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Question #90843 posted on 01/17/2018 3:44 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

In The Empire Strikes Back, there's a scene where the Falcon is having trouble, and Leia says "would it help if I got out and pushed?"

In our world this is a reference to pushing broken down cars, but all the cars in Star Wars fly, so pushing would do nothing for them. Why would this thought occur to her?

-Thinking Emoji


Dear Rodin,

For one thing, you seem to have excluded the possibility that vehicles in Star Wars at some point had wheels or otherwise made contact with the ground. In our distant future, it's possible that we might only have flying cars, but surely the memory of wheeled cars (and expressions relating to them) will remain.

For another, take Luke's landspeeder: say the rear thrusters somehow gave out but the hovering system remained unaffected. Getting out of the landspeeder and pushing would be an entirely plausible way of getting it to the space mechanic (and it would arguably be easier than pushing a car because pushing cars involves lots of friction with the ground and whatnot).

But that's not really what I want to talk about. I want to talk about two movies about Portuguese Jesuit priests, The Mission (1986) and Silence (2016). Both are well-made movies about the struggle of faith against outside influences, and both are kind of hard to watch (especially Silence; it's rated R mostly because a person gets very realistically decapitated, but it would be a rough movie even without any violence). 

I want to talk about these movies because the main characters are all Portuguese and their conversations with each other would ostensibly be in Portuguese, but all of the dialogue in the movies is rendered in English. In fact, in Silence they even make reference to this fact (one character says to another "How did you learn Portuguese?" with the implication that that is the language they are speaking).

Now, you're probably thinking something along the lines of "No duh, Frère, that's how movies work. Characters can speak in English (or any other language) even if they're not actually speaking English; it helps movies be accessible to a broader audience." And, you're completely right to think that; the practice is so widespread that it seems silly to even point it out. I do so, though, to make this point: the characters in Star Wars are not speaking English. The primary language of the Star Wars universe is called Galactic Basic; the written language is known as Aurebesh (which looks like this). You can think of all of the Star Wars movies as being translated from Galactic Basic to English, and that includes translating idioms. If you're not bilingual, you may not have encountered this problem, but translating phrases like "I'm going to hit the hay" (i.e. I'm going to go to sleep) is tricky, because that combination of words doesn't have that same connotation in other languages. If you translate that phrase literally, people are going to start wondering why you have violent tendencies toward straw and why you're so intent on carrying them out, especially when you appear to be very sleepy. That being said, many languages have their own idioms that, while not literally translating into the same words, mean the same things. For example, in Spanish, if you're going to bed early you might say that you're going to "acostarse con las gallinas," or "go to bed with the hens." 

All of this is to say that when Leia glibly asked Han if she should go out and push, she might not have been talking about pushing at all, but using a Galactic Basic idiom that was translated into that familiar English phrase.

-Frère Rubik, going way more in-depth for this response than anyone was probably asking for

P.S. All of the above explanations are in-universe. For an out-of universe explanation, consider these notes from A.V. Club reviews of two different episodes of Stranger Things

1980s anachronism alert: “This is called stalking.” No, it isn’t, Steve, not for a few more years. But every period piece uses the occasional anachronistic phrase to convey something clearly to the audience, and this does the job.


Max dismisses the boys as “stalkers,” a term that wouldn’t have been common use in 1984, but as I mentioned in season one, sometimes period shows use anachronistic language to concisely express an idea.

Sometimes in writing you're looking for the quickest and easiest way to convey an emotion or an idea, and sometimes the best way to do so is to use language that doesn't quite line up with the rules of your established world. So long as this is only used occasionally, it's usually not enough to break the audience's suspension of disbelief.