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Translated Into Navajo, 'Star Wars' Will Be

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Translated Into Navajo, 'Star Wars' Will Be

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Translated Into Navajo, 'Star Wars' Will Be

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. Let's just say it straight out: This is awesome. Next month, the original "Star Wars" movie will premiere dubbed into Navajo. This is the first time a major motion picture has been translated into a Native American language. Navajo families hope the project will help to promote and preserve their language. Here's Christine Trudeau, of member station KUNM in Albuquerque.

CHRISTINE TRUDEAU, BYLINE: When Dave Nezzie met his future wife, Amanda, they quickly fell in love over a galaxy far, far away.

AMANDA NEZZIE: I think that was one of the first things that bonded Dave and I together - was our love for "Star Wars." And our children have also caught the "Star Wars" bug.

TRUDEAU: The family lives in Albuquerque. And one of the biggest struggles they've come up against living off the reservation, is teaching their kids Dave's native Navajo language.

DAVE NEZZIE: Rosetta Stone has something; there's an app on the iPad. And having alternatives was what we need. Having more resources available will help us teach the language to more people.

TRUDEAU: Enter "Star Wars."

(SOUNDBITE OF "STAR WARS" THEME MUSIC)

MANUELITO WHEELER: There are definitely "Star Wars" nerds out there who can repeat that movie verbatim, and they speak no Navajo.

TRUDEAU: That's Manuelito Wheeler, director of the Navajo Nation Museum and the muscle behind the "Star Wars" translation project.

MANUELITO WHEELER: And so when they're watching this and it's in Navajo, it's them learning Navajo.

TRUDEAU: So he approached both the Navajo Nation and Lucasfilm, and the project went into hyperdrive.

MANUELITO WHEELER: This was an idea that I felt was a way to promote our culture, promote our language, a way to save our language.

TRUDEAU: But translating the film into Navajo was no easy feat. When dubbing a film into another language, syncing the translation with the character's lip movement is crucial to the pace of the film. Wheeler's wife, Jennifer, is a professor of English at the University New Mexico in Gallup, and is one of the translators working on the project. She gives this example of a translation problem: Think about how you'd say "computer" in Navajo.

JENNIFER WHEELER: (Navajo spoken) - you know, that's quite long.

TRUDEAU: Now imagine how you'd get across the concept of a droid.

(SOUNDBITE OF R2-D2)

TRUDEAU: It's metal, it moves around, and it's a computer.

JENNIFER WHEELER: R2-D2 would be "the short, metal thing that's alive."

TRUDEAU: So the translation for droid? That won't be revealed until the premiere.

(SOUNDBITE OF R2-D2)

TRUDEAU: In some ways, though, the syncing process might be somewhat easier for "Star Wars" because characters like Darth Vader deliver their lines behind a mask. Beyond the fun of translating phrases like Death Star, Jennifer Wheeler says the whole project demonstrates that the Navajo language is still alive.

JENNIFER WHEELER: This will be one, historic event that will celebrate and recognize the fact that we're just part of society here - in this Western society, in this country. But who we are as Navajo people living in this century, we really need to celebrate.

ESTHER NEZZIE: We watch TV?

DAVE NEZZIE: Do you want to watch "Star Wars"?

ESTHER: Yeah.

TRUDEAU: Dave and Amanda Nezzie, and their kids, are looking forward to sitting down to watch "Star Wars" in Navajo.

AMANDA NEZZIE: I want to hear what Millennium Falcon is in Navajo. I'm very curious. And our daughter, she'll be able to speak Navajo; she'll understand who she is. And what more of a beautiful way to do that than put that in "Star Wars"?

DAVE NEZZIE: Absolutely.

TRUDEAU: The Nezzies are traveling to Window Rock, Ariz., for the premiere, which is taking place as part of the Navajo Nation Fair. At this time, Lucasfilm has no plans for a wider theatrical release, or a DVD version, of "Star Wars" in Navajo. For NPR News, I'm Christine Trudeau in Albuquerque.

(SOUNDBITE OF "STAR WARS" THEME SONG)

INSKEEP: NPR News, this is.

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