Star Wars in Navajo
The film about a galaxy far, far away gets a Native American translation
Many technical words used in Star Wars do not exist in Diné, the main Navajo language. (Lucasfilm Ltd. / courtesy Everett Collection)
Have you ever seen Star Wars? When the movie about fantastical battles in outer space premiered in 1977, people lined up to watch it in theaters over and over again. The film was so popular that it was translated into Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and many other languages. Now, a new version will soon be released in the Native American language of Navajo.
The Navajo Nation is the largest tribe of Native Americans living in the United States. About 200,000 people still speak the main Navajo language, called Diné. But each year, fewer people learn the language. So the Navajo Nation Museum hopes that by translating the 1977 blockbuster, now called Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, it can help save this important part of Native American culture.
Star Wars will be the first major Hollywood movie to be translated into Diné. Museum officials think that the movie might make it easier for Navajo kids to learn the language, and that it might encourage them to use Diné more.
“We thought this would be a provocative and effective way to help try to preserve the language and at the same time preserve the culture,” museum director Manuelito Wheeler told reporters. “What better movie to do this than Star Wars?”
DUBBED IN DINÉ
The museum is currently searching for voice actors who can speak Navajo fluently, or correctly and easily. Their voices will be recorded and will replace the voices of the original, English-language actors. This process is called dubbing.
Translating a science fiction movie into an ancient language like Diné is not easy. Many technical words in the movie do not exist in the Navajo vocabulary. Sometimes several words have to be combined to make up these words.
A team of five translators worked hard to find the best way to say famous quotes such as, “May the force be with you!” In Diné, the word force does not exist. So translators debated over whether to say “May you walk with great power” or “May you have the power within you.” To make sure everyone understands everything, viewers can read the same words in English at the bottom of the movie screen.
Few films have ever been translated into Native American languages. The animated film Bambi was translated into the Arapaho language, and The Berenstain Bears was dubbed in the tongue, or language, of the Dakota and Lakota tribes.
To make the new version of Star Wars as good as possible, the museum is getting help from Lucasfilm, the movie company that created the film.
“We are thrilled that the youth of the Navajo Nation will now see [characters in] the film [speaking] in their native tongue,” says Lynne Hale, a spokesperson from Lucasfilm.
Work on the Navajo version of Star Wars should be finished by July. The movie will first be shown at the tribe’s Fourth of July celebration in Arizona. The tribe also plans to take the film to theaters in states with large Navajo populations, such as New Mexico and Utah.