Nerdist sat down with Academy Award winning actor Troy Kotsur. to talk about his work consulting on The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Kotsur created the Tusken Raider sign language and shares his process in the video below. Then read on for more of his great stories and insights.
The Star Wars fandom creates signs for characters and ships. Then they spread and gain acceptance. Kotsur shared some favorites in the video below. It’s an ongoing process and the language is constantly evolving based on how people use it.
Nerdist: How did the facial coverings on Tuskens and Din Djarin factor into your process? It also means the actors have those physical obstacles.
Troy Kotsur: I wanted to play around with two characters, and so I would sign as the Mandalorian and then sign as the Tusken Raider. The problem was the clothing and the facial expressions. How would they understand each other? Even know who was talking?
I went into the refrigerator and I found an egg carton. I pulled the egg carton out, opened it up, and I made it into a pair of goggles. I poked a hole in the end and I put them over my face and, with a rubber band, I put it around my head. I tied up the hoodie so it was very tight over my face, and I looked more like a Tusken Raider. And then, for the Mandalorian, I used a pair of sunglasses with a hat and a black leather jacket, like a biker jacket.
In the second season, it was perfect timing. It was during Halloween. I went to a store and I actually was able to buy a Mandalorian mask and the Tusken Raider mask. And those pairs of gloves that were similar to what they had. And that forced me to figure out what it would look like in frame and if it would look clear or not.
What is your favorite character in Star Wars? Is it you, as a Tusken Raider Scout #1 in The Mandalorian?
My personal favorite is the 1977 Tusken Raider because that five seconds where they had gesturing, I could understand as a Deaf audience member. I remember that moment when the Tusken Raider came up behind them, and there was two of them, two folks with guns. And the Tusken Raider taps one on the shoulder. And when they looked over, at that moment I felt a connection because of that gesturing.
You all would hear the dialogue, but for me, I was a visual communicator and so I could clearly understand and make that connection. That was an unforgettable moment for me that I’ll always have in my mind. And so that was the perfect character for me when I was a kid. That really lit up my eyes, lit my eyes up as well as Han Solo. Han Solo was the rebel and such a fun character.
Harrison Ford as Han Solo, when he’s in the Millennium Falcon and in the Death Star and he’s hiding. And then he gets up from underneath the floor of the ship and Chewbacca comes up with him. And Han pats his head and he makes the facial expression. I feel like you can just understand that mood. It’s fascinating and all of the acting that’s there and the expression. It’s equal to what you hear.
There’s a moment where R2-D2 and C-3PO are trying to use a key to open a door or a gate. Even though I can’t hear what they’re saying, I can feel the emotion, their beeping or their voices. I can see their body language and the tension. And so when C-3PO’s banging R2-D2 on the head, it’s that energy and that emotion. You can see the tension and the pressure they’re under while something else is happening at the same time, right? That’s emotion that, even without spoken dialogue, I could understand it. And that’s amazing. That’s why us Deaf people, we’re so sensitive visually, and we really recognize body language.
The language you created continues the Star Wars tradition of bridging a gap between characters. Han Solo and Chewbacca don’t physically speak the other’s language, but they understand each other. Rey and Din learn many forms of communication and can converse with nearly everyone. Like in CODA, maybe we all should make the effort to be more like them. How can language help?
In real life, we have parts of Star Wars here on planet Earth. You make these metaphors as far as different cultures and different languages. In the Star Wars universe, you have to accept other cultures and other languages. Us, as Deaf people and Deaf culture, we’ve also had to have a different way of communication. And even we’re aliens, even in our own country. I hope that as we have new journeys and new experiences, we will gain new perspectives. There’s plenty of magic still out there and plenty of stories to tell.
If I fly to India, for example, they’d have a different type of sign language. So we’d have to figure out a way to adapt and understand each other. Doesn’t matter if you’re Deaf or hearing, we all have to adapt and we all have to communicate.
Thanks to Troy Kotsur for such a great chat! And to his interpreter and team for making it work. It’s always great to see the creatives working within my favorite franchise having a good time. Thanks also to Frank Rich, an ASL interpreter and founder of Star Wars Autograph News, who helped me prepare.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She wrote an article for Star Wars Insider magazine about the use of language in Star Wars (issue 206). Melissa also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.