Geri Hongeva voiced C-3PO in the Navajo translation of A New Hope. She talked about that experience in the docu-series Looking for Leia and she answered a few questions via email for this interview.
What was your introduction to Star Wars?
I was introduced to Star Wars through friends in high school but even more in detail when my children were old enough to take interest. My son is a huge Star Wars fan and knows a lot more than I do. He started watching Star Wars as young as 4 years old. I grew up without television and movie theaters.
Do you have a favorite character from any of the Star Wars films? If so have your favorites changed over time?
Definitely C-3PO and R2-D2 together, I also liked Chewy, the Ewoks and Princess Leia. They have not really changed over time.
How did you hear about the Navajo translation of A New Hope?
I was working with the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources as the media representative, when the auditions were happening in Window Rock, AZ. I signed up for day two of auditions after I had seen other employees auditioning. My coworkers encouraged me to audition and when I told my kids about it, they were very excited, especially my son. He borrowed the DVD from one of his friends and we began to prepare for the audition overnight.
In Looking for Leia you spoke about how you got into the C-3PO audition line after seeing how long the Leia audition line was. Were there any other characters you thought about auditioning for?
No. I initially thought about Princess Leia but went with my instincts to be C-3PO. He is the only character I auditioned for. There was an option to audition for more than one character, I didn’t.
C-3PO has such a distinctive voice in the films. Did you try to copy Anthony Daniels’ voice or focus more on performing the voice of a protocol droid?
Great question. As I was preparing for the audition with my son, he would specify to me, remember Mom you have to try and sound British too. So in the beginning, I attempted the British accent, then quickly began to focus more on the performance of the voice for Threepio instead. I was very fortunate that the droid didn’t have the lip organic movement, which really helped me to concentrate more on acting out the scene.
Did you have any input on your dialogue (the translation)? Do you have a favorite scene from your work in A New Hope?
Yes, I had some input, I believe in three different scenes, primarily because the Navajo translation was written for a male droid and one particular scene, I was able to say Navajo words in the way I was comfortable with. The Navajo reservation is massive in population and area of land. I was raised in western agency and some words were expressed a little differently where I grew up, so I was able to say a sentence the way I was most comfortable with.
Why do you think C-3PO is such a beloved character in Star Wars and can you talk a bit about your experiences cosplaying as C-3PO and the necklaces you gave out?
I think Threepio is such a beloved character because he shows some human feelings along with all his logic he tries to explain but the other characters just don’t listen sometimes. He is a droid, a machine and he cares a lot about R2-D2. They are best friends, we all can relate to having a best friend that you would do anything for.
For me personally, I am the oldest of three, I have two younger brothers and it was very easy for me to relate to C-3PO because often I was left in charge to care for my brothers while my parents went away and they always got into mischief. My brothers would get all three of us in trouble, even when I tried to supervise them, guide them to make the best decision. In A New Hope, Threepio tries his best to assist Luke but R2-D2 has his own plan.
As I cosplay C-3PO, it was uncomfortable for me at first because I normally would not dress in tight-fitting apparel, let alone shiny golden so everyone notices you. After attending Indigenous Comic Con in November 2018, I quickly became very comfortable because everywhere I went, I needed no introduction. Star Wars fans immediately gravitated to me, they all wanted to take photos everywhere I went. Now, the cosplay is a part of me and I was very honored when the Museum of Northern Arizona invited me to be a part of The Force is with Our People.
While on Navajo Nation, I am usually not in cosplay, so not everyone will know who I am but to those who do, especially the younger generation, I try to give them something Star Wars related. I collect C-3PO accessories to give away and it makes the kids happy. I hope to inspire them to dream big and to aim for the unordinary.
How did you hear about the Looking for Leia production? What do you hope people will take away from the episode “What We Preserve”?
Clarissa Yazzie the voice of Princess Leia called me to ask me if I was interested in speaking with the production team. They had already made plans with her. I was open to the idea because the production highlighted all the women who were impacted by Star Wars. When I was selected to be C-3PO, it changed my life, especially on Navajo Nation and as a Navajo woman.
I hope the audience of “What We Preserve” understand how important our Navajo language is, especially in this fast-paced world when our children are so consumed by technology. Our ancestors passed down oral stories, our emergence story and songs, all in Navajo. The root of our existences is our language and culture. Both Clarissa and I grew up with lack of materials some may say poverty, but we both believed that we had a rich upbringing because of our language and our elders. I feel so fortunate to know my language. I hope the audience realizes that it takes one leap of faith to make a global impact.
Have you received any reactions from people who have seen the series and especially your episode?
Yes, my mother, my brothers, my family, and some co-workers. They all enjoyed it and I think some of them didn’t realize the impact Stars Wars in Navajo language has all over the world. Seeing the process of how Clarissa, Jennifer and myself were involved, the documentary, it helps get the message across and how we helped make this possible for our tribe. This movie was the first major film to be dubbed into Navajo language. For the nieces, young women, it gives them a new hope, to be anything they want to be. Dreams are endless and possible.
Do you hope more Star Wars films will be translated into Diné in the future? If so, would you want to voice C-3PO again?
Yes, I hope that they dub all the episodes into Navajo language. I would love to voice all the other episodes. So far, three-pio is in all episodes. The Navajo Nation Museum made a smart decision to begin to preserve our language through films.
You can see Geri in the Looking for Leia episode “What We Preserve” below.