The spoken language is one of the many ways we, as humans, communicate how we are feeling to each other. And as decades pass, and the world changes, the spoken word also evolves because of any number of reasons, be it a cultural shift, technological advancements, political upheaval, war, economics, or globalization. By the end of the 19th century, the United States had developed into an economic powerhouse, overtaking the United Kingdom. It’s continued growth-economically and militarily, along with its growing media influence ensured allowed English to become and remain a global language. In response to this, in 1917 an Englishman by the name of Daniel Jones introduced the concept of Received Pronunciation or the Queen’s English, which described the type of English spoken by the educated middle or upper class. The invention of the radio and television opened up this kind of English to a substantially broader audience and influenced how many spoke.
When George Lucas wrote Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, he purposefully imbued elements of dialogue found in pulp/noir movies of the 1930s and 40s. “Faster, more intense!” was a phrase George is known for repeating during the making of the film. Challenging to memorize, and even more unnatural to speak, as Harrison Ford attests, the dialogue was able to successfully blend an older manner of speaking with modern colloquial terminology.
Of the three trilogies, the prequel trilogy is most germane to our discussion here. Unlike the other two trilogies, the prequels purposely use a style of basic, or English to us, that sounds more formal and even more regal than what we’re accustomed to in the 21st century, which is what we hear when Queen Amidala or any member of the Senate speak. With A New Hope, Her Royal Highness, Princess Leia is too busy trying to find her way out of trash compactors or escaping space slugs to worry about proper English. Going from The King’s English to scruffy-looking nerfherders is what we call the evolution of language.
Tracing back the steps to when The King’s English or BBC English became prominent, the world has gone through two World Wars, a cold war, Korean War, the cultural upheaval of the 1960s, and the political turmoil of the 1970s. Which then, of course, lead to Star Wars in 1977. As we look at each generation and its place in history we also see a change in language use. Although the dialogue of the prequels received some backlash, it did successfully embody the time in which George Lucas intended.
In the cases of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones especially, where royalty and governmental officials play a significant role, the use of language is more formal. It’s interesting to see a style of speaking evolve over the span of roughly 30 years (a time spanning from Episode I to IV and from the 1940s to the 1970s respectively) as a result of cultural changes, although it’s always easier to look back and see the changes over a more considerable period. Even during the scenes with Anakin on Tatooine, there is a change in the use of language. In The Phantom Menace, Queen Amidala under the guise of a handmaiden tells little Anakin she (as Queen) must “convince the Senate to intervene.” In a different context, this may seem like an odd word choice considering she is speaking to a nine-year old boy from a remote desert planet. But from the Queens perspective, I think it’s safe to assume that’s how she was taught to speak.
Comparing the prequels to a show like The Crown, there is a very similar style of dialogue minus the galactic terminology. It’s all quite formal and British. I want to point out an excellent example of how historical events, emotion, politics, the changing world can affect language. In a particular scene in The Crown without giving spoilers away (it’s all in the history books anyway) is when Chancellor Eden has to explain to Queen Elizabeth why he thinks it was the right move to take military action against Egypt during the Suez crisis of 1957. With emotion coming to the surface, Eden slips back into colloquialisms by referring to President Nassar as “fella.”
By the time we get to Revenge of the Sith, the Clone War engulfs the galaxy. Relationships between characters are strained and fueled by emotion and as a result less formal speech is becoming more common, as we see in some off-the-cuff moments between Obi-Wan and Anakin when they crash aboard Grievous’s ship to rescue the chancellor.
With A New Hope, the galaxy has gone through and still is going through, a civil war. While the Empire rules, with order and “peace” as their motto, it still leaves the rest of the galaxy in the position of just trying to survive; there is no time to learn formalities. Anakin’s Tatooine is no different from Luke’s Tatooine, and in this, language use is also a sign of class structure. Uncle Owen has no time or reason to learn the language of queens or politicians. Instead, he has to worry about surviving on a desert planet, something those on Coruscant will never have to consider.
Regardless of what language is spoken, or how it’s spoken, some aspects of humanity don’t need words to be communicated. Sometimes all it takes is a wink and a nod.
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