In the real world, translators and interpreters facilitate communication, solve problems, and resolve conflicts through the use of various languages in both written and spoken form.
While humans have an edge over machines in the real world when it comes to translation—as anyone who uses Google Translate often enough can attest—in the Star Wars universe, the task is mainly left up to droids. Below is a short introduction to the work of an interpreter/translator and 4 notable examples from the Star Wars universe.
What’s the difference?
While many people use the terms “interpreter” and “translator” interchangeably, they are not the same. Interpreters work primarily with the spoken word—speeches, court proceedings, and disaster relief, to name a few. Translators, on the other hand, work mainly with the written word—important documents, books, treaties, and instruction manuals.
“I’m not much more than an interpreter, and not very good at telling stories.” – Episode IV: A New Hope
C-3PO is probably the most famous interpreter in the Star Wars universe. Built by Anakin Skywalker some time before 32 BBY, Goldenrod went on to serve with the Rebel Alliance during the rise of the Empire and later with the Resistance against the First Order.
Threepio is fluent in 6 million forms of communication, as he is fond of stating as an introduction. By the events of The Force Awakens, he has been upgraded to be capable of 7 million forms—quite a feat, given that most humans can learn a maximum of 7 languages in real life.
As is the case with real world interpreters, C-3PO uses his skills to defuse situations before they can become violent. We see this when Boushh (actually Princess Leia in disguise) barters for a bigger reward from Jabba in Return of the Jedi. He is also very capable, despite the above quote, of telling a compelling story. Using his new status as a god with the Ewoks, C-3PO is able to convince them to aid the Rebellion after regaling them with the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Always important for an interpreter, he uses body language, gestures and sound effects (not always possible for meatbags). Even when confronted with a language as obscure and primitive as Ewokese, C-3PO did his best to communicate with the Ewoks and de-escalate the situation, even if he was not immediately successful.
“Never get between a Mandalorian and a weapons package.” – Star Wars Rebels: “Wings of the Master”
Sabine Wren is the Ghost crew’s resident weapons expert and artist, and a polyglot, something of a rarity in a galaxy where most interpreting and translating is done by droids and computers. Sabine speaks 7 languages: Basic, Mando’a, Huttese, Rodian, Aqualish, Binary, and some Shyriiwook. She learned quickly at the Imperial academy and progressed through their language courses in record time.
However, the one time fans see Sabine speak another language, it is to cause a misunderstanding. In the episode “Droids in Distress”, she caused R2-D2 and their translator, C-3PO, to get kicked out of the train car where Amda Wabo and Maketh Tua were holding negotiations as to the purchase of T-7 ion disruptor rifles. Since Wabo did not speak or understand Basic and Tua did not speak Aqualish, Sabine stood in as their translator. She purposely mistranslated Wabo’s reply that the disruptors are located in Bay 7 as Bay 17. He becomes quite angry with Minister Tua, only to have C-3PO arrive and defuse the situation.
“Translation: He requires proof of good faith. We must make a contribution to his people that shows we are not a threat. Shall I blast him now, master?”
“Mockery: Droid, fetch this. Droid, translate that. Droid, clean out the trash compactor.”
Everyone’s favorite meatbag-hating murderbot, HK-47, is an interpreter as well as an assassin, albeit a very lazy and unreliable one. He speaks 6,000 languages, including Basic, Tusken, Binary, and Jawa Trade Language.
HK-47 is not the best interpreter. He tends to overly summarize what one or both parties say. On top of that, he injects his personal opinion into the matter—often suggesting to simply kill the other party. He also has a rather low opinion of the seemingly menial tasks that are usually assigned to droids like himself, especially since he is easily mistaken for a simple protocol droid at first glance.
“I’m 0-0-0, or Triple-Zero, if you prefer. I’m a protocol droid, specialized in etiquette, customs, translation and torture, ma’am.” – Star Wars: Darth Vader
Making his debut in the Star Wars: Darth Vader comic series, Triple-Zero is more or less C-3PO’s evil twin. While he is based on a protocol droid chassis, his primary function is torturing organics, something that he greatly enjoys. As such, his capabilities as an interpreter are far below that of his Rebel counterpart.
Since Triple-Zero is a torture droid first and foremost, the reader does not have much of a chance to see him acting as an interpreter. One notable instance, however, is on Darth Vader’s secret mission to Geonosis. There, 0-0-0 and BT-1 encounter several B-1 battle droids that have been modified by a surviving Geonosian queen to resemble drones. Triple-Zero greets them. He then states that he is fluent in Geonosian hive-mind, and adds that he has nothing to say to them. However, after BT-1 incinerates the droids, something does come to mind: