'Star Wars' goes Navajo

April 21, 2013

“Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi …”

Chances are, you’ve heard those iconic words before. But you’ve never heard them in Dine, the official language of the Navajo. At least not yet. Manuelito Wheeler is the director of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock. He’s also the one who came up with the idea of dubbing a movie into Navajo for the first time ever.

So, is he a Star Wars buff? The question makes him chuckle.

“A little bit, yeah,” he said, before admitting, “I’m a big fan.”

Wheeler says Star Wars is one of the greatest movies of all time, and it relates to many generations. That’s the kind of movie he needs to help him keep the Navajo language alive. That’s why his museum, Navajo Parks and Recreation, and Lucasfilm came together.

“And that’s the point of this movie,” Wheeler said, “is to get people who normally don’t speak Navajo to break that mental barrier, to feel free to say these things in Navajo.”

Wheeler imagines this is just the beginning. It took his team of Navajo speakers only 36 hours to translate the entire the movie. He imagines a standard Western or action film would go even faster.

In his words, “There’s a difference between translating ‘The horse is over there on the hill, the bad guy’s got away,’ than translating, ‘All deflector shields, aim them forward.’”

For now, Wheeler’s working on casting the Star Wars voices. He says fans should expect the Dine language premier during the Navajo Nation’s Fourth of July celebration in Window Rock.

Until then, “May the force be with you” – no matter how you say it.

Play the part

Voices are still being sought for the Navajo version of “Star Wars.” Auditions for the roles of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Han Solo, C-3PO, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Grand Moff Tarkin will be held at the Navajo Nation Museum on Friday and Saturday, May 3 and 4. Sounding like the characters is not important, but ability to emote – and fluency in Dine – is. Those interested should call (928) 871-7941 to book a time slot.