Language and Star Wars geekery in the same post!

I finally did cave and buy A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back in digital form. They’re the Special Editions–but the lure of being able to watch them both in French was too great to resist. And now that I’ve watched the first of the two, here are my immediate reactions!

First, and this may seem like stating the obvious but I’m going to say it anyway: French sounds different than English. What I actually mean by that in this case is that inflection patterns are noticeably different–an English speaker and a French speaker, when saying the same word, will put the stresses in different places.

An example of this was any line in which Ben was identified by his full name of “Obi-Wan Kenobi”. An English speaker says “Ken-OH-bee”. A French speaker, or at least the French speakers who did the dubs for this movie, says “Ken-oh-BEE”.

Also–and this was particularly easy to note given that every single line in this movie is emblazoned into my brain, enough that I kept mentally playing the English lines along with the French ones, which was rather distracting–the English dialogue is way more blatant in emotional expression. This had the rather lollertastic result of making Luke sound way less whiny in French than he does in English, for example. Han sounded rather less snide, too.

Second, it was intriguing to see where names were changed and where they weren’t. The two biggest ones I noted were that the name of the planet Alderaan was changed, and I’m pretty damned sure I also heard Han calling Chewie “Chiqo” whenever “Chewie” appears in the English dialogue.

A quick google suggests that apparently the French spelling for Chewie’s nickname is “Chico”. But I don’t know if that’s just because people actually saw it spelled in official translated material or if they were transcribing by ear out of the dub–the subtitles on the digital edition I have, at least when I checked in a couple of places, were ever so conveniently not actually showing Chewie’s name! Meanwhile, French Wikipedia page for Chewie has his full name listed there as “Chiquetabbac”–and from what little exposure I’ve had to French so far, and in particular how French nicknames might work (specifically, for a couple of the members of Le Vent du Nord), that suggests to me that it should be “Chiqo”.

Meanwhile, it was quite interesting to me that they chose to put a -d sound on the end of Alderaan–and in particular, they called it “Aldorande”, according, once again, to French Wikipedia. I’m trying to make a reasonable guess as to why the translators at the time might have elected to do that–perhaps just to make it sound a little more French, since “aa” is not a vowel combination you get in the language. Perhaps also to give the word a bit more distinct a pronunciation, since without an ending -e, that -n would just vanish, so maybe giving it a -d sound on the end made it flow better in the dialogue.

Threepio and Artoo’s names were changed, too, though I couldn’t quite catch what they were changed to while I was actually listening to the dialogue; I had to look it up later. Threepio becomes Z-6PO, and Artoo becomes D2-R2. This strikes me as a likely attempt to get names that got phonetically closer to the original English while still making sense in French.

And of course I have to note that Han also had his name changed! He became “Yan Solo”. Which resulted in this little Photoshop gem by Dejah Leger, poking fun at Yann Falquet of Genticorum! Because Dejah’s just awesome like that.

Yann Solo

Yann Solo

The Death Star was “L’Étoile noire”, and the Clone Wars were “La Guerre noire”. Interestingly contradictory to the subtitles in French, which have “L’Étoile de la Mort” and “la Guerres des Clones”. Poking around on Wikipedia suggests to me, from what I can glean out of the French Wikipedia pages, that the translations using “noire” were originally due to trying to sync up with the actors’ mouth motions. I can see “L’Étoile de la Mort” being a problem, with the extra syllables in there.

Vader also had his name changed–Darth Vader became Dark Vador, and my immediate guess there is because -th is NOT a sound they make in French. Also, “Vador” is phonetically closer to “Vader” in English, since the -er syllable in French would come out as a long ‘a’ sound. I know this just from all the various French verbs that end in -er! And I’m also pretty sure I caught Vader being called “Seigneur Vador” by more than one Imperial officer.

Third, my favorite bit that I was able to figure out by ear was Leia’s holographic message to Ben. I was able to catch “Vous êtes mon seul espoir”–although the “Help me” part of that line was actually “Au secours”, NOT “Aidez-moi”, as I was expecting. So the whole line was “Au secours, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Vous êtes mon seul espoir.” Because when you’re making a desperate appeal to a venerable Jedi Knight who fought in the Clone Wars, you’re damn well going to be using “vous”.

By and large I found most of the dialogue too fast to easily follow, even with the help of the subtitles–but I’m pretty sure I caught one bit of French that was NOT in the original English.

In the scene where Vader is reporting to Tarkin that Leia’s resisting his mind probe, the original English line he has is “Her resistance to the mind probe is considerable. It will be some time before we can extract any information from her.” But that second sentence is NOT what Vader says in French. His sentence ends with “maudite princesse”, and I think, but am not a hundred percent sure, that he may be saying something to the effect of “It will not be easy to interrogate that wretched princess”? I hear “parler” in there, and I definitely know “maudite”, because thank you title of the very first Le Vent du Nord album!

All in all: great fun. On to The Empire Strikes Back! I can’t WAIT to try to parse Han’s best scenes with Leia. 😀

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