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A Star Defender was a term for a medium-sized capital ship in the Galactic Republic. The Republic chose the term defender instead of a more menace inducing term because of their pro-peace stance. The term was used throughout the history of the Republic to describe capital ships in general and did not necessarily tie in with a specific class of ship until the Star Defender-class was created circa 14 BBY.
The term originated with the idea that the Republic was pacifistic and the defenders of innocents. The capital ships became synonymous with their reputation as defenders and became symbols of that defense. Thus, the peoples of the Republic coined the term Star Defender to describe any ship, usually capital, with Republic affiliation.
Star Defender referred to the capital ships of the Republic. The firepower, while reduced on many ships, was seen as powerful enough to defend an entire star system nearly single-handedly. Many of the guns were situated on the dorsal side of the craft and gathered around the edges of the ship.
Even though the term referred to capital ship craft, smaller cruisers, such as the Star Defender-class cruiser and the even smaller frigates were designated as Star Defenders in the Republic community. The term was used even more loosely when escalation began later in the Republic's reign. Ships became larger so more were incorporated in the general definition of Star Defender.
In the strictest sense, the Defender referred to mid-sized capital ships. The designation was reserved for ship classes that ranged from 1 kilometer to 3.8 kilometers. Star Defender ships usually held 10,000 people because of those size limitations. Defenders could have doubled as carriers if Venator craft were unavailable or incapacitated.