To celebrate Star Wars day, we give Lord Vader the socio-linguistic shakedown

In this compilation we can see Vader reveal Luke’s heritage in twenty languages, but which is the most befitting of the complicated and varied character of the original (don’t argue) Sith Lord?

The first is the original English accent, which was famously recorded by James Earl Jones instead of using the voice the physical form of Darth Vader, David Prowse, whose West Country accent was deemed unsuitable by the King of the Ewoks, George Lucas.

Next up, we have two Spanish dubs of the famous revelation. The former sounds less menacing and seems to feature very clear diction for the international Spanish speaking audience, the latter, as with the English digital remasters from the nineties, is synthesised through a few more effects and a more dramatic delivery. More on these later…

Following the Spanish translations, we move west and then southwest for two versions in Portuguese: the original version for audiences from Portugal and the Brazilian, which is about two octaves lower and all the more menacing for it. In the last four translations, the producers have done their best to add gravity and menace to romance languages that are often associated with warm climates and blue skies. Does it work? It depends on whether you’re influenced more by voc synths or 20th linguistic stereotypes.

Talking of stereotypes, the next dub is in German and is quite possibly the most cold and robotic of the lot. This is neither down to aforementioned stereotypical ‘vorsprung durch technik’ images of Germany and its reputation for being technologically advanced, nor is it down to other stereotypes from the last century. This is down to the excellent acting of Heinz Petruo. You can hear Vader’s frustration at the seemingly interminable battle with his upstart kiddo in every syllable.

French next and there seems to be a complete loss of power here. Vader sounds like he’s picking Luke up for a trip to the park after a period of absence in the the boy’s life. Perhaps George Amniel was given a poison chalice here as it is difficult to announce ‘Je suis ton perè’ with the gravitas it deserves. I have been trying to do it, I know.

Conversely, both the Italian and Catalan dubs that follow are cold and arresting and convey the complexity of Darth’s paternal announcement equally as well as the original English version, as well as the later versions of the other romance languages mentioned above.

The 1999 Spanish version that follows, allows us to contrast the three versions in Spanish and gives us the classical patterns of emphasis. In the 1980 version the emphasis is on who Luke’s father is ‘YO SOY tu padre’ or ‘I AM your father’, whereas in 1997  he says ‘Yo SOY tu padre’ with the emphasis on BEING Luke’s father. This suggests that the doubt seems to have crept in further, has poor Anakin been mulling over Padmé’s long hours working late on the senate for 17 years? By 1999, we see a much more confident Darth, who is saying ‘YO soy tu padre’, putting the emphasis purely on Darth.

And then there is the Czech version. The terrifying Czech version that elicits the same “NooooOOOoo’ response from anyone who hears it, as it does from Luke in the movie. The Hungarian dubs that follow the Czech translation don’t get a look in after that, in spite of repeated attempts at getting meaner from 1982, through 1995 to 2004. Sorry guys.

As we continue to travel east, we hear the Russian Darth speaking bilingually and simultaneously! Maybe he was attending an international conference on being a badass dad and his translator was over-amped. Talking of over-amped, what have they done to the sith’s voice in Chinese? It reverberates like he’s asking for a spanner while repairing a blockage in the trash compactor! This is also true of the Arabic dubbing but we’re getting ahead of ourselves, at least sequentially…

In Japanese we can hear the rage is back, aided by the bombastic delivery of the masculine style of Japanese. Here Darth could be just as easily stating his loyalty to his employers during office warm-ups as staking his paternity rights to the galaxy’s newest hotshot jedi.

Beyond the aforementioned Arabic dub lies the (I’m my opinion, not yours) weakest dub, which is the Hebrew version. Okay, I know I have brought up the overenthusiatic work on the voice synthesisers in the Arabic and Chinese dubs but didn’t they leave any wav forms over for the Hebrew translation? It’s not only down to the lack of special effects, but also the parallel structure of the phrase ‘אני האבא שלך’ and its casual delivery make it sound like an eye test ‘can you see clearly now… or now… now… or now…’

Next up is the mysterious Jisieno. A web search on this language will take the reader to an email harvesting website, and this seems to be internetese at its very best.  The internet is a superb destination, where April the first is every day and the disinformation superhighway is the only way to travel. Learn it’s language and it’s culture before you visit. Still, Lord Vader has bought into it and I’m not one to disagree with my superiors.

Finally, we have the Thai translation, which falls squarely into the over-synthesised category of Chinese and Arabic, along with the slightly bored sounding Hebrew translation. Possibly, then, a fitting conclusion to my slightly boring and over-synthesised May the Fourth article. Now go and watch Episodes I-III if you want more of the same.