If you’re a Star Wars fan then you’re probably counting down the days until the seventh dazzling installment in the epic saga hits movie theaters next month. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens continues the infamous journey from where Return of the Jedi left off, and moviegoers can expect to witness Luke Skywalker attempting to restore the Jedi Order once again, while Han Solo and Princess Leia work alongside the New Republic…
While speculation over the fate of their favorite characters grows, Star Wars lovers have probably already blocked out their social calendars and caught up on Star Wars marathons in preparation for the launch. But how many of them have learned how to talk like an Ewok or R2D2? Have you ever given much thought about what goes into the many languages of Star Wars and how they were developed?
While mainly created for the purpose of the film, you may be surprised to learn that several galactic forms of communication were actually derived from real life languages and some scenes even include entire words and phrases taken from living languages, including Finnish. Check out the linguistic secrets behind the galaxy far away.
The droids’ Binary language is mainly comprised of a sequence beeps, whistles and changes in tone. While this language is almost entirely electronically devised, Star Wars sound designer, Ben Burtt, created the sounds by combining electronic noises with water pipes, whistles, and a few vocalizations here and there. So everybody’s favorite Binary-speaking droid, R2-D2, expresses emotions of fear, anger, or sadness through variation in tone and pitch.
Unless you’re familiar with the spoken languages from Tibet, Nepal, or Kalmykia, you probably weren’t aware that the main language of the Ewoks was inspired by a BBC documentary featuring interviews with natives from that region. Ben Burtt recorded parts of the interviews and spoke with locals to work on a fitting language for the furry dwellers of the Endor forest that wouldn’t be out of place in the lofty Nepalese climes.
The Esperanto of the Star Wars universe, Huttese isn’t only spoken by Jabba the Hutt and his kin, but is widely used on Tatooine and other Hutt-controlled worlds. The influence for this infamous language whisks viewers from one side of the world to another; based on the South American Quechua language, still widely spoken today by the indigenous people of the Andes. The first time the world got to hear this awe-inspiring language was in a conversation between Greedo and Han Solo in Mos Eisley Cantina, in 1977.
Remember all the clicking and clucking from Attack of the Clones? While the Geonosians barely feature in the galactic saga, the few lines that we do hear them speak are among the most memorable of the crazy galactic languages for their attention-grabbing use of click consonants. And guess what? Geonosian was inspired by South African languages Xhosa and Zulu, among others.
Shyriiwook, the language of the Wookiee race, is often referred to simply as “Wookiee speak” and is mainly made up of roars and growls. The first character to speak this was Chewbacca, and his grunts and howls are said to have been based on George Lucas's dog.
Real Language Phrases in Star Wars
If you listen out carefully in The Phantom Menace, you can hear some of the Finnish language being spoken as, during the pod race, characters Sebula and Watto yell out “Kiitos!” and “Ole hyvä!”, meaning “Thank you!” and “You’re welcome!” We already know that Ewokese was largely influenced by the Tibetan language and, in Return of the Jedi, C-3PO was addressed with a verbatim Tibetan Buddhist prayer by the Ewoks. In the same movie, the Haya language is also spoken and Nien Nunb’s dialog was said to have been recorded by a Tanzanian exchange student.
How do the Characters Understand Each Other?
Thank Goodness for C-3PO! This shiny, golden droid was a know-it-all with good reason. C-3PO was actually fluent in over six million forms of communication, making him a polyglot of high enough caliber to snatch the current Guinness Book of Records first place away from Ziad Fazah, who speaks a mere 58 languages. It’s not surprising then, that this key character acted as a professional translator in all the Star Wars movies.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens whips up the galactic fury once more on December 18th and we’ll be waiting to hear what corners of the world are represented this time around.