The largest Native American tribe in the United States is seeking to dub the classic 1977 movie “Star Wars” movie in Navajo as a way to help preserve its traditional language. Fluent Navajo speakers were invited for a casting call in Window Rock in northern Arizona last month to dub the roles of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and others, tribal officials said.
Manuelito Wheeler, the director of the Navajo Nation Museum, said he first came up with the idea 13 years ago as a way to preserve the consonant-rich Navajo language, believed to be spoken by about 170,000 people, according to government figures.
“We thought this would be a provocative and effective way to help try to preserve the language and at the same time preserve the culture,” Wheeler told Reuters. “What better movie to do this than ‘Star Wars?’”
Wheeler said he believes the popular science fiction movie will resonate with the Navajo people with its universal theme of good versus evil.
The project was given the go-ahead about 18 months ago.
A team of five Navajos then spent 36 hours translating the original script, hampered by the many words in English that do not translate word for word into Navajo. Instead, several words in Navajo are sometimes needed to convey the proper meaning.
For example, he said there is no direct translation for “May the force be with you,” one of the most recognizable lines in the movie.
Wheeler declined to reveal the Navajo words used for that and other catch phrases as a way to “build momentum” leading up to the movie.
“What we want to avoid is like the Kung Fu movies of the past where the lips didn’t match up with the words they were speaking,” he said.
Casting for the voices of the movie’s major roles was held at the museum in Window Rock. About 75 people registered to audition.
The finished movie, which will include English subtitles, will be shown during the tribe’s Fourth of July celebration in Window Rock and again in September at the Navajo Nation Fair.