His name is said to be derived not only from the Sanskrit word for “warrior” but from the Hebrew word meaning “one who knows”. As such, it is no small wonder that Yoda is more than capable of challenging expectations others may have of him. When Obi-Wan tells Luke to go to the remote world of Dagobah, the young man expects to find a wise and powerful Jedi from which to learn the ways of the Force. Already, Luke has certain expectations in place as to just who or what this wise warrior could be, all of which are radically altered. He found the teacher, just not in the package he expected, and certainly not in the place.
Upon arriving on the “slimy mud hole” that the little Jedi Master called home, Luke expressed doubt over finding such a great Jedi in the murky swamps. However, in classic heroic fashion, this step is key to the hero’s journey. The hero often times must retreat into the wilderness to find shelter, comfort, or guidance. In the Bible both Moses and Elijah flee into the wilderness to not only escape the wrath of Pharaoh, and King Ahab, but to better learn to fulfill God’s purpose for their life. Perseus in Greek Mythology journeys into the wilderness and is met by Athena and Hermes who present him with the tools and the knowledge to defeat Medusa, rescue Andromeda, and later fulfill the prophesy concerning his grandfather. Robin Hood operated from Sherwood Forest, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor all while evading the sheriff of Nottingham.
Like Moses, Elijah, Perseus and Robin Hood, Luke Skywalker must go into the wilderness of Dagobah to deepen his knowledge of the Force so he can defeat Vader and the Emperor, but to confront his own personal demons with the little imp-like Yoda as his guide. Certainly in a world like Dagobah, it would be expected that for someone to survive that kind of hostile world they would have to be taller and physically stronger. Yoda stands eye to eye with R2-D2 and throughout the films he requires a cane to walk around due to his advanced age. Amongst the Jedi Order he appears like he would be the very least of members. In fact in the Prequel Trilogy, in order for the 2’2” Yoda to even be at eye level with the 5’10” Obi-Wan and the 6’2” Mace Windu while traversing the halls of the Jedi temple, he had to be in a hover chair. This is part of the success of the character.
As Mark Hamill said in an interview on Reddit,
“….he was unexpected, because the audience and Luke both thought a Jedi Master must be 6’5″ with a formidable physical presence. But that was the whole point, he was a little toad like creature. Frank Oz and the people who imbued him with life were spectacular, I loved that whole experience….The minute I looked at him, he was real to me.”
One of the most popular characters in the saga, Yoda is surrounded by the misconception that he is a Muppet. A good deal of this comes from parodies, like Weird Al’s song “Yoda” or other comedy bits. After all since the character is a puppet and was voiced by a Muppet performer, it is easy to see why people would call him one. To the general public it looks like a Muppet, talks like a Muppet, and moves like a Muppet, than it’s a Muppet.
However, Yoda is not a Muppet. For one thing, Yoda was not designed by the Jim Henson company. If he was, he would be a “Creature”, which tend to be more” realistic” looking and usually employ some animatronics, while Muppets are strait forward puppets. Jim Henson did consult with George Lucas and designer Stuart Freeborn on the design of Yoda, but his greatest contribution was recommending his long time friend and coworker Frank Oz for the role.
As George Lucas recalled in an interview with Leonard Maltin on the 1995 VHS rerelease of Empire Strikes Back,
“I went to Jim (Henson) and said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m busy, I’m doing this, and doing that, I’m making a movie and all that — I really can’t, but — How about Frank (Oz)? You know, Frank’s the other half of me.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’d be fantastic.'”
Oz had a lot of creative input on the character, including developing his iconic idiosyncratic syntax. Yoda would even be one of the “easiest” characters for him to figure out. As he recalled in an interview with IGN during his first meeting with Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz upon seeing Yoda in a sketch book,
“So I went in my trailer on the set, and Gary talked about it a little and showed me this character, and sometimes you “get” a character immediately and sometimes, like Bert or Grover, it takes years. So he opened up this book and I saw this drawing, and for some reason, I immediately knew what this guy was. I can’t tell you why. I just knew it.”
Along with his personality and voice, it was Freeborn’s character design that would help etch the character into the cultural zeitgeist. As it is noted in the New York Times Magazine’s article from December 2013 looking back on the luminaries that died that year,
“Freeborn took a long look at a face that he had never considered with much professional interest: His own…The character of Yoda would become a fun-house distortion of Freeborn’s own reflection… Irvin Kershner, who was tapped by Lucas to direct The Empire Strikes Back, initially believed that Yoda should be a bearded Moses figure who towered above everyone else on set. But in his mirror, Freeborn saw a quirky man who was forever looking up at the world…In the mirror, Freeborn could examine the contours of the crown of his skull, fully exposed by a hairline that completed a retreat years before. Freeborn etched deep wrinkles into Yoda’s bald scalp that were exaggerated replicas of the lines that creased his own forehead when, for example, he zeroed in on the tight-focus particulars of Yoda’s physiognomy. The pointed chin, the compact nose and the thin, pursed lips all made the leap from the mirror to the model. The only feature he borrowed from someone else was the upper lip: It was a hairless version of Albert Einstein’s, Freeborn said. He hoped that it might trigger a subconscious association and that viewers might intuit Yoda’s extraordinary intelligence.”
Indeed admist Yoda’s whimsical look, there is just a hint of his wisdom that we quickly begin to see as always the teacher, Yoda begins to teach Luke his first lesson on patience. When he meets him he acts like a crazy old hermit, teasing him by throwing his stuff around. Then he begins to question Luke, seeing why it is Luke wants to become a Jedi, and make sure he has the best motives. He doesn’t want someone who is just a freedom fighter, or someone who is out for revenge, but an earnest student who is ready to learn, and grow into a better person.
However, Yoda also cares about Luke’s other basic needs. Tasting his military ration, Yoda asks him how he got so big eating the nasty thing and invites him over to his hut for dinner. Not only does he help the boy get out of the rain, Yoda also provides him with real food to help give him nourishment after his long journey. However, Luke doesn’t want to eat, he wants to find Yoda right away, despite the little guys insistence.
It is only due to this constant impatience that Yoda finally drops the act and says, he cannot teach him because he is too impatient. It is only when Obi-Wan’s voice rings out that Luke realizes the truth, Yoda has been in front of him the whole time. Luke is sure he is ready for training, but Yoda isn’t so convinced telling him,
“Ready, are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained! A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind…This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things…You are reckless!”
It’s only when Luke assures him he’ll finish what he begins and Obi-Wan reminding Yoda that he was no different from Luke at that age, that the diminutive Jedi master agrees to train him.
Yoda’s reluctance is understandable, as the last thing he needs or wants is another adventure seeking student who rushes into things too quickly. He knows the problems that were brought upon the galaxy with Luke’s father 22 years before. When Qui-Gon Jinn brought Anakin to the Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace, even though Yoda was just as impressed as anyone else at Anakin’s natural affinity for the Force, he forbade him from becoming a Jedi. He and the others could sense that there was great fear in Anakin, particularly for his mother. Anakin wasn’t sure what that had to do with anything but Yoda told him,
“Everything! Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.”
Yoda assumed when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were informed of this decision, that it would be the end of the matter. However, when Qui-Gon was struck down by the mysterious Sith Lord Darth Maul, Oni-Wan was resolved to keep his promise to Qui-Gon and train Anakin with or without their permission. Yoda told him,
“Confer on you, the level of Jedi Knight the Council does. But agree on you taking this boy as your Padawan learner, I do not…The Chosen One the boy may be; nevertheless, grave danger I fear in his training… Qui-Gon’s defiance I sense in you. Need that, you do not. Agree, the council does. Your apprentice, young Skywalker will be.”
Despite his reluctance, Yoda would do all he could to encourage Obi-Wan to trust Anakin’s judgment when the boy was tasked with protecting Padmé. Especially because there were more pressing matters that they had to deal with then the boys feelings. It was discovered by Obi-Wan that someone had tampered with the Jedi archives, erasing the existence of an entire planet from the records. When they learned that a Jedi who had died some ten years ago had placed a recent order for a Clone Army, it made things more complicated. The Jedi had been unable to see this through the Force, and the future grew clouded. As he told Mace Windu,
“Blind we are, of creation of this clone army we could not see…Only a Dark Lord of the Sith knows of our weakness. If informed the senate is, multiply our adversaries will.”
Yoda would journey to Kamino to investigate these claims and bring with him the Clone Army to act as reinforcements against the Separatists in an effort to save Obi-Wan, Anakin, Padmé and the rest of the Jedi from Dooku. It was a near victory for them, with many casualties on their side. Worst of all was the revelation that Dooku, Yoda’s former apprentice had betrayed them and turned to the Dark Side. As Obi-Wan spoke of their victory at Geonosis,Yoda pronounced ,
“Victory? Victory you say? Master Obi-Wan, not victory. The shroud of the dark side has fallen. Begun the Clone War has.”
As the Clone Wars ensued, Yoda saw how strong Anakin had grown in the Force. In Chapter 21 of The Star Wars: Clone Wars Microseries When Obi-Wan nominated Anakin be made a Jedi Knight and the others expressed doubts, Yoda patently listened to each side of the debate and despite any reservations he may have had, agreed with Obi-Wan. When one Jedi pointed out how often Ankain disobeyed Obi-Wan, Yoda surprisingly agreed with Obi-Wan, saying,
“Did you not disobey me, time to time in your youth, Master Rancisis?…A just debate this is, but, in these days of war, need all the knights we can. Unorthodox young Skywalker’s career has been. So, too, will be his trials. Trust in the force I do. A knight he shall be.”
While Yoda saw some action during the Clone Wars, he still remained a teacher first and foremost. In the Clone Wars movie, Kenobi put in a request for a new Padawan, only for Yoda to assign Ahsoka Tano to Anakin, feeling she would be able to help Anakin not only mature as a knight by learning to let go of his attachments. He was even willing to impart his wisdom to the Clone Troopers in his charge, valuing them as much as any other human life. As he demonstrated in the first season episode “Ambush”,
“Come, sit…Your helmets, remove them…Your faces I wish to see…Deceive you, eyes can. In the Force, very different each one of you are…Rys, always focus on the enemy, are you. For inspiration, look to yourself, and those beside you…Jeck, concerned about weapons you are. Weapons do not win battles. Your mind, powerful it is. Outthink the droids, you can…Thire, rush not into fights, Long is the war, Only by surviving it, will you prevail…Yes.”
However as the war grew on longer than anyone would have anticipated, and their ranks grew thin, the shadow of the Dark Side grew longer. The younger Jedi were growing angrier and beginning to believe that might made right. The youth demanded a quicker and easier resolution to the problem at hand. This was the case with Jedi Master Kit Fisto’s former apprentice who met his end at the hands of Grievous in The Clone Wars episode “The Lair of Grievous.”
As Yoda said after Fisto debriefed the rest of the council,
“To answer with power, the Jedi way this is not. In this war, a danger there is, of losing who we are.”
Later when the War was near it’s end, Anakin was increasingly troubled by visions of Padmé dying in childbirth in Revenge of the Sith. Anakin took stock in these visions, fearing they may happen. Yoda could sense what was troubling the boy and in learning the visions were of someone he was close to, Yoda told him,
“Careful you must be when sensing the future Anakin. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side…Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.”
However, as Count Dooku was killed by Anakin and General Grievous fled following the rescue of Count Dooku, Yoda had other matters to tend to. The Wookie home world of Kashyyk had been attacked by the Separatists. Yoda, having good relations with the Wookies due in part to the long life-spans for both species, decided to go and provide aide to them. The battle was going quiet well, and they seemed to be driving off the Separatists.
Then without warning, Yoda could sense each of the Jedi dying as Order 66 was executed. One of the Clone Troopers tried to get the jump on Yoda, but he was too quick for the trooper and quickly decapitated him. With the aid of Chewbacca and Tarful, Yoda escaped and made contact with Bail Organa. Returning with Obi-Wan to Coruscant they made their way into the Jedi temple and learned of Anakin’s treachery. Yoda soon gave Obi-Wan the difficult assignment of facing Anakin, knowing full well that Palpatine would be too strong for Obi-Wan.
Yoda went to see Palpatine in the Senate building and a duel of titanic proportions erupted as the most powerful Jedi and the most powerful Sith went head to head. Yoda gave it his best effort, but he lost as the Emperor blasted him off a senate pod and to the ground below. Yoda fled, and later along with Obi-Wan he presided over the birth of Luke and Leia and helped see to it the twins were sent off to safety. After giving Obi-Wan some parting wisdom, Yoda went into exile on Dagobah where he waited 22 years for Luke’s arrival.
All of this was why he was out to break Luke’s ideas of what it meant to be a Jedi, starting with the notion that fighting in a war automatically made some one great. Yoda may have been revered as a warrior and a teacher but as far as the elderly Jedi was concerned when the galaxy needed him most, he failed. It was not enough for Yoda to teach Luke how to be a Jedi and do some cool party tricks, he was going to teach him how to be a better person. He had seen how anger, fear, aggression, greed, arrogance, and corruption had destroyed both the Republic and the Jedi Order. If the Jedi were to return through Luke, they had to avoid the same mistakes as Yoda and Obi-Wan’s generation had made.
Luke would have to learn certain things for himself, they could never tell him how to have faith or hold onto hope. Producer Dave Filoni of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars described Yoda’s teaching in an interview prior to the launch of the Season 6 Lost Missions arc that,
“…What a Jedi is during the Clone Wars and the prequel era is different than what Yoda, Qui-Gon, and eventually, Obi-Wan, understand is the truth of being completely selfless. Certain things in life you cannot defeat through conflict. You can only defeat them through being selfless and giving of yourself for others. Inspiration, enlightenment, teaching…. They never tell Luke to actively go out and save his father. In fact, they say he’s probably going to have to destroy his father. But it’s mainly because they can’t tell him that which he needs to understand — the true enlightenment of “I have to save my father.” They can’t just say it. That makes it easy. Faith isn’t about knowing.”
Faith is one of the most important lessons Luke needs to learn from Yoda. When his ship sinks deeper into the swamp, Yoda instructs him to use the Force and Luke objects saying that lifting rocks and ships are two different things because of their size. Luke, like most of us, is caught up in a vastly materialistic world in which they only believe in what one can see, hear and touch. Rocks are easy to lift because they are small, a ship is hard because it is big. However in the Star Wars universe, much like the major religions of our world, a key teaching is that this world is not all that there is. Yoda tells him,
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”
Luke says he will try, to which Yoda gives the classic rebut of “No, try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” So Luke makes his attempt and fails, feeling Yoda is asking him to do the impossible. Then Yoda steps forward and effortlessly not only lifts the ship out of the swamp but brings it onto solid ground When Luke tells him he doesn’t believe it, Yoda calmly states that this is why Luke failed.
Luke might claim to be a Jedi, but he lacks faith. In what appears to be a whole “mind over matter” philosophy Yoda also demonstrated an excellent illustration of what Christ spoke of over 2000 years ago in regards to faith. Addressing the crowds, Jesus told them that if they have faith even as small as a mustard seed they could say to a mountain to throw itself into the sea or a tree to be uprooted. Faith is the ability to have the strength to face an obstacle and realize it’s not that big after all.
This is evident not only in Yoda’s ability to lift the X-wing with great ease, but during his many exploits during the Clone Wars. In the episode“Ambush” when surrounded by battle droids, Yoda leaped about the coral forest of Rugosa, slashing his way through battle droids and laughing like he were playing a game. He and the Clone Troopers are hopelessly outnumbered, but Yoda doesn’t see numbers, or a difference between a rock or a ship, his faith in The Force is much bigger then all that.
This would not be the first time Luke would act in his disbelief. During his training they came to a cold dark cave. Luke could sense the presence of Dark Side in the cave and asked Yoda what was inside. Yoda told him that it was only that which he would take with him and told him to leave his weapons. Luke disobeyed him and it was there he saw a dark vision of his own inner demons as Vader approached him, not only hinting at his true parentage but at the potential of what he could become should he abandon his training too soon and fall to the Dark Side.
Much to Yoda’s dismay Luke cut his training short, having been haunted by visions of Han and Leia in trouble in Bespin. While a younger Yoda quoted platitudes about attachment like he did with Anakin, the exiled Yoda’s wisdom was seasoned by experience as he urged Luke to stay telling him,
“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future…. Decide you must, how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could; but you would destroy all for which they have fought, and suffered.”
Further there was another reason why he could not rush off. Vader and the Emperor were still too powerful for Luke and could destroy him, as he told Luke,
“Stopped they must be; on this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now – if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did – you will become an agent of evil.”
Despite the insistence of Yoda and Obi-Wan, Luke decided to go save his friends but not before promising to return. Yoda and Obi-Wan feared the worst, concerned that a second Vader could be on the rise. However, Luke returned to Yoda later in Return of the Jedi, and not a moment too soon. As Yoda told him,
“That face, you make. Look I so old to young eyes?… I do. Yes, I do. Hmm, sick, have I become. Old and weak. ….When 900 years old, you reach, look as good, you will not, hmm?… Soon, will I rest, yes. Forever sleep. Earned it, I have….”
Luke didn’t want Yoda to die, feeling he had so much more to learn from him, but Yoda told him that not even he could stop himself from dying, it was part of life. Luke had learned all he could from Yoda and Obi-Wan, there was only one thing left for him to do and that was confront Vader one last time. This brought on something Luke had to know for sure: if Darth Vader was really his father. He had not told anyone of Vader’s revelation and to that point still disbelieves it.
Yoda tried to skirt the issue, but Luke insisted that he had to know the truth. Yoda reluctantly confirmed it for him, and in discerning that Luke had learned this from Vader himself, called it unfortunate . It was not a matter that Yoda didn’t want Luke to know the truth, but he wanted him to learn it when he was ready and had been well trained as a Jedi. That could not be undone now, and the only thing left for Yoda to do was leave Luke with some parting wisdom,
“Remember, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware: Anger, fear, aggression – the dark side, are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Luke…Luke…do not… Do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor…or suffer your father’s fate you will. Luke…when gone am I, the last of the Jedi, will you be. Luke…the Force runs strong in your family. Pass on what you have learned. ”
With that Yoda passed off into the world of the Force, vanishing as Obi-Wan did. Yoda had long since made peace with his role in the universe and had instructed the next generation of Jedi. Yoda’s ghost appeared to Luke after the battle of Endor alongside Obi-Wan and Anakin, proud of the Jedi Luke had become, knowing that Luke had helped restore balance to the Force, and saved the galaxy. The Jedi had returned, and the pathway to victory lay through Luke learning not how to wield a lightsaber but how to have faith. True victory had been achieved, not through anger, fear or aggression, but faith, hope, and compassion.
As Yoda learned in “ Sacrifice” from the Season six The Lost Missions of The Clone Wars,
“ No longer certain, that one ever does win a war, I am. For in fighting the battles, the bloodshed, already lost we have. Yet, open to us a path remains. That unknown to the Sith is. Through this path, victory we may yet find. Not victory in the Clone Wars, but victory for all time.”
TV Show: Bullock, Dave ( Dir) “Ambush” Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Starring Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Brian George, Corey Burton, Nika Flutterman, and Matthew Wood. Steven Melching ( writer). Original Airdate: Oct.3,2008.
INTERVIEW: Filoni, Dave and Dan Brooks. “Dave Filoni on The Lost Missions Yoda Arc”starwars.com. March 12, 2014. Last Accessed May 16, 2015.
INTERVIEW: Hamill, Mark. “IAmA: Mark Hamill here. In an AMA far, far away…”Reddit. Jan. 22, 2014. Tabled. Last Accessed May 14, 2015.
TV Show: Lee, Steward (Dir) “Sacrifice” Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Lost Missions Tom Kane, Jamie King, Matt Lanter, Paul Nakauchi, Corey Burton, Mark Hamill, Dee Bradley Baker, T.C. Carson, Tim Curry, and James Arnold Taylor. Christian Taylor (writer). Original Airdate: March 7th 2014. LucasFIlm, LTD/Walt Disney Entertainment.
INTERVIEW: Lucas, George and Leonard Maltin The Empire Strikes Back. VHS. 1995. 20th Century Fox/LucasFilm LTD.
FILM: Kershner, Irvin (Dir) Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Sir Alec Guiness and Frank Oz. 1980. LucasFilm. LTD. Released by 20th Century Fox.
FILM: Lucas, George. (Dir) Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiaramid, Ray Park, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Samuel L. Jackson and Frank Oz. 1999. LucasFilm. LTD. Released by 20th Century Fox.
FILM: Lucas, George. (Dir) Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiaramid, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Samuel L. Jackson and Frank Oz. 2002. LucasFilm. LTD. Released by 20th Century Fox.
FILM: Lucas, George. (Dir) Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiaramid, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, and Frank Oz. 2005. LucasFilm. LTD. Released by 20th Century Fox.
FILM: Marquand, Richard ( Dir) Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Alec Guiness, Ian McDiaramid and Frank Oz. 1983. LucasFilm. LTD. Released by 20th Century Fox.
INTERVIEW: Oz, Frank and Kenneth Plume. “Interview with Frank Oz pt. 2 of 4”. IGN.com. Feb 10,2000. Last Accessed May 4, 2015.
Reel, Monte “Stuart Freeborne: The Man Who Would be Yoda.” The Lives They Lived. New York Times Magazine. December 29, 2013. Archived. Last Accessed May 17, 2015.
TV Show: Takeuchi, Atshushi ( Dir.) “The Lair of Grievous” Star Wars: The Clone Wars Starring: Phil LaMarr, Matthew Wood, Tom Kenny, Dee Bradley Baker, David Acord, Corey Burton, Ton Kane, Ashley Eckstein, T.C. Carson, and Olivia d’Abo. Henry Gilroy ( writer.) Original Airdate: December 8, 2008. LucasFilm, LTD/ Warner Bros. Studios.
TV SERIES: Tartakovsky, Genndy ( Dir). “Chapter 21” Star Wars: Clone Wars. Voice Cast: Mat Lucas, James Arnold Taylor, TC Carson, Tom Kane, Grey DeLise, Anthony Daniels, Daran Norris, Richard McGonagal, and Fred Tatascorie. Original Airdate. April 2nd, 2004. LucasFilm, LTD.
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