The use of language and translation in Star Wars

Written on 4 May, 2023

Que la fuerza te acompañe? Jabba le Forestier? Guerre stellari?

Star Wars has captured the hearts and imaginations of audiences around the world for decades. The franchise has spawned numerous films, books, comics and video games, but one of the most significant aspects of the series that is often overlooked is its use of language and the translation of its universe into other languages.

Throughout the Star Wars universe, there are countless species and civilizations, each with its own unique language and culture, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to understand them all, unless, of course, you are C-3PO and can understand over six million forms of communication …

Translation and interpreting themselves are key to many aspects of the film trilogies: the Jedi are required to learn multiple languages and we see them speaking in many different tongues throughout their travels. For instance, when the Rebel Alliance intercepts the plans for the Death Star (spoiler alert, but that film did come out in 1977!), they have to rely on a partial transmission in a language they do not understand. The importance of language and translation is also highlighted in the character of Chewbacca, whose language skills also serve as a plot device in Episode IV, where his ability to understand Imperial code allows the Rebels to infiltrate the Death Star undetected.

translation in star wars

Back on Earth

On Earth, translation has also been used to ensure the films’ messages are accurately conveyed and there are a multitude of different translations for terms and characters in the Star Wars films depending on the language and region.

For example, in the original Star Wars film, the character Darth Vader’s name was translated as ‘Dark Vador’ in the French version. In some cases, entire phrases and dialogues are translated differently depending on the region. For example, in the Spanish version of the films, the phrase “May the Force be with you” is translated as “Que la fuerza te acompañe,” which directly translates to “May the Force accompany you”. Even the title of the first film trilogy varied depending on where you were watching it. While most languages kept the key terms ‘war’ and ‘stars’ in their titles (La guerre des étoiles in French, Krieg der Sterne in German, for example), the Italian translation refers to the wars (in plural) of the stars (Guerre stellari) and the Spanish translation to the war of the galaxies (La guerra de las galaxias).

The German translation referred to the Millennium Falcon as Rasender Falke (Speeding Falcon), and the French went for Le Millennium Condor (Millennium Condor). The French translators didn’t stop there though: Han Solo became Yan Solo, Chewbacca was known as Chiktabba or Chiko and, most puzzlingly, Jabba the Hutt’s name was translated as Jabba le Forestier (Jabba the Woodsman).

French translation in Star Wars

Source: https://chapmangamo.tumblr.com

Use of real-world languages in Star Wars

In addition to all this, the filmmakers drew inspiration from a number of real-world languages to build their worlds and develop completely new languages. For example:

1. Quechua: The language spoken by the Ewoks in the original Star Wars trilogy is inspired by Quechua, a language spoken by Indigenous peoples in South America.

2. Swahili: The language spoken by the Jawas in the original Star Wars trilogy is inspired by Swahili, a language spoken in East Africa.

3. Navajo: In the film Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, the Rebel Alliance’s secret code is based on the Navajo language used by Native Americans during World War II as a code language.

4. Māori: The language spoken by the bounty hunter Jango Fett and his cloned son Boba Fett is inspired by the Māori language, spoken by Indigenous peoples in New Zealand.

5. Hmong: The language spoken by the character Chirrut Îmwe in the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is inspired by Hmong, a language spoken by a minority group in Southeast Asia.

All of this helps demonstrate the diverse sources of inspiration for the Star Wars franchise, which draws on various real-world cultures and languages to create a rich and unique fictional universe. The use of different languages and dialects creates a sense of cultural diversity within the Star Wars universe and allows for a deeper understanding of the various species and civilizations, while also serving as a tool for character development and world-building.

Written by Greg Hyne

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