Star Wars Episode VII is opening in Mongolia today! To say Star Wars is a famous film is an understatement. With six -quels (3 se- and 3 pre-) and countless comics, cartoons, toys, and even more fan tributes, it has already been hailed as a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. Except for most Mongolians, who’d say “Meh” about it. Well, most Mongolians. But what many of us don’t know is that realizing the vision of this space opera required borrowing from many different existing cultures, and Mongolia contributed a considerable portion. Starting with…
1. Ewok Language
Ewoks are the teddy-bear-looking, gun-and-spear-toting aliens from the forests of the Moon of Endor, and they almost eat up the protagonists of the original trilogy. Some say they are the ancestors of the banana-resembling, banana-speaking Minions. Although their language is gibberish, for Mongolians it should sound really familiar.
Specially at 01:11 it turns straight into an old woman’s mumbling before leaving home.
That’s because the sound designer Ben Burtt designed the language based on the language of the Kalmyk people of Russia, who as we all know are a Mongolian tribe. Apparently, the sound designer liked hearing this language in a documentary, asked an 80-year-old Kalmyk woman to tell folktales, and made the Ewok language based on it. Granted, there is also a huge influence of Tibetan and Nepali language as well. But one can only guess what happened when Burtt had the Kalmyk granny say folktales–we think it went like this.
Sarlacc is a an alien monster that lives under the surface of a sand dune and eats up its victims like an inverse log-producing machine, again in the original trilogy. I’m going to share a new fan theory that it was influenced by the Mongolian Death Worm. That’s right, I know you’re dubious, but stay with me, dear reader, for this requires a little deductive thinking.
Please help yourself with this scene in the meantime.
While one can argue that this gaping mouth with sharp teeth could be traced back to “The Odyssey” and its whirlpool sea monster Charybdis, it was also probably inspired by the sand worms of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel “Dune”. This, in turn–or the very idea of connecting deserts and worms–must have been inspired by archaeologist Roy Chapman Andrews’ account of a deadly worm in the Gobi desert, the Mongolian Death Worm. So, George Lucas is continuing the legacy of the Death Worm here.
We fear of a dumbed down future where kids mix up Roy Andrews with Marco Polo.
Two reasons for this. One, the word Sarlacc is almost identical to sarlag, which is yak in Mongolian. And what was Mongolia famous for a few decades ago? Why, yaks and the Gobi, of course. (OK, yaks are also present in Tibet, but they’re called gyag there.) Incidentally, this combination was used in the film Stargate too. Two, George Lucas went on to create another iconic character, Indiana Jones, who was also partly inspired by Roy Chapman Andrews.
3. Queen Amidala’s Headdress
Minor spoilers follow: Proceed at your own risk. In the prequel trilogy, Queen Amidala of the planet Naboo is a senator of the Trade Federation and–spoiler alert–the mother of Luke and Princess Leia. Her first name is Padme–yes, as in Um Mani Padme Hum, and no, she and Uma Thurman are not related. Queen Amidala has a wide range of wardrobe, and in a cool speech scene she’s seen wearing this:
Also, sain baina uu and tsag hed bolj baina.
For those of you not already familiar, this is the headdress of Mongolian noble women. Trisha Biggar and Ian McCaig, who worked as the costume designers for the prequels, based this costume on Empress Dondogdulam from the Theocratic Mongolian era of the 1910s. Amidala’s other costumes seem to be inspired by feudal Japan, Victorian England, Imperial Russia and many other equally weird and uncomfortable dress styles.
4. Yoda’s Philosophy
Yoda is a grand master Jedi, who talks with a weird syntax and teaches Luke Skywalker to use the Force better on the swamp planet of Dagobah. He basically looks like a monk, and could be inspired by Tibetan or Zen Buddhism, it’s hard to pin down his exact origin. But one key discipline he teaches the young grasshopper Luke is this:
Because it’s not lazy if you’re absolutely sure to not do your dishes.
That’s “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” This is an interesting philosophy that is really similar to the Mongolian proverb “Айвал бүү хий, хийвэл бүү ай.” Or, in English, “If you do it, don’t be afraid. If you’re afraid, don’t do it.” Both of these sayings advocate the elimination of doubt in an action and commitment to the complete execution of an action. Also, similar are Mongolian and Yodish grammar.
Natso Baatarkhuu lives in Mongolia and writes in English. His works have appeared in Cracked.com and The UB Post, and he started this website. He dreams of publishing novels and selling screenplays someday.