We often talk about information getting “lost in translation.” But translation can also reveal information that was originally concealed. For example, earlier this week, the studio released translated versions of the title for the upcoming Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi.
As the Star Wars storyline expands, dedicated fans play detective, trying to anticipate upcoming plot twists. So everything Star Wars-related is scrutinized, including foreign language versions of material that’s already been released in English.
How Many Jedi Are Left? English Conceals, Spanish Reveals
— queen of winter (@argonautiche) February 17, 2017
Fans have been scratching their heads for months, trying to figure out who The Last Jedi is and what the title means. Is it Luke? Rey? Kylo Ren? Some new character we haven’t met yet?
Or is the title plural? After all, in English, the plural of Jedi is . . . Jedi. As the Telegraph speculated in an article from January,
[I]t took us a while to cotton on to this fact. But after spending a fair few hours last night contemplating the question “Who is the last Jedi?”, we realised that that, because the word Jedi can be both singular and plural, “Who are the last Jedi?” in fact works equally well.
English also uses the same article “the” whether the word that follows is singular or plural, allowing filmmakers to come up with a title that was both intriguing and a little bit ambiguous.
But in other languages, the article changes depending on whether the noun it refers to is single or plural. So, the translated versions of the titles couldn’t help but reveal that Jedi is plural.:
- Italian: Gli Ultimi Jedi
- French: Les Derniers Jedi
- Spanish: Los Ultimos Jedi
- Brazilian Portuguese: Os Últimos Jedi
You get the picture. Clearly, there is more than one.
This isn’t the first time Star Wars fans have used “the Force” of translation . . .
This isn’t the first time translation has given fans a sneak peek into an upcoming Star Wars film. Before The Force Awakens was released, fans mined the Japanese versions of the movie trailer for nuggets of information about the plot and the characters’ relationships with each other.
In a blog post from before the movie was released, ITL Translations explained how the Japanese subtitles gave hints about the relationship between Kylo Ren and Darth Vader:
The Japanese subtitles throw up the possibility of another family relationship though – between Kylo Ren, the new villain of the piece, and Darth Vader, the classic villain of the whole series.
When Kylo Ren addresses Darth Vader’s helmet by saying: “I will finish what you started”, the Japanese translation reads: “I am the one to inherit your legacy.”, but the next title card uses the passive construction of the same verb to read: “A new generation is inheriting your legacy.”
Does this hint at a family relationship between the characters?
In fact, it did, as everyone probably knows by now that Darth Vader is Kylo Ren’s grandfather. (And if you didn’t, well . . . the title of this post has the word spoilers in it. You were warned!)
Of course, the clues gleaned from analyzing foreign translations aren’t always so accurate. For example, the same Japanese subtitles had knowledgeable fans expecting a Rey who “isn’t a rebel ready to stand up and defy an authority figure,” because of the deferential tone of her responses. And that proved not to be true.
The Bottom Line
Different languages transmit information in so many different ways. For instance, gendered words can indicate whether an unnamed character is male or female. Many languages have both formal and informal verb tenses, making it hard to hide the details of how characters relate to each other.
And now that the world is so well-connected, fans can sometimes cross-reference translations in different languages to confirm or refute their favorite theories. For example, a letter in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is signed only with the initials “R.A.B.” The letters were meant to be a mystery, but R.A.B’s identity became much less mysterious after observant readers noticed that the initials were different in other languages. For example:
[I]n the Dutch edition of the book R.A.B. was translated into R.A.Z., ‘zwart’ being Dutch for ‘black’; in the Norwegian edition, R.A.B. translates to ‘R.A.S.’, svart being Norwegian for ‘black’; and in the Finnish edition the initials were R.A.M., ‘musta’ being Finnish for ‘black’
The character in question? Regulus Black, Sirius Black’s brother.
The bottom line? If the content you need translating relies on a bit of mystery, it may take more than a simple, word-for-word translation to maintain that mystery. At K International, our translators and transcreation specialists will work with you to find the best possible solution for tricky translation issues like this.