Some 150,000 people speak Diné bizaad, or Navajo language. Yet no major film has ever been released in Diné. That means that monolingual speakers–who mostly live on the Navajo Nation that spreads out over Arizona, Utah and New Mexico–have been unable to simply go to a theater to enjoy a film.
That all changed recently, after Navajo Nation Museum director Manuelito Wheeler set out to get Star Wars dubbed in Diné. Before the casting call could even be made, the film first had to be translated–and that’s not an easy thing for a language that’s so precise in its descriptions when compared to English. Wheeler explained the process to NPR in June:
We had a team of five translators and in my mind they pulled off a miracle. You know, there was some talk out there … like, ‘How are you gonna say robot because there’s no word for robot in Navajo?’ It’s such a powerful language, that it’s very descriptive, very descriptive. If you ask for an object in Navajo you will know you’ll be getting a round object, you’ll be getting a skinny, soft object, you’ll be getting a flat rigid object. So, the trick was choosing from the variety of definitions that the group came up with. So for example: “robot.” It’s a thinking machine; a machine that thinks for itself.
Navajo Star Wars was shown on and near the Navajo Nation this summer with glowing reviews from Diné speakers. And now, it’s hitting major cities, too. Arizona State University will host an exclusive screening in about two weeks (do yourself a favor and click on that last link for an awesome poster image!), and it’s coming to New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles soon, too.