"Star Wars" has been translated into over 50 different languages, and now "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" is available in Navajo, the first major motion picture to be dubbed into a Native American language. The idea was proposed by Manuelito Wheeler, the director of the Navajo Nation Museum and a fan of the Star Wars franchise. Wheeler chose this film because it is an iconic movie with an international appeal, depicting the age old battle between good versus evil, and providing audiences with a hopeful ending.
It took Wheeler three years working with Lucasfilm to have his passion project approved, but once he got the green light, he wasted no time. Wheeler assembled a team of five translators who then worked for 36 hours straight translating the 90 page script.
Elsa Johnson, an Arizona State Alumna and proud Navajo woman, was among the translators. Johnson said that since the last century, Native American tribes were shamed and forbidden to speak their languages in government schools and by western religions. This is one of the reasons why many Native American tribes have lost their languages. "Our language enables us to pass down our tribal history, culture, ancestry, traditional teachings and ceremony," Johnson said. "Keeping the language alive ensures continuance of our culture," she said.
The marathon translation session did suffer the occasional hiccup. The scenes with aliens speaking have Navajo subtitles, but some of the futuristic English words have no companion among the Navajo language. In those instances, the translators had to be more literal. For example, "droid" was translated into "steel being" and "light saber" was translated into "light weapon."
A success may this film be.