Image: Wisdom, Fear, Control, Power by K’ómoks and Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw First Nations artist Andy Everson
In Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, an unknown bounty hunter arrives in Jaba’s palace and greets everyone by saying “ya ta hey.” At that moment, I’m sure a lot of Diné or Navajo people’s ears perked up. Hearing their traditional greeting in a science fiction movie, with no Indigenous people, must have been a surprise and a delight. From the beginning, Star Wars has featured many Indigenous influenced themes and language. So it’s only fitting that the Navajo people translated Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope entirely in the Diné language.
From Ewoks to Jedi to Mandalorians, there is a cultural connection with the Star Wars saga for Native people. The tribalism of the Ewoks, who were based on the Miwoks of Northern California, the spirituality of the Jedi and the Mandalorians, and even Princess Leia’s hairstyle was inspired by Hopi maidens. Native Pop artists are just as influenced by the film.
Native artists fuse images from the Star Wars films and Indigenous life that enforces this cultural connection. Indian country is even adopting Baby Yoda. Baby Yoda was quickly adopted by Native Twitter, stating he has a similar story to Native people. Jae stated in cbc.com that the Child’s story shares similarities with colonization, and the residential school and child welfare systems. Many beading artists have created different pieces of jewelry depicting the adorable…Indigenous child.
What is the basis for this connection to the Force that is Star Wars? Perhaps it is the connection to the Force itself. Native spirituality is similar to the Jedi’s way of thinking. Johnnie Jae, co-creator of the website A Tribe Called Geek says “We’re connected to everything around us and connected to each other. And it’s not just living things. It’s the trees, the rocks, and the water. We believe all of these have their own spirit and their own memories and they also carry our memories as well. So I think that there’s such a correlation between the way we relate to The Force it’s something that we can put into our own lives.”
In 2019, the Northern Arizona Museum featured an exhibit dedicated to the connection between Native people and Star Wars. “The Force Is With Our People,” featured 25 artists from more than a dozen Southwestern tribes. Tony Thibodeau told NPR that the exhibit answers the question, “are there parallels between the Star Wars narrative and Native culture that make it resonate with these Native artists and Native communities on the Colorado Plateau in a specific way? I think there’s clearly some parallels … between Native stories — things like the Hero Twins, [a] very prominent story in Navajo culture — parallels between that and Star Wars, of course Luke and Leia being basically Hero Twins in that story.”
The cover image is by K’ómoks and Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw First Nations artist Andy Everson. Everson incorporates Northwest Coast symbolism upon the faces and helmets of the Star Wars characters. As you can see, the artwork is very different from the Southwest and Plains designs.
Hopi-Tewa artist Duane Koyawena took park in this exhibit, painting a life size R2-D2 in a Hopi design. Koyawena got the idea after attending the Indigipop X, the Indigenous Comic-Con in Albuquerque, N.M.
Steven Paul Judd, a Kiowa and Choctaw artist makes Star Wars graphics, inserting characters and machinary into the Native landscape and vice versa. Such as the graphic art below, depicting X-wing fighters landing near a tipi.
Navajo artist Ryan Singer also incorporates Star Wars into indigenous landscapes. Like the painting “Tuba City Space Port.” Notice the sand raider with a bag of Blue corn flour!
Yakama and Pawnee artist Bunky Echo-Hawk created the painting “If Yoda was an Indian.”
Star Wars art can also be expressed in cosplay. Navajo, Yuchi and Chippewa cosplayer Dezbah Rose cosplays as Diné Rey. She has also dressed as Queen Amidala. Diné Rey is wearing turquoise silver pieces in the same way Navajo women often do with their shirts, Navajo moccasins, and her hair is pulled back in a traditional Navajo style.
There are so many more artists with innovative art forms inspired by Star Wars. If you get a chance, look up The Force Is With Our People or just google Native Art and Star Wars. The Star Wars universe not only gives artists an outlet, it also gives Indigenerds a way to relate to the mainstream geek culture. I, for one, have always felt a little out of place with my love for Star Wars. Now that being a geek is popular, I’m finding more Indigenerds who have always had the same passion for this universe as I have. On this May the Fourth, I celebrate the indigenity of Star Wars with you my fellow Indigenerds.
May the Force be with You. Always.
This article was originally posted Star Wars Day, 5/4/20