Sun. Jan 16th, 2022

Part of the Navajo creation story, Diné Bahane’ (The Story of the People), involves a set of twins who defeat Yé’iitsoh, the Big Giant, in order to protect their people. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Navajo Nation would take an interest in the story of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.
In early 2013, the Navajo Nation completed the process of dubbing “Star Wars IV: A New Hope,” into the Navajo language. The result was remarkable. Screenings of the film in Arizona and New Mexico brought generations of Navajo people together to experience their language in a whole new way.
Manny Wheeler, the director of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, AZ, and the leader of the “Star Wars” project, said, “We did this movie for everybody, to open up the Navajo language. This is just a first step in one of many to ensure our Navajo language survives. We want it to be a prototype for many other languages out there that are in danger.”
Wheeler had been tinkering with the idea since the early 90s. After countless emails and calls to representatives at Lucasfilm, Wheeler’s request finally made its way to the right person in 2011. The Navajo Nation quickly got to work on the project, casting Navajo people to play roles in the film and translate the script.
The film premiered to east coast audiences in early November of 2013 at The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. Hundreds of eager people ventured to the museum’s Rasmuson Theater to see the result of the Navajo Nation’s relentless effort. In addition to the Navajo people represented in the audience, members of other tribes and non-Natives were in attendance. The film’s subtitles offered comfort to those audience members who were not familiar with the Navajo language, but, as Wheeler stated, “We chose this film because, even without the subtitles, most of you would already know what’s going on.”
Throughout the movie, everyone enjoyed seeing beloved characters like Hans Solo and R2D2 from a whole new perspective. Laughs rang out through the theater when English words like “Darth Vader” or “Docking Bay 94” would slip out of a character’s mouth after a string of Navajo words. When the film ended, the audience applauded furiously-a testament to the incredible accomplishment from the Navajo Nation.
A Q&A session followed the film. Wheeler, his wife, and “Storm Trooper #5” patiently answered audience members’ questions. Wheeler’s wife, a professor of Navajo with a PhD in English, helped the audience to understand why certain terms like “Docking Bay 94” were kept in English. “In English,” she said, “94 is three syllables, but in Navajo, it’s nine syllables.” Even though they had to make compromises, the result was still a masterpiece.
After the Q&A, everyone left the theater with a commemorative poster, a smile, and a new appreciation for the Navajo language. “This movie is called ‘A New Hope,'” Wheeler stated. “So let’s hope that’s what this [project] represents.”
Molly Herbison is a third-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at MH757997@wcupa.edu.
 

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