The Force Is With The Navajo: 'Star Wars' Gets A New Translation

Star Wars has been translated into many languages — most recently, Navajo. Above, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in a scene from the 1977 classic. i i

Star Wars has been translated into many languages — most recently, Navajo. Above, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in a scene from the 1977 classic. 20th Century Fox Film Corp./AP hide caption

itoggle caption 20th Century Fox Film Corp./AP
Star Wars has been translated into many languages — most recently, Navajo. Above, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in a scene from the 1977 classic.

Star Wars has been translated into many languages — most recently, Navajo. Above, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in a scene from the 1977 classic.

20th Century Fox Film Corp./AP

If you've ever wondered how to say "May the Force be with you" in Navajo, you're in luck. On July 3, a new translation of Star Wars will be unveiled on the Navajo Nation reservation in Arizona. The 1977 classic has been translated into many languages, and the latest effort is the brainchild of Manuelito Wheeler, director of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Ariz.

"We needed a way to preserve our culture," Wheeler tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "Language is at the core of a culture. And I felt we needed a more contemporary way to reach not just young people but the population in general. And so, that's when the idea of translating a major movie into the Navajo language came up."


Interview Highlights

On why a well-known movie is perfect for a Navajo translation

"I'm not fluent in Navajo. I grew up on the Navajo Nation, around the Navajo language; both my parents speak Navajo, yet I don't. And there are thousands and thousands of us out there that are in that same situation. So, when you watch a movie like Star Wars where you pretty much already know many of the famous phrases from it and then you hear it in Navajo, that's the connection right there."

On the descriptive nature of the Navajo language

"We had a team of five translators and in my mind they pulled off a miracle. You know, there was some talk out there ... like, 'How are you gonna say robot because there's no word for robot in Navajo?' It's such a powerful language, that it's very descriptive, very descriptive. If you ask for an object in Navajo you will know you'll be getting a round object, you'll be getting a skinny, soft object, you'll be getting a flat rigid object. So, the trick was choosing from the variety of definitions that the group came up with. So for example: 'robot.' It's a thinking machine; a machine that thinks for itself."

On the upcoming premiere

"The premiere sponsor that came forward was Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation. They do that Navajo Nation Fair and the Fourth of July fair. So, I will premiere it at the Fourth of July celebration on July 3. We have a grandstand there on the fairgrounds and we are having a screen built on a semi-flatbed trailer. So, when we're ready we'll drive that out and set up chairs ... and have popcorn for as many as we can make popcorn for."

On how to say 'May the Force be with you' in Navajo

"That's been the No. 1 question being asked of me since I started this project. But we're not going to give out that famous phrase. Come to the movie on July 3 and you'll find out. I'll save you a seat right up front, so come over."

Comments

 

Discussions about race, ethnicity and culture tend to get dicey quickly, so we hold our commenters on Code Switch to an especially high bar. We may delete comments we think might derail the conversation. If you're new to Code Switch, please read over our FAQ and NPR's Community Guidelines before commenting. We try to notify commenters individually when we remove their comments, but given that we receive a high volume of comments, we may not always be able to get in touch. If we've removed a comment you felt was a thoughtful and valuable addition to the conversation, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us by emailing codeswitch@npr.org.