On Friday, May 3, casting for the Navajo-dubbed version of Star Wars begins at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona. The process will carry over into Saturday as well. Museum director Manuelito Wheeler says that walk-ins are welcome, but that it's not a bad idea to call ahead (928-871-7941) to arrange a time slot. For more on this unprecedented meeting of pop cuture and Native language, see our previous story on the project.
ICTMN caught up with Wheeler, who shared more thoughts on the Native-izing of one of the best-loved films of all time.
Can you go into some more detail about some of the harder Star Wars words or ideas that had to be translated?
It wasn't so much that it was difficult to translate — the difficulty came in choosing one of many ways to translate English to Navajo. My hat goes off to the translators a team of 5 diverse individuals with great backgrounds. The amount of concentration that made this happen — and it took them a total of 36 hours!
How do you say "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…" in Navajo, or "May the Force be with you?"
We are not releasing any of the translated transcript. We want the anticipation to build so the public can come and have the full experience of Star Wars.
Star Wars is an interesting choice because it presents a worldview, and a quasi-religion. Was that something on your mind as either a pro or a con?
That was a part of it, for sure, but it is just a great movie with wide appeal. That's why I chose it. As for the spiritual aspect, it's both a pro and a con, but more of a pro for sure. Its a pro in that if — big if — you choose to view it in terms of a worldview or a religion, then I think many traditional or spiritual Natives, not just Navajos, will connect with it right away. It's a con in that these elements could distract from the movie story but I really doubt that because the story is so strong.
We noticed on your Facebook page you have Star Wars listed among your likes … have you been a Star Wars fan all your life? Does this project have any special personal meaning because it's Star Wars?
Well, if you go to that Star Wars Facebook page you will find that there are over 10,000,000 fans worldwide. And that's just Facebook fans who have computers — so my point is, it's not difficult to be a fan of Star Wars. If you really want to know the special meaning for me is that the translating of this movie into a Native language represents a kind of cultural mindshift. Not just for Navajo but for all Natives. I hope it give us "A New Hope."
Can you talk about the audition process, and share any insight about what you're looking — or listening — for in prospective Lukes, Leias, and Han Solos?
The audition process is easy. May 3, 4 at the Navajo Nation Museum. Best to call for an audition but walk in will be welcome. 928.871.7941. We are not necessarily looking for sound alikes. Just people who speak fluent Navajo and are good actors. Hey, an Anglo gentleman has auditioned, so come on out and give it a shot.
The press release said you had been working for quite some time on getting a popular film dubbed into Navajo. Obviously Star Wars is a great example — what others would you like to do if you get the chance?
Other films I've considered are Gladiator, 8 Seconds — and how about Billy Jack? After Star Wars, the sky's the limit.