policy of disarmament, and a commitment to diplomacy over violence. The people of Mandalore, the Mandalorians themselves, are shown to be tall, often with blonde hair, and blue eyes. An "extremist" "terrorist" group is active in their society, which seeks to return Mandalore to its former honor and glory via military force.

The national stereotype at play here, in case it wasn't obvious, is Germany. It's one that's often overlooked, as they aren't the most 'alien' of the societies depicted.

  • Nice, but I am looking for more than just a variety of answers with examples. Could you address the bigger picture, as well as other examples? – Adamant Aug 13 at 23:25
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    What is the bigger picture you are trying to get at? The answer to the question of whether stereotypes are used is clearly 'yes.' The only other suitable answers would be to field more examples. – Mr. Apple Aug 13 at 23:44
  • So, yes, fielding more examples would be excellent. Also, commentary from people involved in the production of the films and related media, though clearly not totally trustworthy, would add to the answer. In particular, any discussion of Lucas's tendencies one way or another from people involved in the production would be ideal. – Adamant Aug 13 at 23:52
  • The specificity is appreciated. Define 'Lucas's tendencies.' Do you mean his behavior in relation to the subject of national and ethnic stereotypes? – Mr. Apple Aug 13 at 23:58
  • @MrApple - Exactly. – Adamant Aug 14 at 2:24

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