Star Wars To Be Dubbed Into Navajo Language

Star Wars To Be Dubbed Into Navajo Language

The classic 1977 sci-fi film Star Wars is adding the native American language of Navajo to the list of a dozen or so languages that have dubbed films in the series.

A team of five Navajo speakers spent 36 hours translating the script for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and now they are seeking fluent speakers to fill some two dozen roles.

So fans could soon see Luke Skywalker saying ahehee (thank you) to his bizhe'e (father).

Casting starts on Monday in Burbank, California, and on May 3 and 4 at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona.

Manuelito Wheeler, the director of the Navajo Nation Museum who approached Lucasfilm with the idea, sees the project as entertaining, educational and a way to preserve the Navajo language.

More people - nearly 170,000 - speak Navajo at home than any other American Indian language, according to the US Census Bureau, but it is being lost to younger generations.

Native languages on the big screen are a rarity but Bambi was dubbed in the Arapaho language, and the cartoon series The Berenstain Bears was translated into the Dakota and Lakota languages.

"There's a little bit of precedent but nothing like Star Wars in the Navajo language," said Michael Smith, director of the American Indian Film Institute and a member of the Sioux Tribe of Montana.

Potential actors shouldn't worry if they don't sound exactly like the characters, only that they have Princess Leia's fiery personality or Han Solo's daring, bad-boy-next-door attitude.

Chewbacca and R2D2 will not be dubbed, and technical effects will be applied to Darth Vader and C-3PO so they sound like the originals, said Shana Priesz, senior director of localisation for Deluxe, the studio overseeing the dubbing.

"Having the voice match isn't as much as I want someone who can deliver the lines," she said.

But Laura Tohe, a fluent Navajo speaker and English professor at Arizona State University, said the translation process could have been similar to what Navajo Code Talkers did in coming up with communication that confounded the Japanese during World War Two.

The Code Talkers recruited from the Navajo Nation were unfamiliar with things like grenades, observation planes, tanks and dive-bombers.

So they thought of something on the reservation that had similar qualities. Grenades became potatoes, observation planes became owls, tanks became tortoises and so on.

"May the force be with you," might translate into "may you walk with great power," or "may you have the power within you", she said.

Galaxies, stars and outer space are not far off concepts for Navajos, who sometimes base ceremonies on moon phases and constellations, Ms Tohe said. Those words would translate directly.

"The Navajo people, like all indigenous tribes, were very observant of not only the world around them but the stars and constellations," she said.

The first opportunity to see the film in Navajo will be during the tribe's July 4 activities in Window Rock and later in the year during the Navajo Nation Fair.

Mr Wheeler said he then plans to show it across the reservation, which stretches into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, and metropolitan areas with large Navajo populations.