Knerd Knowledge: Vader’s MispronunciationSeptember 1, 2011
Star Wars characters go around mispronuncing each others’ names all the time — that’s pretty common Knerd Knowledge.
You know, Han pronounces his own name like “Con,” and so does everyone else, but then Lando comes along and starts saying “Han” like “Can,” and so everyone starts saying it that way for awhile — just to try something new. And Leia’s name is “LAY-uh” unless it’s some old dude saying it — then it’s “LEE-uh.”
I get it. Mostly.
But there’s a certain, one-time mispronuncation that I’ve never heard anyone discuss, and yet it seems way more out-of-place than all the others put together.
Quoth Darth Vader (as the Death Star approaches Yavin 4): “This will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of Kenobi and will soon see the end of the Rebellion.”
It’s a fairly memorable line, and a fun little scene — Vader staring, I assume, into the middle-distance while Tarkin gives him a look like who gave you permission to start randomly monologuing?
The only problem is, Vader completely butchers “Kenobi.”
In the line, he says it “KIN-OH-bee” when, of course, everyone knows it should be pronounced “keh-NOH-bee.”
I know that doesn’t look like a big deal, especially spelled out that way with phonetic-type symbols — like, one syllable is in bold instead of the other one, but who cares? — but it is a big deal because “Kenobi” is one of those names that, once you hear it, is impossible to forget how to pronounce (like, ahem, “Reini”).
I think this is because “Kenobi” — already a great name in and of itself — is made even better by the sing-song rhyme it creates with “Obi-Wan.”
Try it. “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (OH-bee-whon keh-NOH-bee).
And now try it again, but this time with the un-stated conclusion of the rhyme:
“Obi-Wan Kenobi-Wan” (OH-bee-whon keh-NOH-bee-whon).
And unforgettable. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I doubt James Earl Jones had ever heard the name “Kenobi” before he recorded the line. After all, he only says the name “Kenobi” once. For the rest of the movie — indeed (I think) the rest of the trilogy — Vader refers to his old master only as “Obi-Wan.”
(“Obi-Wan is here. The Force is with him.” “Obi-Wan has taught you well.” “Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me.” “I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.” Obi-Wan: “Only a master of evil, Darth.” — you know, back when “Darth” was obviously Vader’s first name instead of some prequelly title.)
I don’t blame James Earl Jones. He did, after all, record all of his lines in a mere two hours for a tidy $7,000 paycheck. (Nor did Jones, after the fact, seem to be particularly obsessed with the minutia of Star Wars. He’s on record as saying his favorite Darth Vader line is “I have you now, Obi-Wan.” I’ll give you all my Landos if you can find that one in the trilogy.)
But where was the guy in the sound booth? Did he, too, not know the correct pronunciation, or did he not think anyone would notice? Did James Earl Jones receive any direction whatsoever, or was he just tossed a script and told to read? And where were the film editors? Did they not catch the mistake? Or did they not think it was worth the extra 200 bucks to call Jones’s butt back into the studio and have him say it the right way?
This is normally the part where I’d take a shot at George, but this was still the time of young, svelte, killing-himself-just-to-get-his-crazy-little-movie-made George, for whom I have a lot of respect. (As opposed to this George.)
Regardless of who’s ultimately to blame, that line caused me a good deal of confusion as a youngster. So, “this day has seen the end of Kinno Vee,” huh? (Because, if Vader meant “Kenobi,” he would’ve just said “Kenobi.”) So was this “Kinno Vee,” like, the capital city of Alderaan or something? Or maybe it was that guy.
Anyway, unraveling that mystery was almost as hard as figuring out what Obi-Wan meant when he told Luke “A gentleman wastes enough to be traveled lightly.”
But I eventually got it. Obviously, Obi-Wan meant that he (Obi-Wan, a gentleman) was wasting time when he could be hauling Artoo (a decidedly un-light droid) back to his place. Duh.