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How Star Wars 'made it possible to open a world of speaking Navajo'

In 2013, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was released on DVD dubbed in Navajo. Five years later, the Navajo-language cast reunited at Indigenous Comic Con to screen the film and sign DVD copies for Star Wars fans.

Navajo-language voiceover cast reunited at Indigenous Comic Con

The cast of voice actors for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope dubbed in Navajo at Indigenous Comic Con in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Wayward Nerd)
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This segment originally aired November 18, 2018.

In 2013, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was released on DVD dubbed in Navajo.

Five years later, the Navajo-language cast reunited at Indigenous Comic Con in Albequerque, N.M., to screen the film and sign DVD copies for Star Wars fans.

At the Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope screening in Navajo, there were Star Wars cosplayers. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

"I auditioned for the character on a spur of the moment, I read in the paper that they were doing a Navajo Star Wars, I tried out, and got the position," said Marvin Yellowhair, who voices Darth Vader in the film.

"I'm glad I did it because it was in an effort to preserve the language."

Geri Hongeva did the voice for C-3PO, and wears her handmade C-3PO cosplay costume. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)
 

Auditions for the dub were open to anyone who could speak Navajo. 

The role of C-3PO, originally played by Anthony Daniels, surprised many: the cantankerous droid was voiced by a woman, Geri Hongeva. 

"The only female voice that was available to audition for was Princess Leia. I wanted to see what it was like to get into the studio, where they were doing the auditions, [and] the only way I knew I could get into that room is if I tried out for a character," said Hongeva.  

"C-3PO was actually the shortest list of all the characters … so I just went by basic statistics, and thought I might have a greater chance with C-3PO because the list was very short."

Having grown up with two mischievous younger brothers, Hongeva said she could also relate to the character's love-hate relationship with fellow droid, R2-D2. 

"C-3PO [is] always trying to talk to R2-D2, trying to keep him in line, trying to keep him out of trouble, and being the mature logical one," she said.

But playing C-3PO in Navajo was a bit of a challenge — but thankfully her son has been a willing coach. 

"He knows every little part [in the film], and he was like, 'Mom you're going to have to [speak] Navajo, but then you're going to have to make it sound British, then you have to say it fast, then you have to say it robotic.'"

Hongeva's love for the character extends beyond voicing. She cosplayed as the golden droid at Indigenous Comic Con.

"I'm wearing my C-3PO belt, which has all the wiring sticking out, and the very famous golden belly," said Hongeva.

"Obviously I'm a female, so I wanted to depict that this is a very feminine costume. It's a very feminine top with a corset, and I designed it myself."

Preserving the language

For Jame Bilagody, who played Grand Moff Tarkin, Star Wars dubbed in Navajo is an important tool to help preserve the language.

James Bilagody, who played Grand Moff Tarkin in Navajo Star Wars, speaks to Unreserved's Stephanie Cram. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

"Many of our children no longer speak Navajo, the reason being because we have so many influences now in this world," said Bilagody.

"When you get stopped by a policeman, you're speaking English. When you go to court, you're speaking English. When you tell someone you love them, you're speaking English. When you're singing a song, it's English … everything is [in] English."

"Star Wars made it possible to open a world of speaking Navajo."

Bilagody had a great time voicing Tarkin, who was originally played by Peter Cushing. He said he had a lot of fun voicing an evil character, and his finest moment was when he ordered Princess Leia's execution, loudly, in Navajo.