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April 29, 2013

Navajo language the chosen one for new 'Star Wars' dub

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Potential actors shouldn’t worry if they don’t sound exactly like Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, only that they have Princess Leia’s spunk and fire or Han Solo’s daring, bad-boy-next-door attitude. Chewbacca and R2D2 will keep the language they speak in the Navajo version, and technical effects will be applied to Darth Vader and C-3PO so they sound like the originals, said Shana Priesz, senior director of localization 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.

Wheeler and William Nakai, one of the translators, declined to say how some catch phrases or sci-fi jargon in the movie might carry over into Navajo. 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 II.

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. It also might include a reference to mountains, which are a source of strength for the Navajo people.

Galaxies, stars and outer space are not far off concepts for Navajos, who sometimes base ceremonies on moon phases and constellations, 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. “I associate that with science fiction in a lot of ways. I think they would be well aware of it in “Star Wars,” it takes place up in the heavens.”

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