'Star Wars' translated into Navajo language for Fourth of July

navajo-auditions.jpgWhile I was looking into the night's tragic Arizona news, I stumbled across this pretty cool story. For more than ten years, some Navajos have been trying to get the original "Star Wars" dubbed into bizaad, the Navajo language. "The elements in ‘Star Wars’ parallel traditional Navajo belief,” said Manuelito Wheeler, director of the Navajo Nation Museum director. "The concept that stars and the universe are ideas that we’ve talked about for time immemorial, and the basic concept is Mother Earth and Father Sky." But many older Navajos had never seen the movie in English. To dub the film, Wheeler and his colleagues first had to overcome the challenges of translating the script — there is no direct translation for “May the force be with you.” Then they needed, and got, permission from George Lucas. Then they had to find some ace Navajo speakers who could fill the film's key parts. They tried casting the parts in LA, but weren't successful. So the casting call moved to Window Rock, on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. From AZCentral.com:

About 115 Navajos showed up. Some dressed as their favorites, complete with Princess Leia-like hair buns and light sabers. Some were young. Some old. They came from Gallup, N.M., Albuquerque, Tucson, Phoenix, Cottonwood and Page. Others came from the reservation communities of Tuba City, Lukachukai, Rough Rock, Chinle and Fort Defiance.

Some struggled with nerves while waiting in the museum lobby. Many wrinkled their foreheads in concentration. Others dabbed sweat off their faces with paper towels.

One of those who auditioned was Marshale Natonabah, 54, who took a break from shearing sheep in the Chuska Mountains near Crystal, N.M.

He jumped into a 1997 Chevrolet pickup truck and drove about 50miles to the museum to give Diné Bizaad — the Navajo language — to Obi-Wan Kenobi, the only character he remembered from watching “Star Wars” on TV.


Jolyana Begay, the Phoenix Indian Center’s program manager for language and culture, tried out unsuccessfully for Princess Leia.

The 32-year-old parted her long, dark hair into ponytails, rolled them into buns and pinned them to the sides of her head. She read Leia’s conversation with Grand Moff Tarkin following Leia’s capture.

One of the challenges, Begay said, included shortening the Navajo translation to fit the English version on screen.

“The difficulty is the Navajo language is very descriptive, and there are so many different ways to say certain things,” Begay said.

Leia is being played by Clarissa Yazzie, who modeled her mother's sarcasm to play the part. Marvin Yellowhair, 54, said he was a “born Darth Vader" and got the part. More in the story, with videos of the selected. "Star Wars" debuts in Navajo on July 3 in Window Rock. Terry Teller is Luke Skywalker:

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