A new “Star Wars” trailer for the Japanese market has tons of new footage for fans to decode, but it has some even more obvious clues in the translated captions below the text.
The translations are more telling than you might think.
Japanese is a language with layers of formality that make it almost impossible to communicate without signaling the relative social positions of two people. (By the same token, it’s much more comfortable leaving out parts of the sentence English speakers would find crucial, so between the voiceover and the captions, we know more than we would from just one.)
TIME went over the captions with some native speakers and friends who teach Japanese (plus our shaky, decades-old memories of studying it in high school.) Here’s what we learned.
• Rey is in trouble in the beginning. The voice that asks “Who are you?” uses a very arrogant tone, asking “Omae wa nani mono da” instead of the traditional “onamae wa nan desuka.” Although it’s a woman’s voice, the choice of words would be more traditionally masculine in Japanese. This likely is a signal that the person talking to Rey is an authority figure, probably an Imperial leader of some sort.
• Rey is not very rebellious. Just as the question was asked in a masculine way, Rey’s response (“I’m not anything.”) is very feminine. That could be a cultural thing—Japanese translators often add sexism where none exists in the English version—or it could be a way of signaling that she is being very deferential. At any rate, this is not a Leia-like figure standing up to the Empire, but someone beaten down by it.
• Japanese is frustratingly vague sometimes. The brief title card says simply “Wake up.” That could be a reference to Rey or it could be talking about the Force. It could alternately be read as “She shall awaken” or “It awakens.” As we said before, Japanese often leaves out things English speakers find a bit, shall we say, necessary to understanding the full meaning. But it’s likely a double-meaning, that the Force is awakening, as is Rey’s knowledge of her own power.
• Rey and Finn don’t formally meet right away. In contrast to the earlier introduction, Rey and Finn’s is very casual on both sides, with Rey using the very informal “name is?” (“namae wa” instead of the honorific “onamae”) and Finn replying “Finn da” (a more casual version of “Finn desu.”) This indicates that the two have probably already gotten familiar before they had a chance to introduce themselves—perhaps one of them rescues the other somehow?
• There’s a lot of subtext about family. When Kylo Ren addresses Vader’s helmet, the Japanese translation says “I am the one to inherit your legacy.” The next title card uses the passive construction of the same verb to say “A new generation is inheriting the world.” This may be coincidental or it could be a signal that there are some family relationships between characters that we—and possibly they—don’t know yet.
• One more clue. At the end, the woman’s speech is translated as “Hope is not lost…” (or “Our hope is not lost,” thanks Japanese vagueness!) “…it was reborn.” Instead of the English version, which says “Hope was not lost today, it is found.”
It’s only appropriate that we learned some new things from the Japanese captions, since “Star Wars” was inspired by George Lucas’ love of samurai movies. The word Jedi even comes from the Japanese term for those movies, “jidaigeki.”
Special thanks to Arisa Toyosaki, Fumiko Ueda Brown, Jennifer Rubio, Hana Rubin and Laura Rowley Leek for the translation help, and a shoutout to Scholz-sensei from Bellevue High.
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