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Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today

Star Wars fans, your day is here.

Fans are gearing up to celebrate the informal Star Wars Day, known as “May the 4th be with you,” on Wednesday. Fans from across the world participate and Indigenous fans are there to celebrate too.

One impressive example of the Native fandom is Hopi-R2. He is the first Indigenous droid which is a copy of R2-D2, the famous droid character from Star Wars, that is covered in Hopi pottery designs. It weighs about 200 pounds, and additional 200 pounds with a case.

He has recently been traveling around Arizona from the Phoenix Country Day School, First Mesa Youth Center, AZ First Tech Challenge Championship and Coconino High School.

Artist Duane Koyawena, Hopi-Tewa, painted the robot for about three months. His art mainly focuses on his Hopi culture, translating it to contemporary art and portraits.

He said R2-D2 is one of his favorite characters because of how they apply to his life and how “they’re always there to support, they’re always there to help. They have the keys beyond the keys to help; if you can’t get past one door they have the key to get past the other door.”

Yes, C-3PO actually speaks the Navajo language in this version of 'Star Wars.' R2-D2... not so much.

Yes, C-3PO actually speaks the Navajo language in this version of 'Star Wars.' R2-D2... not so much.

The journey of creating the robot began when the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff planned an exhibit called "The Force is With Our People,” to be made up entirely of Native American artists. The purpose was to explore the “influence Star Wars has had on contemporary Native artists and the question of why this enduring piece of popular culture resonates so strongly with Native communities, specifically those in the American Southwest.”

Tony Thibodeau, the curator, wanted to have an R2-D2 to go to the exhibit, but the expenses were far too much. The museum’s director of marketing reached out to her husband, Joe Mastroianni, to engineer the droid, taking about eight months to complete. He then reached out to Koyawena to help design it. 

He didn’t merely paint Hopi designs but integrated symbols in the structure of the droid. There are Hopi strength marks painted on the door that powers the droid and particular ridges are painted as Hopi rain symbols.

Artist Duane Koyawena (right) and engineer Joe Mastroianni (left) created the R2-D2 for the Museum of Northern Arizona's exhibit "The Force is With Our People.” (Photo courtesy of Duane Koyawena)

Koyawena noted how hundreds of years ago Hopi people put designs on their pottery to how Hopi people today are putting their designs on everything else.

“I’m able to translate where we’re at today. Everything that’s on this R2 is such an attraction, yet there’s culture,” he said.

Koyawena said he grew up on the Star Wars films and liked everything about it. But he really connected with it when he was battling addiction and when he was discovering the significance of his Hopi culture.

“Good and bad really resonate with Star Wars as far as the good side, the dark side, the force.” he said. “I kind of felt that for myself, in what direction we pray to and what direction that we plant our crops, was for a positive direction but yet there’s the negativity in there, of course.”

Koyawena has also made Hopi pottery pieces of a stormtrooper helmet, a Boba Fett helmet and sells Star Wars shirts with Hopi designs.

The earliest uses of the phrase “May the 4th Be With You” is traced to 1978 not long after the release of “Star Wars: A New Hope.” A newspaper writer used the phrase as a gimmick to mark Fourth of July, according to the Star Wars website

Indigenous ties

People have drawn the similarity between Princess Leia’s hair and Hopi women wearing their hair in the “squash blossom” style. Although George Lucas, creator of the franchise, said with “Time” in 2002 that it was inspired by “a kind of Southwestern Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look, which is what that is. The buns are basically from turn-of-the-century Mexico."

Some have been critical in correcting Lucas. 

The magazine Allure, wrote how there are other theories that the buns are similar to the Japanese Shimada chignon hairstyle, the hair of Batgirl and Flash Gordan’s Queen Fria or hairstyles in the Elizabethan era.

And the Native community has seemingly adopted and accepted Baby Yoda, or Grogu, of “The Mandalorian fame,” as their own

Celebrations

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is hosting a “May the vote be with you” event at Scottsdale Community College in the Phoenix area. There will be a Star Wars cosplay contest, photo booth and a t-shirt giveaway. The college sits on tribal land.

The event was organized to “educate on history of voting and voting registration in addition promote and encourage young people to become poll workers.”

There will be a free screening of “Star Wars: A New Hope” on Thursday at the West Wind Glendale 9 Drive-In in Glendale, Arizona. It will be in the Navajo language with English subtitles. Navajo Nation President Nez will also be attending the event.

Tickets are per vehicle and first-come-first-served. Registration is here.

navajo-star-wars-poster-feat

LucasFilms and the Navajo Nation Museum collaborated to translate the movie in 2013. But the idea originated with the museum’s director Manny Wheeler in the mid-90s to help preserve the Diné language. He thought the universality of Star Wars could help, Cronkite News reported.

(Related: Preserving the force of Navajo language)

To watch the Navajo language dubbed versions of the film on the streaming platform Disney+, simply search for “Star Wars: A New Hope.” Navigate to the “extras” section located at the bottom of the window until you see the Navajo language versions. Disney has all Star Wars-related movies in its catalog. 

The drive-in theater doors open at 6:30 p.m. The Navajo voice actors will sign autographs, meet fans, and take photos. A film crew from Providence Pictures will also be there and people may be featured in a national PBS series that “seeks to elevate contemporary Indigenous voices and highlight the accomplishments of America’s Native communities.”

Wheeler “worked with an all-Navajo group of translators and voice actors who capture the heart and the essence of characters ranging from Luke Skywalker to C-3PO to Darth Vader,” Providence Pictures said in a press release. 

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