'Star Wars' Being Dubbed Into Navajo Language

May 30, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” will premier this summer, dubbed into Navajo. It’s the first time a major motion picture has been translated into a Native American language. The project may provide an important tool for Navajo families wishing to learn and preserve the language.

When Dave Nezzie met his future wife Amanda, there were some clear differences.

“When I first moved from the south to Arizona, I thought roadrunners were six feet tall and blue, and that natives ran around with headdresses and no shirts,” Amanda Nezzie said.

Amanda is non-native and Dave is a citizen of the Navajo Nation.

But Dave and Amanda had one thing in common, and quickly fell in love over a galaxy far, far away.

“I think that was one of the first things that bonded Dave and I together, was our mutual love of “Star Wars,” Amanda Nezzie said. “Our children have also caught the “Star Wars” bug.”

The family now lives in Albuquerque, and one of the biggest struggles they have faced living off the reservation is teaching their kids the native Navajo language.

“Rosetta Stone has something, there’s an app on the iPad, but having alternatives is what we need,” Dave Nezzi said. “Having more resources available will help us teach the language to more people.”

Enter “Star Wars.”

“There are definitely “Star Wars” nerds out there who can repeat that movie verbatim and they speak no Navajo,” said Manuelito Wheeler, director of the Navajo Nation Museum, and the muscle behind the “Star Wars” translation project.

“And so when they're watching this and it's in Navajo, it's them learning Navajo,” Wheeler said.

With the help of Navajo Parks and Recreation, and Lucasfilm, the project recently went into hyperdrive.

“This way an idea that I felt was a way to promote our culture, promote our language, a way to save our language,” Wheeler said.

But translating the film into Navajo was no easy feat. Jennifer Wheeler, an assistant professor of English at UNM Gallop, is one of the translators working on the project. When dubbing a film into anther language, syncing the lines to fit the time a character is given to speak their lines is crucial to the pace of the film.

The script is under lock and key until the film’s release. However, the process, arduous as it may be, to the translators was an exciting, ambitious project.

“This will be one historic event that will celebrate and recognize the fact that we’re just part of society here, in this western society, in this country,” Wheeler said. “But who we are as Navajo people living in this century, we really need to celebrate.”

Back in Albuquerque, the Nezzies can’t wait to see what translators come up with, even though the film is months away from release.

Dave, Amanda, and the kids look forward to the next time they sit down to watch “Star Wars,” but this time, in Navajo.

“I wanna hear what Millennium Falcon is, I’m very curious. And that way our daughter, she’ll be able to speak Navajo, she’ll understand who she is,” Amanda Nezzie said. “And what more of a beautiful way to do that than put that in “Star Wars.”

“Absolutely,” Dave Nezzie said.

The film will premiere on July 4 in Window Rock, on the Navajo Nation.

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