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Star Wars As You Never Heard It Before...In Navajo


Star Wars is one of those iconic movies that left its mark on the pop culture…Native Americans are often left out of the popular zeitgeist, so to encourage more interest in native languages the Navajo Nation took this movie and made it their own. And now its coming to a theater near you.

The movie will have its Oklahoma debut at the Sam Noble Museum in Norman on October 27 at 7pm.

Daniel Swan, Curator of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, said the movie is entirely dubbed in Navajo.

“I was actually out in the Navajo Nation at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona. I had a meeting with Manuelito Wheeler, the director of the Navajo nation Museum. It was at the point then that he could discuss it a little bit,” Swan said.

“They had struck the deal with Lucas Films and he had been working with them for quite some time. When I was out there they held the auditions for the Navajo voice overs so it was very exciting at the Navajo Nation Museum,” Swan said.

“Over a hundred individuals came in to audition for the parts, the various part. There is about 14 main characters, and then about 20 extras in it, so there were opportunities for lots of Navajo people to participate.”

Dr. Mary Linn, associate curator of native languages at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, said a lot of linguists are Stars Wars geeks.

“We couldn't have thought of a better movie for the Navajo Nation to start with. But it is a major undertaking to do a full length film and it really shows that anything and everything could be talked about and translated into any languages but especially native languages,” Linn said.

“Sometime people feel like they're old and traditional, that they can't be modernized and updated. This movie really shows that it can,” Linn said. “It’s really nice to have a full length feature film out there where people can pick it up and say ‘look this is in Navajo.’ A lot of kids haven't seen this movie before so they're first showing of it is actually going to be in Navajo so for them it’s going to be a film thats in Indian languages first, and English second, which is nicely flipped.”

Native languages aren’t stopped by the addition of new futuristic words.

“Languages aren't codes, people can learn them, people can understand. As the Navajo Nation learned in World War II, right? In a way, the problems that they encountered translating Star Wars was very similar to what the young men did in World War II,” Linn said.

“They were confronted with a situation and they had to be able to talk about it, so they came up with ways of describing the military machinery at the time. In a way, it’s very similar to how the actors translated the Star Wars machinery of the future.”

Swan said it was a team effort to create the translation.

“Some of the formal translators for language programs from the Navajo Nation led the initiatives. All the actors, the voice actors, participated in that process and apparently from what I understand, it was highly negotiative as they tried to work through it,” Swan said.

“They had a lot of options. Navajo is an incredibly descriptive language so there was very robust discussions as to exactly how to translate, particularly terms like spaceship and modern technology elements, into the Navajo language.”

Some could question bringing a film dubbed into Navajo to a state where there’s not a lot of Navajos.

“That's one of many good reasons to bring the film here. But I think it fits so well with the Native American languages program at the Museum and the Anthropology Department here at the University of Oklahoma,” Swan said.

“So in some ways it’s a broad general celebration of the revival and strength of resurgence of native languages not only here in Oklahoma but across the nation. That's why the Navajo Nation undertook this initiative was to access popular culture as a means of engaging younger people in an effort to both learn and use the Navajo language.”

“They've been willing to consider all different sorts. They've worked with Rosetta Stone to develop a program, they have an AM radio station that's in the Navajo language, 660 AM, KTNN,” Swan said. “They're really undertaking a broad range of programs and initiatives to maintain and to keep the Navajo language strong and a major part of the community.”

The Sam Noble Museum of Natural History will be screening Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope, dubbed entirely in Navajo, on October 27th at 7pm.


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