A coach as Vader?

Director unveils cast of Navajo 'Star Wars'

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, May 23, 2013

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T he Force proved to be strong with this group of Navajos as they earned the seven primary roles in the upcoming Navajo-language version of "Star Wars."

Terry Teller, of Lukachukai, Ariz. will be the voice of Luke Skywalker.

"It is pretty pretty awesome," Teller said happily, adding that he enjoyed the audition because it required him to really act. "Since it was going to be the first movie in Navajo I wanted it to be the best," he said. "I challenged myself to play the role, as it needs to be. It was hard because I have never done anything like that before."

Anderson Kee of Cottonwood, Ariz. will be the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Kee said the way the Obi-Wan Kenobi talks about the Force in the movie reminds him of a Navajo medicine man, especially when he says the words in Navajo.

"It was a new experience for me," he said.

Clarissa Yazzie of Rock Point, Ariz. will be the voice of Princess Leia.

Yazzie said she enjoys Princess Leia's sarcastic and dominating personality because she feels that her personality closely resembles Leia's.

"I was excited to just be a part of the whole experience," she said.

James Junes of Farmington, N.M. is the voice of Han Solo - and one of the very few experienced actors to win a part. Junes is part of the comedy team James and Ernie, and has had roles in low-budget films on the Navajo Nation.

Marvin Yellowhair of N.M. is the voice of Darth Vader.

Yellowhair said he wanted to be Darth Vader because he is the main character he remembers from Star Wars, mostly due to the fact that the villain is always in control and he is a leader. He said it related to him as a coach at Rock Point High.

"It felt so good being involved with this project," he said.

James Bilagody of Ariz., another experienced performer, is the voice of General Tarkin.

The Navajo voice of C-3PO is a "surprise," said director Ellyn Stern Epcar. "It will be unveiled on July third."

"All the people that were cast fit the voice perfectly and they gave awesome performances," said Manuelito Wheeler, Navajo Nation Museum director. "The directors, they chose the right people."

Epcar is from Epcar Entertainment, a company based out of Los Angeles, Calif. She was hired under Deluxe Entertainment to direct the dubbed film. She said she has been doing this type of work for over 30 years.

"This isn't a film this is about saving a language, this is about preserving a language," said Epcar of the Navajo-dubbed Star Wars. "This takes on more importance of anything I've ever done. I feel profoundly humbled to be a part of this."

Epcar was the one responsible for casting the roles. She said, "I had no idea who these people were, what their occupations were, what they looked like or what their backgrounds were." The only thing she had to work with was the 117 MP3s she received.

"I combed through them to find the people that I thought were the best for the roles," Epcar said. She was looking for actors who "would find the spirit of these characters."

Epcar feels she got more than just the spirit from the cast she selected, she said she was able to find "actors that more than just emulated the spirit but in many ways their voices echoed the actors who had originally done the roles."

Each character was selected for different reason. Yazzie, for intance, "has the strength and spunkiness that I thought really mirrored the role of Princess Leia," Epcar said.

Epcar said she chose Teller as Luke Skywalker because when she listened to his voice, she noticed he has the spirit of Luke Skywalker. Epcar didn't know it, but Teller was fresh off a quest to get to his audition, having run out of gas in Tsaile, where the power was out and he couldn't use his debit card at the pump.

As for why she wanted to Yellowhair to play Vader, he was chosen because he "had a power in his voice. He stood out because he had the most power that I thought reflected Darth Vader." Or a sports coach, apparently.

Bilagody was chosen as the Navajo General Tarkin because he "reflected the character the most of anybody than anyone I listened to," said Epcar.

Voice quality was what drew Epcar to Junes for Han Solo's role. His voice reminded her of Harrison Ford, who played the devil-may-care mercenary in the original film.

Epcar chose Kee because his voice had the serenity, peacefulness and the calmness that went perfectly with Obi-Wan Kenobi.

"I am very proud of what I done here. I am proud of all the people that were chosen," Epcar said. "My only hope is the end is that I have served the Navajo Nation and the Navajo community with my participation here."

In addition to the seven primary roles there were over 30 supporting roles that needed to be filled, and Epcar said she used as many of the other people who auditioned as possible. "I wish there were more roles, but there are no small roles," she said. "They're all important because the smaller roles add up to the full production."

The recording for the seven primary roles was done at Knife Wing Studios from May 13 to May 20, and all the secondary roles will be completed by this evening May 22.

The Navajo-dubbed Star Wars will premiere at the Navajo Nation Museum on July third.

"Even though you don't understand Navajo, you start to understand it in the movie," Wheeler said.